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Vieques Isn't For Sale, Puerto Rican Leaders Reject Navy's Buyout Offer

by Richard Sisk

October 3, 1999
Copyright © 1999 NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, L.P. All Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON Puerto Rican leaders have angrily rejected a Senate plan to let the Navy buy its way out of the face-off over using the island of Vieques for target practice.

"This sounds like they're trying to buy people off," said Rep. Carlos Romero Barcelo, a pro-statehood Democrat and Puerto Rico 's nonvoting member of the House.

"It's not a matter of money, it's a matter of justice," he said.

Romero Barcelo repeated his demand for a permanent shutdown of the firing ranges on the island of 9,500 residents 9 miles off Puerto Rico's east end that has been a primary training ground for naval forces since World War II.

In a phone call from San Juan, Romero Barcelo said Puerto Ricans across the political spectrum are united against a proposal by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) to have the Navy pump $27 million into the Vieques economy next year and $14 million annually thereafter.

The money would be in exchange for letting the Navy and Marine Corps keep using the island for bombing, shelling and mock invasions.

Warner, the influential chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said in a letter to Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), "Of course, this assistance should be conditioned upon the continuation of all necessary training operations, including the use of live ordnance."

Commander Bryan Cullen, a spokesman for Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, called the Warner plan "a very generous offer. Absolutely, we would support it."

Top Navy and Marine brass have insisted that there is no alternative site for the Vieques training.

But Rep. Jose Serrano (D-Bronx) said, "Vieques is not for sale." He called the offer "very insulting, very arrogant and typical of the behavior we have seen for the last 50 years."

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, "The No. 1 concern is that there be no use of live ammunition on Vieques . . . This [Warner] proposal does not address that concern."

Puerto Ricans have lobbied for years and gone to court to stop the firing on Vieques , but the issue came to a head last April, when two stray 500-pound bombs dropped by a Marine pilot killed an island resident and wounded four others.

Since then, protesters have camped out on the Vieques beaches and halted the training that the Navy says is vital for combat readiness.

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