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Hard Lessons In Vieques

October 20, 1999
Copyright © 1999 MIAMI HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

The special panel's report on Vieques bombing this week is sure to please no one. And therein lie the reasons why it should be accepted and implemented.

The report recommends that the Navy stop using the island off Puerto Rico as a live-ordnance practice range -- but do so after five years. In the meantime, the Navy should sharply curtail bombing on the island and transfer the exercises to other locations, the report says.

To critics of the practice, a phase-out isn't good enough.

Puerto Rico's governor demands an immediate halt to the bombing. Activist groups are camping out on the range, setting themselves as human targets to dissuade firing from Navy planes and ships.

President Clinton would do well to heed the panel's Solomonic rationale -- the report notes that the Navy's 58 years on the island have produced mixed results.

Undeniably, Vieques plays a crucial role in training U.S. forces. Those exercises must be continued. But they should happen elsewhere.


Another Slap At Vieques

October 21, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL.
All Rights Reserved.

A special presidential panel has decided to slap Puerto Ricans in the face -- again. It recommended this week that the United States Navy resume using live bombs at a base on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

The panel's recommendation for the Navy to leave Vieques in five years made sense. That would go a long way toward restoring Puerto Ricans' faith, giving them a concrete time frame for getting their island back.

But the panel's call to resume using real explosives suggested no sensitivity, either for the dead or for the living aggrieved by live-ammunition tests gone awry.

A better alternative would allow the Navy to continue tests, using non-explosive ammunition, while preparing to withdraw in five years. That would serve the Navy's training needs and provide a date certain for the Navy to leave.

President Bill Clinton should make the moratorium on live testing permanent and plan for the Navy to get out in five years.

That would resolve the dispute and stop insulting Puerto Ricans.



National Interest Comes First

October 24, 1999
All Rights Reserved.

Many Puerto Ricans are demanding that the Pentagon cease using government-owned property on the island of Vieques as a live firing range for Navy and Marine training exercises.

[W]e urge President Clinton to place the national interest above understandable, but parochial, demands to close the range.

The firing range at Vieques is needed by the Pentagon. More specifically, it's needed by service members trained there, who are willing to risk their lives when sent into mortal combat on orders from the President.

(Of course, if Puerto Rico someday decides to become an independent nation perhaps the best long-term outcome for both the United States and Puerto Rico Americans would gladly concede the need to make other arrangements regarding American military training sites.)

In June, President Clinton saw fit to appoint a four-member panel of knowledgeable persons to examine the issue; on Oct. 18, it unanimously recommended maintaining the firing range in Vieques.

Shouldn't the President listen to the basic point made by the panel he himself appointed? Unfortunately, he might not. The panel members could not ignore the obvious that Vieques is needed but hedged the recommendation, which was to maintain Vieques for now but to shut it down within five years.

Congress should demand that Vieques remain in operation until a suitable alternative site is found, purchased and made ready for appropriate training exercises.


The Pentagon and Vieques

October 22, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE WASHINGTON POST CO.
All Rights Reserved.

A PENTAGON-appointed panel, the defense secretary and the president, pronouncing on the volatile Vieques issue, urge the United States and Puerto Rico to continue working to serve American military readiness on the one hand and local safety, economic and environmental considerations on the other. Well, yes: dialogue, compromise, work it out. But the mismatch is painful. The U.S. government has the power, the Puerto Ricans are left to protest.

The issue has generated intense nationalistic passion in Puerto Rico , and a feeling of betrayal and no-confidence reigns.

Chairing a Vieques hearing Tuesday, Sen. John Warner said that, doing their patriotic duty, his own constituents in Quantico sit closer to an active live-fire range than do residents of Vieques. But the senator failed to note that his constituents command a powerful alternative device to ensure their safety. They have a full role in the American political system; they have Sen. John Warner. By contrast, the Americans who live in Vieques cling to the fringe of the American system. They have no voting or Senate representation. They lack a political status -- statehood or independence -- that would give them a fair chance to make their case.

The competing requirements of the American military and the people of Vieques do need to be worked on harder. But the root problem of modernizing a colonial connection now entering its second century remains to be effectively addressed.



The Vieques Solution: Buy It

October 22, 1999
Copyright © 1999 CHICAGO TRIBUNE.
All Rights Reserved.

There is an obvious answer to the problems ostensibly posed by the U.S. Navy's use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques for live-fire exercises--so obvious that it's clear the real issue must be other than what those protesting the Navy's presence say it is.

The Navy controls about 22,000 of Vieques' 33,000 acres. The obvious solution would be to buy the rest, something the Pentagon's $267 billion budget ought to be able to handle. But purchasing the island was not the recommendation of the presidential panel that just finished studying what the Navy should do to satisfy Puerto Rican protesters who claim the live-fire exercises pollute the environment and endanger the lives of Vieques' 9,300 civilian residents.

Instead, the panel urged that the Navy cut substantially the number of days on which it conducts live-fire exercises and reduce by half the amount of ammunition used. Do that right away, the panel said, and close the range completely in five years.

But Puerto Ricans of all political stripes have said that's not good enough. They want the range closed immediately.

Puerto Ricans who are sharply divided on other issues are in agreement that the firing range must go. And it is evident from the tenor of the debate on the issue that their concerns are only secondarily about safety and the environment. Vieques has become for them a cause, a defining issue, a rallying point.

An issue that achieves that emotional status generally is immune to solution by rational means. Nevertheless, Secretary of Defense William Cohen ought to give it a try: Make an offer; try to buy the island.


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