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Rossello Willing To Deal On Vieques

by Carol Rosenberg

October 23, 1999
Copyright © 1999 MIAMI HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The governor of Puerto Rico Friday expressed his willingness to support the Pentagon's limited use of the island of Vieques if the Clinton administration abandons it as a bombing range and cedes the property to the commonwealth.
Gov. Pedro Rossello, in an interview with The Herald, said the Department of Defense could continue to use a counter-drug spy radar and permit Marines to practice rifle-shooting assaults on the island. But he expressed confidence that the bombing will not resume.

Rossello spoke to The Herald fresh from testifying on the Vieques controversy before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington. The issue has united statehood advocates like the governor and independence supporters such as lawmaker Ruben Berrios, who has staged a six-month sit-in that stopped the bombing.

The governor rushed home from Washington Wednesday to oversee emergency preparations for Hurricane Jose, which swept east and spared his commonwealth significant damage.

He said confidently, and repeatedly, that Navy and NATO aircraft had dropped their last bomb on six-decade-old ranges on the 20-mile-long island. Two-thirds of it is owned by the U.S. government; the rest is home to 9,300 civilians.
"At some point the Navy will leave Vieques,'' he said. "The destructive bombing that has gone on for 58 years will not be resumed. If the Navy wants to drag this out further, that's fine with us -- as long as there is no bombing of Vieques.''

A presidential panel recommended the opposite this week -- advocating that training missions resume for five years while the military finds other test sites. President Clinton must now decide the fate of Vieques. He ordered the special study after a fighter jet mistakenly dropped a bomb on a watchtower April 19, killing civilian guard David Sanes, 35.

Although confident that the bombing would not resume, he said he was not privy to what the president would decide -- or when he would announce it.

"There will be no bombing. You can have Marines landing and shooting with their rifles,'' he said, adding, "that can be worked out.''

Rossello said, however, that the Navy should rethink its training doctrine because no U.S. force had met opposition in an amphibious assault since troops led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur attacked Inchon, Korea. "Maybe this is a stimulus for the Navy to look toward the future and not the past.''

Vieques is also home to Over the Horizon Radar, expected to be operational early next year. Invented in the Cold War to track Soviet aircraft from Alaska, the Miami-based Southern Command established two stations in Puerto Rico, one on Vieques, to spy on drug activity across South America.

Rossello described the radar system as "indispensable'' to the drug war. It can and should stay on Vieques, he said, to underscore Puerto Rico's commitment to the U.S. war on drugs. "Our actions speak eloquently . . . We have been proactively seeking a participation in the national defense.''

At least one senator threatened this week to shut down the U.S. Navy Base at Roosevelt Roads, on mainland Puerto Rico facing Vieques, if the bombing ranges were closed.

Rossello was unable to say how many millions of dollars the base contributes to his island's economy.

But, he said, a bombing-free Vieques, cleaned up by U.S. forces before they ceded it to Puerto Rico, "could become an incredibly attractive tourism destination on a level that would compete worldwide.''

Puerto Ricans, Pentagon To Discuss Bomb-Range Dispute

Dow Jones Int'l News
(Copyright (c) 1999, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)

WASHINGTON (AP)-- Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Rossello will send his chief of staff to the Pentagon Monday for talks aimed at breaking a deadlock over the U.S. Navy's use of its bombing range on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said the Rossello aide, Angel Morey, will meet Rudy deLeon, the undersecretary of defense for personnel, to discuss a recommendation by a presidential panel that the Navy be allowed to resume limited training on Vieques but pull out within five years.

Bacon said it was possible that Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the four service chiefs would travel to San Juan to discuss the matter with Puerto Rican officials.

"That's certainly a reasonable suggestion," Bacon said, adding that a decision on that would depend on the outcome of Monday's talks.



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