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Clinton Hopeful of Vieques Accord: Must Stop Treating Puerto Rico as U.S. Colony

November 5, 1999
Copyright © 1999 US NEWSWIRE. All Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON -- Following is a transcript of interview of President Clinton Nov. 4 by Telemundo:

Q Vieques, sir. The U.S.S. Eisenhower is scheduled to begin exercises December 1st off the coast of Puerto Rico in Vieques. Will you approve the use of live fire?

THE PRESIDENT: Before that happens, I hope and believe there's a chance that we will reach an accommodation between the Navy and the government and the representatives of Puerto Rico.

Let me say, as I've said before, I think the fact that there was an agreement made back in 1983, that then the Navy and the Defense Department regularly and flagrantly ignored, treating Puerto Rico as if it were still a colony, is really at the root of all this.

I think that, as you know, that the Pentagon has a point, in the sense that if you look at what we had to do in Kosovo, for example, or what we had to do earlier in Bosnia, they need to be able to train, they have to be able to do live-fire training somewhere. They need to be able to fly over water. We also have to do landings. You know, when we restored the democratically-elected government of Haiti, thank God there was no violence, but there could have been. And we have to practice, you know, how do we approach on the shore?

On the other hand, we don't want to be in the position of jamming down the throat of Puerto Rico, and the people and the elected officials of Puerto Rico, one bad memory after another of a longstanding relationship where we didn't honor our commitments.

So what Secretary Cohen has tried to do is take the security report he got -- saying, you know, we need to use Vieques for five more years -- and the reality of the feelings of the people of Puerto Rico and the positions of the leaders. And we're trying hard to work through both of those in a way that there can be an agreement.

I think the most important thing is we get out of this treating Puerto Rico as if it were literally, for these purposes, a colony of the United States. It is not a colony. And if -- you know, I think the Congress should give them an authoritative vote on whether they want to be a state or continue commonwealth status. I mean, the last vote they had was very close, narrowly for commonwealth, but it wasn't a sanctioned vote by the Congress.

So I have done as much as I could to try to restore the integrity of the relationship between the people and the government of Puerto Rico and the United States. And so for me, because I'm the Commander- in-Chief, and I also have heavy representatives to ensure the preparedness and the integrity of our armed forces -- there's a reason we lost no pilots on Kosovo. It's because they train hard, and they're careful. And we try to save lives.

So this is a very difficult decision. But I believe there is an agreement which can be made here, which respects the legitimate interests both of the people of Puerto Rico, particularly those that live on Vieques, and the national security interests of the Navy. And so they're trying to get there. And before I answer the specific questions, I'm going to give them a chance to get there. We've got about a month, and we're going to work hard at it.

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