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Vieques: Aim For Compromise

by Pedro A. Cortes

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

What to do about Vieques? Is it really that important as a Navy training site?

These are the questions that President Clinton and members of Congress must ask themselves. I, and quite a few of my Puerto Rican compatriots and friends, who are also veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, think that the training site is important.

I was a member of the Third Marine Air Wing from 1951 to my honorable discharge in 1955. Even though I was born and reared in Puerto Rico, my first visit to the beautiful island of Vieques came while I was on maneuvers with the Marines in 1953.

Since then, I have returned to Vieques three more times. While I was there on my most recent visit, in 1994, not even one person complained about the Navy being there.

My friends and I also believe that both the president and Congress should agree jointly on a decision. Clinton, alone, cannot be trusted to make a decision based "on need" instead of on politics. Past experiences indicate that he may put the well-being of the Democratic Party above national security. On any decision regarding national security, Congress should have significant input.

Regardless of what Puerto Rican politicians are saying, there is time and room for a sensible compromise. It is never too late to think with our heads instead of our hearts.

Furthermore, before Congress or Clinton takes unilateral action, Puerto Rican leaders should welcome a meeting to try to reach a compromise. We know that both sides cannot get everything they want. But at least the U.S. Navy should get to stay in Vieques, with some restrictions, and Puerto Rican leaders should be able to say, "We did not give in. . . . We fought as hard as we could and got the restrictions we wanted on the agreement."

My friends and I also believe that a sensible compromise will have no effect on next year's elections in Puerto Rico. Pro-statehood and pro-commonwealth parties will keep their voters. Defections to the pro-independence party will be minimal.

Among the items that should be discussed about the future of Vieques:

  • Stopping the use of live ammunition. The range exists to practice accuracy. This can be done by using some sort of blanks.
  • Renting or lending the facilities to other nations. Maybe only joint exercises should be considered.
  • Returning some of the Vieques land to the government of Puerto Rico. I doubt that the Navy needs three-quarters of Vieques for its exercises.

Of course, detractors and those "who go with the flow" will probably attack my way of thinking and that of my friends. Yet if a sensible compromise is reached and the Navy is allowed to stay in Vieques, and if another tragic accident does not occur, I'm sure that 14 to 15 years from now, all of these arguments will be forgotten. Only 3 percent of the Puerto Rican people -- the percentage of the vote usually won in general elections by the pro-independence party -- will remember. You see, the ones who are for independence for Puerto Rico will hold on to anything that, in their minds, will help their cause with the electorate.


Pedro A. Cortes of Orlando retired as a senior court clerk for the New York state court system.

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