2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: CPEO Moderator <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: 14 Jan 2003 18:34:03 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Navy Begins Last Live-Fire Exercise on Vieques Island
Navy Begins Last Live-Fire Exercise on Vieques Island
Protests, Hard Feelings Continue; Cleanup an Issue

By John Marino
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, January 14, 2003; Page A02

VIEQUES, Puerto Rico, Jan. 13 -- After years of controversy, the U.S.
Navy today began what it says will be its last firing exercise on this
embattled island. But bitterness remains on both sides of the six-decade
relationship the Navy has had with this town's 10,000 residents.

Last week, the Navy said it would expand operations on several mainland
bases and give up use of this island as a bombing range. But today,
demonstrations continued with some protesters sneaking onto the
12,000-acre facility. At least five were detained by authorities.

"The Navy has lied to this town so many times over the years, nobody
believes them," said Nilda Medina, an organizer speaking from the string
of protest camps set up in front of the Navy's Camp Garcia military
reservation. "We always said, as long as they keep bombing, we'll keep
engaging in civil disobedience."

President Bush has ordered an end to the bombing exercises here by May
1. The unhappiness of U.S. military leaders over the controversy has
been just as evident as the protesters' anger.

"I acknowledge the situation with regard to Vieques with extreme
disappointment -- our sailors and Marines deserve better," said Marine
Corps Commandant Gen. James Jones in a memo to Secretary of the Navy
Gordon England, part of a certification to the White House and Congress
that the Navy had found alternatives to Vieques.

"Some in Puerto Rico (particularly in Vieques) have demonstrated an
appalling hostility towards sailors, Marines and their requirement for
pre-deployment training; this at a particularly dangerous time in our
nation's history," Jones said.

But Vieques residents say they have shouldered more than their fair
share of the national defense burden since the Navy took over
three-quarters of their island in the early 1940s.

"I know they don't want to leave, but the big losers here have been the
Viequenses," said 69-year-old Radames Tirado, a former mayor whose
childhood home was expropriated by the Navy and knocked down by
bulldozers. "We have been fighting for 60 years to get back the lands
they took from us."

The hard feelings between the uneasy neighbors, forged by years of what
residents said were broken Navy promises for economic development and
other assistance, is one reason why many who live here say the protests
will continue.

The current month-long exercise is for the USS Theodore Roosevelt Battle
Group, comprising nine ships, two submarines, fighter jets and about
8,000 military personnel.

Protests have become a staple activity here since an April 1999 training
accident killed a civilian security guard, David Sanes Rodriguez,
turning years of resentment against the Navy into calls for a halt to
its bombing. The issue has been a rare point of unity among Puerto
Rico's commonwealth, statehood and independence supporters.

Hundreds of Puerto Ricans, as well as U.S. supporters, including
environmental attorney Robert Kennedy Jr., actor Edward James Olmos and
Al Sharpton, have been arrested during demonstrations accompanying the
various war games that have taken place since then.

While many here are celebrating the end of bombing, some say another
battle will be waged to press the federal government to clean up and
turn over the vast swaths of land it still owns in the east and west
ends of the island. Most of the land is slated to be transferred to the
Department of the Interior to become a wildlife reserve.

The cleanup issue is of particular concern to many here, who suspect
that contaminants from Navy bombing could be harming the environment and
health of residents, who suffer from a cancer rate about 26 percent
higher than that of the main island of Puerto Rico.

Those concerns increased after recent revelations that a Navy destroyer
sunk about 900 feet off the Vieques shore was used as a target ship for
nuclear tests in the Pacific in 1958 and Pentagon acknowledgement that
chemical weapons simulants were tested on the island in the 1960s.

Studies by University of Puerto Rico scientists and others have turned
up contamination in local plants, groundwater and seafood, but a series
of reviews by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry have stated that the toxins are not in sufficient quantities to
pose a health risk to local residents.

The Navy has repeatedly denied that its activities harm the environment
or the health of residents.

Link to the article:

 2003 The Washington Post Company

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