Vieques: a more balanced news account from the Associated Press

Judith Lang & Lynton Land JandL at
Wed Dec 8 11:26:47 EST 1999

Hello everyone,
Here's a more balanced news account from the Associated Press.
Note the concluding remarks about alternate use of Elgin Airforce Base in
Florida for air-to-ground bombing runs and of beaches in North Carolina for
amphibious assaults.
Judy Lang

Clinton ends military use of Vieques unless residents agree

AP Military Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Clinton today ordered the
military to stop using a Puerto Rican island as a live-bombing range unless
residents there allow the practice to continue, and to phase out all use of
the island for military training over the next five years. Emphasizing the
importance of the island to military readiness, the Clinton administration
dangled a $40 million incentive to try to persuade Vieques' 9,000 civilians,
are U.S. citizens, to let the training continue. "I understand the
concerns of residents of the island," Clinton said in a statement that also
stressed the importance of military training carried out at Vieques since
"These concerns must be addressed, and I believe our plan will do so in a
constructive manner," said Clinton, whose decision was based on the
recommendations of Defense Secretary William Cohen. However, Puerto Rico
Pedro Rossello rejected the decision as "unacceptable for the people of
Rico and the people of Vieques." "It doesn't fulfill the expectations we
for the people of Vieques," he said, objecting to any possible renewal of
live-bombing on the island. Rossello has called for the Navy to withdraw.
Navy operations have been a target of occasional protests and legal actions
since the 1960s, but the controversy erupted into a crisis after a civilian
security guard was killed last April. The Navy then suspended training on
Vieques but has sought a way to resume it as soon as possible. The Navy has
argued that the island was irreplaceable in preparing U.S. forces for
land, sea and air operations on the Atlantic side of the world. The island,
which has been a key training ground for the ships and aircraft of the
Atlantic Fleet since World War II, offers "the most rigorous, realistic
training" facility available, Navy Secretary Richard Danzig said. In a
letter to
Clinton outlining his recommendation on Vieques, Cohen said operations there
"a vital part of training our combat forces." "I also firmly believe that
U.S. citizens, whether they live in states or other jurisdictions, must make
sacrifices in order to support the strong national defense that preserves
freedoms we all enjoy," Cohen wrote. "There is not a single part of our
that doesn't make some adjustments or accommodations to sustain the presence
the military." Under the administration's plan, the number of training days
would immediately be cut in half from 180 to 90 per year. "Within the five
years, the Navy will develop alternatives to the training, and all training
terminate unless agreed to by the Vieques people and the Navy," Danzig
said. A resumption of training "would be accompanied by" a $40 million
community economic development program, he said. Early reports of the
decision sparked a celebration among protesters on Vieques, some of whom
have camped on the beach for nearly six months. "If this is true, then it's
a triumph of the people," said Ismael Guadelupe, a local fisherman who is
among the protest leaders. "But the triumph will be complete when they turn
over all the lands, clean up the contamination and compensate the people of
Vieques for all their years of suffering." The first military force affected
the decision, the USS Eisenhower battle group, was being sent to the
Mediterranean without training on Vieques. Danzig said other battle groups
would be affected until training can resume on the island. The Marines with
Eisenhower, instead of using Vieques, will conduct an amphibious assault on
North Carolina coast, and Navy strike aircraft will conduct air-to-ground
bombing runs at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., officials said earlier. The
recommendation means the Eisenhower battle group likely would deploy to the
Mediterranean Sea in February at a substantially reduced state of combat
readiness, several officials said. The Navy has felt strongly that its
battle groups must be allowed the realistic training that Vieques provided
to be
ready for combat, since they may be called on to begin actual combat once
arrive on station. Navy officials had insisted that Vieques is the only
Coast site available for such training.
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