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Vieques Must Stay

Navy Must Heed Puerto Ricans: Stop The Bombing

Vieques Must Stay

July 29, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The Washington Times. All Rights Reserved.

Vieques Island, 20 miles off Puerto Rico , is the only location in all of our nation suitable for combined naval shelling and amphibious training. We have bombed and blasted that battered earth for more than 60 years. cost of reclamation would reach multi-millions of dollars and a decade of restoration. it is unlikely that those trampled acres will ever be useful for anything else.

Vieques Island is the only area our government has ever found or will ever find that can provide all of the features necessary for amphibious warfare training. That training requires massive barrages of land and sea artillery, air strikes, and every conceivable use of smaller arms - which include highly polluting smokes, gases, whit phosphorous, and pyrotechnic signals. Everything, in fact, available within U.S. arsenals.

Due to long-established airways and shipping lanes, there is no other satisfactory "geographically clear" spot in or near the United States that can allow the free flying of fighters, bombers and missiles. The water off Vieques is deep where it would be, and the beaches are perfect for practice landings. Big (really big) artillery can fire there in tactical support of amphibious landings without endangering anyone or anything. Remember that in the 60- year history of military use, among the countless thousands who have stormed the beach, directed artillery, bombed and strafed the approaches only a single individual (a government employee) was accidentally killed by a misdirected round.

There is more. The small percentage of the island used by naval forces will not be turned over to civilian use. The land still belongs to the federal government, and except for local "cowboys" who illegally seek strayed cattle, the region's wealth of dud shells, jagged fragments and polluted earth will prevent its use for other purposes.

Beneath air and sea barrages there is no way to eliminate savaging of the earth, yet there is also no way to void that training and still commit troops to combat. Our fighting men must have the combined-arms experience that Vieques Island allows. Sending undertrained troops (our boys) into battle is a far greater crime than inconveniencing citizens who suffer only sensibility difficulties with the land's use.

That side of Vieques is a mess, but how is it an improvement to move the same activities to another area to create another Vieques ? No one living has ever resided on that part of the 20-mile-long island, and we might ask why we should displace someone else to satisfy activists who are unwilling to reason beyond the aggravating wire fences isolating the maneuver and impact areas.

If Vieques is abandoned, other Puerto Rican bases will follow. The major closing will be Roosevelt Roads Naval Base because it will no longer be needed. That closure will impact Puerto Ricans far more severely than the shells that fall unheard on distant and unvisited Vieques .

Equally divisive will be the immediate cries of "Not in my backyard" as the Navy struggles to find a substitute training area.

It is apparently comforting to shout slogans and push at the military's hurricane fence. if you are a fortunate celebrity, you might even be arrested and gain television exposure. But, if they are serious, those loud and abusive protesters should first announce exactly where they desire the essential training to be relocated. We have not heard such proposals.

Inevitable screeching for a follow-up Vieques cleanup might also include how much that will cost and how much treasure will be expended to develop a significantly less efficient new training site - to do it all over again. Citizens as intensely concerned as most of the protesters have certainly calculated those minor details.

ROY B. CHANDLER, master sergeant, U.S. Army (retired)

NORMAN A. CHANDLER, lieutenant colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (retired)

The Chandler brothers are authors of the five-volume "Death From Afar" series, and 50 other published books, both fact and fiction. Their company, Iron Brigade Armory, manufactures Tactical Sniper Rifles.

Navy Must Heed Puerto Ricans : Stop The Bombing


August 6, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Madison Newspapers, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The small, old fishing boat taking Jessica Gaspar and her Aunt Millie to join the peace vigil in Vieques rocked when pounded by strong ocean waves. It was the only way to get around the Navy's blockade of the peaceful campsite set up by civic organizations to protest the military domination of this small island community.

Hundreds of others had made that trip to Vieques , an island off the coast of Puerto Rico , to express their indignation with the U.S. Navy "war games," begun decades ago.

A graduate student in theater at UW-Madison and a member of a Puerto Rican traditional dance troupe, Gaspar sought to demonstrate the important role of civil disobedience in attaining peace and justice. She celebrated the new year with members of Women in Solidarity with the Women's Alliance of Vieques , a group opposed to the Navy's use of the island as a firing range. For more than two years, in church-sponsored campsites at the entrance to Camp Garcia and on its bombing range, they've held vigils hoping that popular support at home and abroad would end the Navy's "acts of violence."

Gaspar and a small group of Puerto Ricans in Madison recently held a demonstration in front of the Capitol. Singing songs of peace to the beat of drums, they distributed fliers about the referendum to be held in Vieques the next day.

Madison's Puerto Rican activists are part of the most powerful peace movement to have taken root in the Caribbean - an ecumenical movement to end the Navy's aerial bombardments. It is a movement of solidarity with the people of Vieques whose cancer rates soar from depleted uranium bombs and where other serious health problems - scleroderma, lupus, thyroid deficiencies, and a rare form of heart disease - increasingly blight the population.

They want to halt the deterioration of Vieques ' coral reefs, the depletion and contamination of fish, the environmental degradation of soil, and the steady increase of disease among its local population.

Nora Alvarez, a graduate student at UW-Madison, said that "this is not a political issue but an issue of human rights. It is about health and the environment."

To Chad Kautzer, the Navy's courtship of fishermen's votes by monetary compensation for days when bombing interfered with fishing and grants of $25,000 to spur commerce were "a blatant buy-off before the referendum."

To most Puerto Ricans and the international community at large, Vieques is a cause celebre since the 1999 death of David Sanes Rodriguez, a civilian security guard who was killed by an errant bomb, which injured four others.

Religious groups joined with unions, political organizations and fishermen's and environmental groups to oppose the Navy's "war games" by serving as "human shields" in what they refer to as a movement of "religious disobedience." They hold marches, candlelight vigils and prayer sessions to develop unity. They have withstood heavy rains, stinging criticism by pro-Navy supporters who accuse them of being pawns of Fidel Castro, and the belligerent use of brute power by troops forcing peace activists from the firing range.

Increasingly, arrests take place on Vieques , in Puerto Rico , and within urban landscapes in the United States. Arrests at sea and at the firing range are announced every day in Puerto Rico 's daily press, on its TV news and entertainment programs, and in a six- minute video ("Cancian Libre" by Tito Anger featuring singers from around the world) shown on commercial TV channels.

Officials such as Illinois Congressman Gutierrez and Sen. Norma Burgos of Puerto Rico have been arrested. So, too, have Jesse Jackson and his wife; environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr.; actors Edward James Olmos, Rosie Perez (in a U.S. demonstration) and Jimmy Smits; and local and mainland artists, writers and religious leaders.

Catholic Cardinal Luis Aponte and Archbishop Robert Gonzalez Nieves lend their support to demonstrators as do leaders of Protestant, Jewish and other religious sects. The list of supporters, growing every day, includes Sen. Hillary Clinton, the Black Caucus and people prominent in foreign governments.

The day after the Madison peace march, 80.6 percent of Vieques ' 5,893 voters cast their votes in a referendum offering three choices: (1) continued inert bombing until the Navy leaves in 2003; (2) the immediate and permanent departure of the Navy and an immediate end to aerial bombing; (3) live bombing while the Navy remains permanently.

Sixty-eight percent of the voters registered support for the immediate and permanent departure of the Navy. Gov. Sila Calderon has sent the results of the vote to President Bush and congressional leaders. "The people of Vieques made their decision and spoke clearly," she said. "This is the people speaking with a united voice."

* The Navy, however, sees things differently. After the results of the vote were announced, it said that it would continue its training. When that happens, Jessica Gaspar contends, the Navy will be met once again with mass acts of civil disobedience.

"I think that the Navy is showing its sense of omnipotent power, its reiteration that, for them, Puerto Rico has neither vote nor voice in the political arena of the United States. This referendum is a victory for the peace movement in Vieques . The Navy fears that it is generating international support, and it fears a growing sense of unity among Puerto Ricans , one that blurs religious and partisan differences.

"The Puerto Rican reaction to the Navy's stance will be more civil disobedience. The people of Vieques have spoken clearly, and there is no way to go backwards."

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