01 Aug 2001 Stopping Vieques Bombing is a Dud Idea
President George W. Bush wants to close the Navy’s live-fire range on the island of Vieques by 2003. It’s a decision many think was made to appeal to Hispanic voters. But depriving our military of this unique training ground is a mistake that may have already had fatal repercussions.
Located near Puerto Rico, Vieques is the only place where naval forces based on the East Coast can simulate beach landings with live fire from the air, ground and sea. Since the death of a security guard during an April 1999 training accident, protesters have demanded that the military leave Vieques.
Few Vieques residents participate in these anti-military protests.1 What’s more, President Bush’s unilateral move to close the site in two years violates an accord between former President Bill Clinton and former Puerto Rico governor Pedro Rossello for a binding referendum of residents in November. In a non-binding July 29 referendum, only 81 of 4,744 residents voted for the Bush plan.2
No other place can provide the same training as Vieques. Officials in Kennedy County, Texas wanted the Navy to locate this training there, but this location is too close to shipping lanes and air traffic and the nearby South Padre Island contains protected endangered species.3 The next best place is Capa Tulado in Italy, but the Navy would be limited to 22 training days a year (as opposed to 160 at Vieques) and exercises could be vetoed by the Italian government.4
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), ranking mmember of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s readiness subcommittee, already assigned a death toll to current Vieques training restrictions. In an interview with Human Events, Inhofe said: “Five people died on March 12 of this year over in Kuwait when U.S. aviators dropped three 500-pounders [bombs] off target. They missed their target and some comments in the report on the incident point to the lack of live-fire training. The commander and deputy commander stated that they actively sought opportunities for that training, but the limiting factor was range availability. In other words, they took away the live-fire capability at Vieques and we have five dead soldiers.”5
Halting training will hurt the military on the battlefield, but the closure of Vieques will also cause economic pain. Angry politicians who support Vieques training threaten to repeal the rum tax that brings Puerto Rico an average of $300 million a year.6 Military bases supporting Vieques would also likely close, eliminating jobs for local residents on those bases and the economic benefits that off-duty servicemen provide. The Navy has created over 50 economic development programs on Vieques since 1990, operates an apprentice program for locals to develop job skills and works with local fishermen to create artificial reefs.7 Furthermore, if speculation about building a resort after the Navy leaves proves true, an ecosystem flourishing despite the Navy’s bombardment could be destroyed.8
Live-fire training at Vieques is essential to maintaining a competent military force. Without it, our troops will be unaccustomed to and less prepared for the full rigors of combat. This is a disservice to them and the nation they serve. It is also a bad deal for the people of Vieques and Puerto Rico.
David W. Almasi is the executive director of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank. Comments may be sent to [email protected].
1 J. Michael Waller, “Fidel Fuels Fires of Vieques Quarrel,” Insight, July 23, 2001.
2 Proviana Colon Diaz, “Viequenses Overwhelmingly Vote to Oust Navy Now,” PuertoRicoWOW News Service, July 29, 2001.
3 “Inhofe: Abandoning Vieques Will Cost American Lives,” Human Events, July 2, 2001 and “Navy Abandons Plans for a Texas Bomb Site,” Associated Press, July 13, 2001.
4 Human Events.
6 Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), remarks on “Crossfire,” Cable News Network, June 19, 2001.
7 Remarks by Rear Admiral Kevin Green, Navy Vieques Information Page, downloaded from http://navyvieques.navy.mil/radmmsg.htm on July 20, 2001.
8 Sue Anne Pressley, “On Vieques, A Wary Wait for Navy Exit,” Washington Post, June 15, 2001.