Left-wing pressures are being brought to bear to halt training operations on Vieques, the naval facility off Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rican politicians are bowing to mob pressures stirred up by protesters whose influence on the island commonwealth's leftist politics is considerable, there and here in parts of the U.S., as witness then-President Bill Clinton’s decision to grant clemency to Puerto Rican terrorists, believed to have been an effort to please New York City Puerto Ricans during his wife’s successful Senate candidacy.
What is ironic is that the secretary of the Navy in the Clinton administration issued a report a couple of years ago stating that the Inner Range at Vieques is the only range at which strike aircraft are afforded the use of air-to-ground live ordnance with tactically realistic and challenging targets and airspace that allows the use of high-altitude flight profiles.
It is the only range at which live naval surface, aviation and artillery ordnance can be delivered in coordination. Additionally, Vieques is the only training venue that can accommodate amphibious landings supported by naval surface lines.
"No viable alternative exists,” says Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and any action to pull our operations out of there would "place at risk the lives of American sailors and Marines.”
Vieques has been an American training ground for nearly 60 years, since World War II. In all that time, only one casualty (a security guard in 1999) resulted from any of the activity, which of course was a tragic accident.
Protesters are using that one death to disrupt operations. They have done this by sneaking onto the facility illegally and endangering themselves and others by handling unexploded ordnance.
The Clinton presidency appeared to be winking at all this when then-Attorney General Janet Reno failed to take immediate steps to enforce the law. She turned a deaf ear to the pleas of Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Readiness Management and Support.
Moreover, in the last days of the Clinton administration, the then-outgoing Navy Secretary Richard Danzig reached an accord to suspend the shelling pending preliminary findings of a health panel regarding health effects.
A panel came back with negative assertions of risk that contradicted previous studies cited by the Navy. The suspicion is that this time the environmental lobby has been dabbling in junk science again.
The actions of the Bush administration are being watched closely on this. The president is getting pressure to cave.
Puerto Rican Gov. Sila Maria Calderon, a Democrat, has leaned on the Bush administration since January and won a temporary reprieve when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld agreed to cancel exercises planned for March. But two weeks ago, the Bush administration’s Pentagon announced it would go ahead with the training exercises, apparently not feeling bound by last-minute agreements of the Clinton administration.
And indeed, there are conflicting interpretations of oral agreements with the Bush presidency. For example, the word "hope” was interpreted by Calderon as an ironclad commitment.
New York’s GOP Gov. George E. Pataki is pandering to the leftist organized Puerto Rican community in his state by urging the U.S. military to pull out of Vieques. That is beginning to backfire in polls showing New Yorkers want the governor to concentrate on governing New York, rather than playing secretary of defense.
Just last week, a federal judge rejected an emergency request from the Puerto Rican government to prevent training maneuvers at Vieques involving thousands of military personnel. But Calderon has vowed to fight on.
Now some Puerto Rican politicians are illegally entering the facility. Several of them have sneaked onto the 12,000 acres of restricted Navy land at Vieques and vowed to stay until arrested.
Among the protesters detained during the weekend just after the exercises resumed were environmentalist lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., actor Edward James Olmos and local singer-songwriter Robi Draco.
During his trip to Vieques, Sen. Inhofe was told by many residents there that much of the anti-Navy sentiment people hear about comes more from the politicians on the main island of Puerto Rico than from the actual residents of Vieques.
Even the New York Times on Sunday quoted local residents as saying most of the protesters were "from the Big Island — as Puerto Rico is called by Vieques residents — intellectuals and ideologues who did not care a wisp about Vieques until recently.”
The Times quotes one local as saying "These big-city guys are just playing with us, using Vieques for their own political end.”
In fact, though most of the political noise is coming from the political opposition, supporters of the Navy among the local populace have submitted petitions urging that the military operations be allowed to continue.
The facility is nine miles from the nearest house. The protest complaint is that 9,000 residents live within 10 miles of live-fire practice shelling by 5-inch guns and other armaments.
That elicits the glassy stare from Inhofe. The senator points out that in his state, more than 100,000 residents live within three miles of the impact area used by 6-inch guns fired regularly at Fort Sill, not far from Lawton, Okla., "and they have learned to be good neighbors.”
A referendum is set for November. If the Puerto Ricans decide to kick us off the island, we would have until 2003 to find another range. No such alternative exists, so many of our men and women may be sent into combat inadequately trained.
Even that short two-year wait is too long for Gov. Calderon, who says she would want an immediate evacuation. The governor, however, says she does not support the illegal activities of the demonstrators.
Now let’s add all this up.
Does all of this have a familiar ring?
We used to have congressional committees that would examine the forces behind events of this kind, not to deny them their First Amendment rights, but, in part, to shine the spotlight of publicity to determine if enemies of this country are behind the scenes pulling the strings. The idea was that if subversive forces were leading the charge on anything of this type, the American people had a right to know it and then judge the effort in that context.
We don’t have those congressional committees anymore. They were abolished about 25 years ago. "McCarthyism,” you know. So what we are stuck with amounts to an enforced ignorance. And many who would like to get to the bottom of what’s really going on in Puerto Rico are helpless and wonder how long a deliberately uninformed America can protect itself.
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