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Sunday, February 25, 2024


April 27, 2001 — No one knows what's going to happen on the island of Vieques the next few days.
But one thing we do know is that if there's trouble the blame belongs to Sila Calderon, a governor who has spent weeks stirring up the Puerto Rican people against the U.S. Navy and at the last minute appealed for calm.
This is akin to an arsonist, empty gas can in hand, running away from a burning building and shouting at agitated spectators to remain calm.
Consider what the former mayor of San Juan has touched off.
The legislature of Puerto Rico—elements of it, anyway—are enroute to the tiny island off the east coast with the intention of holding an outdoor session there. This renders even more appropriate the Navy decision to resume bombarding its small range on the east end of the island with "dummy" bombs, not live munitions.
Hundreds of other protestors, most of them independentistas eager to be present for yet another confrontation with the great colonial power, are heading there, too.
To their credit, many members of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church appear to be standing aside this time. The Church knows the power of an agreement, and the risks of breaking one.
But not Gov. George Pataki of New York. Shameless George is trying to convince one million Puerto Ricans living in his state to mail postcards to President Bush asking him to stop the Navy's practice shelling of the island that has served for half a century as the Navy's chief training site in the Atlantic.
Pataki may have those postcards confused with absentee ballots. When he runs for reelection next year, he's hoping all those democrat Puerto Rican voters in New York will forget he's as republican as you can get without embracing Jerry Falwell.
Meanwhile, ships of a Navy battle group slipped their moorings at the Norfolk Navy Station in Virginia and headed south yesterday morning. Enroute to Vieques they were notified a federal judge in Washington had given them permission to resume their practice shelling of Vieques.
So the stage was set for another messy, and potentially dangerous, confrontation between Washington and San Juan.
It's all so stupid and unnecessary.
Let the record show it's time for the American Navy to abandon its bombardment range on Vieques. Bill Clinton recognized that. That's why he overruled his admirals and negotiated an agreement with Calderon's predecessor, Pedro Rossello. It took months for the two leaders to agree, but agree they did.
It was complete victory for Puerto Rico. There would be no more live bombing. Residents of Vieques would vote in a referendum late this year that the Navy should leave, and the Navy would be gone forever by 2003.
So Calderon takes office in January and promptly repudiates the agreement, calling it nothing but an exchange of letters.
Why would she do this? She is a political opponent of Rossello, but that hardly explains her startling behavior. A beguiling but improbable explanation is that someone convinced her the residents of Vieques just might possibly vote next November to keep the Navy around because so many of them make their living off the military.
Whatever her reasoning, Calderon reignited the Vieques cauldron. It was her hand alone that touched the match to the firewood; she alone must bear the consequences.
Puerto Rico is by no stretch of the imagination a banana republic, but this governor acts as if she doesn't know that.
Editor's note: Frank J. Jordan is a radio commentator in the Virgin Islands and a former UVI journalism professor.

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