Heaven and Hell
II. Cancer and Other Worries
III. Ni una bomba más
IV. The Pentagon's Report
V. Negotiations with Clinton: The
VI. Behind Closed Doors
VII. "Endless Liability"
VIII. As Long As it Takes
Negotiations with Clinton: The Pullout
"Rosselló got a signal that Clinton would back him up,
and help with a resolution," said the San Juan Star's Maldonado.
"He wouldn't have gone up against the Armed Services Committee
Part of Rosselló's mystique was his ability to predict favors
from the White House, and this seemed a propitious time. Hillary
was mounting her Senate campaign in a state with one of the highest
proportions of Puerto Rican voters in the country. Rosselló
was co-chair of Puerto Rico's drive for Gore. Both Gore and the
President's wife had come out in favor of the viequenses.
Ten weeks after Rosselló's Congressional testimony, talks
resumed between the Navy and Puerto Rico. Rosselló's emissary
and Secretary of State Angel Morey asserted that there could be
no further discussion of resumed bombing. The only questions he
would consider were timetables for the Navy's clean-up of the lands,
their return to the people, and the Navy's departure.
It was a hardball opener, but the realities of Navy schedules were
ticking. Those involved knew that in early December, the Navy's
Second-Fleet Eisenhower carrier group would steam out of Norfolk
bay for its final phase of training on Vieques, before deploying
to the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf.
A few days earlier, Senator Warner introduced a resolution calling
on Clinton to review the combat-readiness of the carrier group.
As Commander-in-Chief of America's armed services, Clinton was responsible
for the well-being of every sailor and airman in the fleet, and
the month before he had pledged that no troops would be deployed
unless they were "at a satisfactory level of combat readiness."
But it is the Navy that determines levels of preparedness. And Second
Fleet commanders warned that without live-fire training, the Eisenhower
group would only be awarded a C-3 rating, and "we do not deploy
units at C-3 readiness levels."
On one hand, Congress was threatening to hold Clinton responsible
for sending unprepared troops into active duty. On the other hand,
Gore and Hillary were part of a growing array of international,
Latino, and Democratic interests lining up behind Rosselló,
Clinton's long-time political ally.
On November 26, 1999, days before the carrier group was to debark,
Clinton announced that he was optimistic about a deal. It was hoped
that in return for a firm date for the Navy's departure, Rosselló
would agree to allow inert shells. The Navy objected.
"Anything short of live fire is not acceptable, but we are
going to have to say it is acceptable when it isn't," a Navy officer
told the press. "This thing has ceased to be an operational
matter, and is completely a political football."
On December 3, Clinton made his offer. The Navy would give up the
western part of the island, pull out of Vieques in five years, and
use only inert ordnance for ninety days a year. They would also
provide $40 million for improving environmental and living conditions,
build a pier and artificial reef for the fishermen, and help preserve
one of the bioluminescent bays. This was "as good," Pentagon
spokesman Kenneth Bacon said, "as we can come up with."
Rosselló rejected it. In fact, he was outraged. "I feel
deceived with the position that's been taken," he said, "because
it doesn't faithfully reflect what we have been discussing with
The Navy had been reluctant to make time commitments on paper, and
when at the last moment it did, the date of withdrawal had changed
from December 31, 2004, to a vague five-year period. And crucial
assurances -- such as the fixing of the agreement in a legally binding
form, and a guarantee for the $40 million -- were still missing.
Rossello's team was also concerned about the degree of congressional
support for the Navy's terms -- essential for the passing of binding
legislation. Rossello began to balk.
According to sources who'd worked closely with Clinton on this,
the Navy's last-minute omissions caused an eruption in the White
House. "One issue," said Clinton's Deputy Chief of Staff
María Echaveste, "was civilian control of the military
-- that Vieques did not necessarily permanently belong to the Navy."
From the Pentagon's perspective, Puerto Rico had already been accorded
more due diligence than most state governments. But after the December
3 debacle, this would change. Henceforth, Secretary Morey's delegation
would be treated more like that of a separate, sovereign state.
The Norfolk carrier group was diverted from Vieques. "This
marked the first time that America and its territories have turned
their backs on the responsibility to train those who go forth to
protect our national interest,Ó said Senator Warner. "With
this decision, leaders tolerated civil disobedience which had a
direct, adverse impact on our Navy and Marines."
Two weeks later, Warner and Inhofe, with Navy support, initiated
measures to close down Roosevelt Roads. Rosselló branded
it "a petty political move."