The Navy, the Island and the Deal

Roger Trilling

I. Heaven and Hell
II. Cancer and Other Worries
III. Ni una bomba más
IV. The Pentagon's Report
V. Negotiations with Clinton: The Pullout
VI. Behind Closed Doors
VII. "Endless Liability"
VIII. As Long As it Takes

VI. Behind Closed Doors

At the end of December, everyone resumed talking -- behind closed doors, to the frustration of the viequenses. The activists had long ceased trusting Rossell—. "We were concerned," said lawyer Flavio Cumpiano, "that the final deal would be a replay of the December third offer."

By then, the island's environmental activists had finally succeeded in getting the Environmental Protection Agency to look into drinking-water contamination from the Navy's open-pit ammunition "cook-offs." It would soon issue a lengthy indictment denying the Navy permission to continue such practices.

That the EPA was not party to the negotiations was cause for concern. "We in Vieques are familiar with Navy lies," activist Stacie Notine explained. "And the idea that people would be negotiating with the Navy and not talking about oversight was an obvious failure to us. We were also concerned by Rossell—'s talk about Ôno live ordnance,'" she went on. "Because the continuation of any exercise was understood by us to mean that we'd lost the battle -- in a political negotiation."

In the endless back-and-forth between Secretary Morey, the White House, and the Navy over three- versus five-year departure dates, or live versus inert ordnance, no one on either side had negotiated a clean-up schedule for the highly-polluted eastern end of the island.

In the weeks to come, the military worked closely with the White House to build support in Congress for Clinton's initiative. Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, Robert Tyre, Secretary Cohen's Chief of Staff, Chief of Naval Operations Jay L. Johnson, and Vice Admiral Robert Natter were duly dispatched to the Hill. "All those people were on board before we reached the agreement," said a high-placed source in the Puerto Rican delegation. "That was very important for us."

On January 25, 2000, the Navy submitted a proposal to the White House. It wasn't much different from the Rush Report, or the deals that had been offered in November and December. They offered the people of Vieques a choice between two options: a resumption of live-fire exercises for ninety days a year (which would net the viequenses $40 million in supplemental aid and return of western lands); or the resumption of bombing with inert ordnance for five years, after which the Navy would leave. But if the citizens chose the second option, operations on Roosevelt Roads would be cut back, and the land would be turned over not to the people of Puerto Rico, but to federal agencies,who may or not have been compelled to clean it up.

Rossell— immediately called the proposal "a step backwards." Clinton endorsed it.

On January 31, the president issued his "Directive." It preserved all the concessions the Navy had offered -- a ninety-day bombing schedule, inert ordnance, pull-out in three years, some clean-up, $40 million, a health study, western land transfer and construction projects -- and sweetened the deal with another $55 million if the viequenses allowed the Navy to stay indefinitely. The Directive also specified that, should the Navy lose the referendum, its land would be turned over to the General Services Administration, which is in the business of selling off federal property.

What Clinton's Directive did not contain, however, was any reference to the strongly-stated will of the Puerto Rican people. What they had fought for so hard -- an immediate end to the bombing -- would not be on the ballot. The Commander-in-Chief had spoken: it wasn't an option.

Vieques Main

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© 2001 Roger Trilling, El Andar Magazine