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

VII. "Endless Liability"

Although they did not say so to their constituency, Rossello's team had long abandoned hope for an immediate stop to the bombing. With the term reduced from five years to three, the proper Congressional assurances in place, and the force of a Presidential Directive behind them, they felt this was as reasonable a compromise as possible. The Directive, Rossell— proclaimed, was "a fair and positive basis for resolution of a long-standing and complex issue."

He was denounced on the floor of Puerto Rico's Senate the next day. Sila Calderón, a member of the Burgos Commission who had recently become the opposition's candidate for Governor in the November 2000 elections, was especially severe. The wave of popular revulsion also grew more emphatic, cresting a few weeks later when 100,000 demonstrators followed the calls of religious leaders into the streets. It was one of the largest rallies in the island's history.

The viequenses refused to accept what they saw as Rosselló's betrayal, and the bombing range has been occupied more or less continuously ever since. Exercises have been postponed several times. According to the Navy, islanders have also launched almost two thousand lawsuits and an action against the use of depleted uranium, which was also condemned by the UN.

The Directive was turned into law by Congress. There was one significant change, though it was not much noted at the time: Should the referendum go against the Navy, its lands would be ceded not to the GSA but to the Department of the Interior. This meant that the land, and whatever polluting agents lie within it, would be even further removed from any comprehensive clean-up.

A possible reason for this move was offered by Senator Frank Murkowski of Alaska, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "The Navy has polluted Vieques, and I don't know if it can ever be cleaned up," he said. "If those lands are turned over... the Navy would be exposed to endless liability."

Vieques Main

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© 2001 Roger Trilling, El Andar Magazine