Category: History

Puerto Rico English News Media Public Commentary
by Various

The rhetoric over the use of the Eastern end of the small island of Vieques by the U.S. Navy has highlighted the political scene in P.R. since April of 1999, when a U.S Navy jet pilot accidentally dropped two bombs off target in the bombing range which landed next to a concrete safety guard house killing one man who did not join his comrades inside, but wanted to watch the explosions expected to be three miles away!

PR politics since has seen a change of party and it is easy to see that this issue was sufficient to let the new Governor Sila Caulderón and her Popular party win control of the legislature as well.

The following series may include letters and comments from other writers.

From: Richard R. Tryon
To: Robert Becker, Viewpoint Editor Jan. 26, 2001
San Juan, P.R. Fax 782-0310

Dear Mr. Becker,

Reader Ing. Noel Piñeiro from far away Mayagüez provided a fine example of a letter that reflects how successful has been the campaigners that are struggling for “Paz a Vieques”. Living a lot closer to the neglected island of Vieques- in sight of it, in fact, as it is just 12 miles away, I am a mainland American that only lives in PR half-time. So several important observations may help the distant Puerto Rican population in Mayagüez and many more on the big island. They are given in the spirit of an American sense of fairness, with observations not intended to tell anyone what to think, but what some might want to think about.

First, it is not correct to contend that the 9,400 folks, who live on Vieques are in an ‘undeclared’ war and have been since 1940! It is as if to say that the U.S. Navy has tried to kill every person on Vieques since 1940 and has failed to do so! The only casualty is David Sanes, employed as a guard to keep others safely away from the target zone. Because he disobeyed his orders and did not stay in the shelter where others obediently waited out the time for a pair of bombs to be dropped three miles away, he became the accidental victim, when the controller mistakenly thought that the incoming plane was on the right course. It wasn’t. So now the writer should claim that the U.S. Navy finally managed its first successful kill of a citizen of Vieques! After 59 years of failure and thousands of bombs and shells from ships, and countless rounds of machine gun and missle fire from planes. It is amazing that someone in Mayagüez can believe this to be true?

It is even more amazing for the writer to characterize those still living on Vieques as the poorest of the poor. They may have been neglected by every Puerto Rican government for the past 50 years because they are so few in number, but it not fair to say that they have been neglected by the U.S. Navy. It was the Navy that helped one-third of the population get to St. Croix, where food was grown to avoid starvation that happened when the Germans sank all of the food ships coming from the U.S. mainland in 1942. I know, I tried to come on one of those ships!

It was the U.S. Navy that provided more employment for those that elected to stay in Isabel II and other parts of the middle third of the island, where very little industry exists. A few tourists have come because it is so quiet on Vieques- no racing traffic and blaring horns and few ‘boom boxes’ to vibrate the cars and cause injury to the people inside and out with ‘vibroacoustic’ disease! The occasional day of distant thunder-like sounds of exploding bombs and shells is little different than that found near many U.S. military bases on the mainland. But it is true that most mainland Americans do not live in mortal fear that those test bombs are being aimed at them by incompetent enemy forces in an ‘undeclared war’!

If the truth be known, it is probable that the most energetic and aggressive folks from Vieques moved away, rather than try to make a living on an island that has too little water, sewer, power, phone or other infrastructure for anything to happen. You may want to characterize it as less than what some would call a ‘third-world’ place- like all of P.R. was sixty years ago and before the Spanish-American War. But, you do not really know that the citizens of Vieques are unhappy and anxious to move to the main island. The fishermen would like to have more fishing grounds to fish, but they have little chance of fishing where the water becomes so very deep so close to land, as is the case on Vieques on the East side bombing range. The small hotels and beach operators attract a few tourists that are happy to pay low prices for minimal service and facilities- just a place in the sun and sand and a nearby bar is enough.

Alas, in recent years a few have eyed the real estate as developers for mass tourism. If they can just get the Navy out and its $90 million in grants to come in and improve the infrastructure, then a new war can begin- one between the islanders, who like its slow pace and quiet places vs those who want bigger roads, faster traffic, roaring tourist jets, high rises and casinos. One wonders if these developers have confused anyone about the U.S. Navy?

Those who want to further a dialogue may want to visit and visit the History section on Public Commentary in P.R.

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