Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last week ordered the Navy to suspend its bombing of Vieques for the month ofMarch. The order came two days after Puerto Ricans launched a new effort for an immediate and permanent end to thecontinued US bombing of the island. In a new tactic, some 160 Puerto Ricans and supporters lobbied Congress lastweek, and Puerto Rican Governor Sila Calderon asked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to halt the naval exercisesuntil he reviews a study linking the bombing to health problems among residents.
The Navy had for decades used live bombs on Vieques until the 1999 killing of a civilian caused popular discontent toexplode. Protesters swept into the bombing range and occupied it for over a year, until the Navy expelled them lastMay.
Then the Puerto Rican governor and President Clinton formed an agreement under which the Navy could continue trainingwith inert bombs until a November referendum on the issue. But popular discontent has remained high, and GovernorSila Calderon won on a platform which included the immediate ousting of the Navy.
Activists and analysts disagree on the significance of the one-month suspension: some hail it as the first of severalvictories; others call it a delay tactic at best and a ploy to win the November referendum at worst.
- Dr. Emilio Pantojas, Sociologist and Senior Researcher, the Center for Social Research in San Juan.
- Juan Manuel Garcia Bassalacque, Senior Political Analyst for the San Juan Star, WAPA (television)and WUNO (radio).