- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

Puerto Rico Gov. Sila Calderon claimed victory this week in her campaign to prevent live-fire training on Vieques Island by the USS John F. Kennedy battle group before it departs for the war on terrorism.
The Navy said Monday the carrier Kennedy’s group would not train on Vieques, as requested by the two service chiefs. Instead, the Kennedy air wing and the escorting warships will practice at East Coast ranges.
Miss Calderon’s office issued a statement praising the decision.
“The decision by the secretary of the Navy to cancel the military exercises and the use of live bullets on the island of Vieques is a positive response to our protests against the military practices. It is not acceptable to the governor nor the people of Puerto Rico to use live bullets,” the statement said.
Citing the ongoing war on terrorism, Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations, and Gen. James Jones, the Marine Corps commandant, had asked Navy Secretary Gordon England in a private letter to let the Kennedy group use real munitions during training on Vieques this month.
The two consider Vieques a unique training ground at which to prepare pilots, gunners and Marines for combat.
A Navy spokesman said Tuesday the decision not to use Vieques was made by Adm. Robert Natter, who commands the Atlantic Fleet.
The Associated Press quoted an Atlantic Fleet spokesman yesterday as saying the decision not to use Vieques was made a month ago. However, two Navy spokesman said Monday that no decision had been made. Later in the day, a spokesman said the Kennedy would not go to Vieques before deploying this month to waters near Afghanistan.
The Vieques issue is infused with questions of politics as well as the critical issue of military readiness.
Amid citizen protests after a fatal bombing accident on the range, President Clinton prohibited the use of live rounds in favor of inert munitions.
On the campaign trail, George Bush endorsed a congressional plan to let local citizens vote on whether to keep the base open. But as president, he reversed himself and ordered the range closed by May 2003, angering Republican lawmakers who worked to protect the Navy’s interests.
Carl Rove, Mr. Bush’s chief political strategist, played a role in persuading Mr. Bush to drop the campaign promise. Republicans on Capitol Hill said the decision was an attempt to garner Hispanic votes for New York Gov. George E. Pataki, and the president’s brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, both of whom face re-election campaigns this year.
A number of prominent liberal Democrats have joined Puerto Rican protesters at the range. Before the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Democratic National Committee called for an immediate end to any Navy exercises on Vieques.
Congressional Republicans inserted a new provision in the current defense budget that the president can close Vieques only after the military certifies it has found alternative sites of equal training value.
Adm. Clark and Gen. Jones wrote in their letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times: “These groups are the next East Coast deployers and their crews would benefit greatly from live-fire practice achieved over a three-four day period at Vieques.”
After the letter was publicly disclosed, Miss Calderon sent a letter to Navy Secretary England.
“I am disturbed as I told you on the telephone last week that the commandant of the Marine Corps and the chief of naval operations have requested permission to use live fire in its training on Vieques,” she wrote.

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