One of the many headaches that George W. Bush inherited from his predecessor was the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. In the waning years of the Clinton administration, protesters demanded that the U.S. Navy abandon bombing and naval gun fire exercises that had taken place on the largely uninhabited island for nearly seventy years. It became a leftist cause. Liberal icons bumped into one another to fly to Puerto Rico, boat over to the island, trespass (but never on a day that there was an exercise scheduled) and get arrested for the benefit of the New York Times or Newsweek. They included the Reverend Al Sharpton, Mrs. Jesse Jackson, Joan Baez, Robert F. Kennedy,Jr., Edward Olomos, Michael Moore and Ramsey Clark, just to name a few. Hillary Clinton, then running for the U.S. Senate in New York, chastised the U.S. Navy for not bowing to the "will of the citizens of Puerto Rico", until her husband, a week before the election, issued an executive order to phase out the facility by 2003, despite pleas from his own Secretary of Defense and the Chief of Naval Operations.
In 2002, the bombing exercises were transferred to an Air Force bombing range in central Florida, not far from the Jacksonville and Pensacola Naval Air Stations. In January, many of the protesters were back in Puerto Rico, celebrating the final bombing exercise on Vieques and waved Puerto Rican flags and placards that read "U.S. Navy, get out of Puerto Rico."
On February 21, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced that the U.S. Navy will close the Roosevelt Roads Naval Air Station in Puerto Rico in 2004, eliminating 1200 civilian jobs as well as 700 military positions.
This naval facility is estimated to put nearly $300 million annually into the local economy. The next day a stunned Governor Sila Calderon, held a news conference in San Juan, protesting the base closure as a serious blow to Commonwealth's fragile economy. The governor stated that "The people of Puerto Rico don't now or never did have an interest in closing the Vieques bombing range or the Roosevelt Roads naval base. We are interested in both staying in Puerto Rico." When asked, the Commander-in Chief, Western Atlantic Command, said, "Without Vieques, I see no further need for the facility at Roosevelt Roads. None."
Well, wonder what the protesters are going to do now. Surely they're not planning on replacing that bit of the Puerto Rican economy themselves...