On March 31 the U.S. Navy closed down the Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Ceiba, Puerto Rico. The closing of the base, a victory for the progressive and pro-independence forces of this Caribbean nation, came after the Puerto Rican people won the fight to stop the Navy’s use of the island municipality of Vieques for bombing practice. The Roosevelt Road base was used to service the bombing practice and the Atlantic Fleet.
The Navy was forced to close down Camp García, the firing zone in Vieques, on May 1, 2003, after using the area for target practice since the 1940s. The Culebra bombing area closed after a similar fight in the 1970s. The closing of Roosevelt Roads leaves only one U.S. Navy base in the Caribbean – the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba.
Similar to Vieques and Culebra, the people of Cuba do not support the use of their territory by the U.S. and have demanded that the base close. The U.S. government has refused, however, because of its antagonism to the Cuban revolution.
The end of Puerto Rican municipalities used for target practice is positive because of the dangers it poses, but there is also concern that the closing of Roosevelt Roads may lead to greater economic hardship because of Puerto Rico’s colonial dependency on the United States. According to the Navy, the base poured about $300 million into the local economy. The base was staffed by 5,500 people and provided jobs for 2,000 local civilians.
Puerto Rican economists José Joaquín Villamil and Elias Gutierrez, in a 1999 El Nuevo Día interview, said that the base closing would benefit the whole of Puerto Rico economically in the long run, even though Ceiba and the surrounding municipalities will suffer with a short-term economic downturn.
There have been a number of economic issues between Ceiba and the Navy. Among these are payments of fees and taxes, use of drinking water without payment, and Navy acquisition of land which was not developed and hurt the economic development of the municipality, especially in tourism.
Gutierrez noted that the loss of 2,000 jobs is nothing compared with the loss of 24,000 manufacturing jobs in the last decade. Those 24,000 jobs were lost when the U.S. Congress abolished Section 936 of the IRS code. Section 936 gave tax cuts to U.S. corporations that moved manufacturing plants to Puerto Rico – on top of the extra profits garnered from the low wages paid to Puerto Rican workers. The weekly Caribbean Business estimates that for every dollar paid out in wages, companies make over $10 in “value added.”
Some view the closing of the Roosevelt Road base in a different light. U.S. Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) said the closing of Roosevelt Roads was in retaliation for the struggle to end the bombing of Vieques. “I see this closure as a punishment,” he said, because the “withdrawal of the U.S. Navy from Vieques was a victory for the Puerto Rican community.”
There is evidence for this charge. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a member of the Committee on the Armed Services, in fighting against the closing of the Vieques bombing range, threatened the Roosevelt Roads closing even to the point of introducing a bill in the Senate to close the base if the people of Vieques voted against continued military exercises there. Puerto Rican political leaders from all different ideological perspectives, except from the extreme right-wing annexationist forces, called Inhofe’s actions blackmail.
Even though Navy leaders have said that without the use of Vieques as a firing range, Roosevelt Roads is unnecessary, the base also serviced the Navy’s Atlantic Fleet.
Ruben Berrios, leader of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, said, “The Navy’s leaving the Roosevelt Roads base represents the start of a future that is filled with big opportunities for the planned economic development and the increase of well-being for all the population” of Puerto Rico.
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