Press Release

For Immediate Release
October 15, 1999

Jubi Headley, Public Affairs
Direct: (202) 861-6766

On Behalf of Conference, Webb joins Puerto Rico’s Call for
Withdrawal of Navy from Vieques

San Juan, PR—At a October 8th San Juan City Hall press conference, Denver Mayor and Conference President Wellington Webb joined San Juan Mayor Sila Calderón and other Puerto Rican Mayors in insisting that the US Navy cease its bombing and live-fire training on the island of Vieques. Mayor Webb committed to write to President Clinton urging him to terminate Navy operations in Vieques (see attached letter).

The press conference, convened by Conference Advisory Board member and San Juan Mayor Sila Calderón, was attended by other mainland and island mayors, including Mayor James Sills of Wilmington (DE), Mayor Patrick J. McManus of Lynn (MA), and Mayor Dannel Malloy of Stamford (CT). The Mayors were in San Juan for the Conference’s annual Urban Water Summit, where, during a keynote address, Mayor Calderón brought the Vieques issue to the attention of the Mayors.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has had a long-standing policy supporting the position of Puerto Rico on this issue. In 1972, then-San Juan Mayor Carlos Romero Barceló raised the issue under similar circumstances regarding the neighboring island of Culebra, Puerto Rico, where the Navy was then conducting similar exercises. At the request of Puerto Rico’s Mayors and others, The Conference adopted policy in support of the efforts to prevent the Navy’s continued use of Culebra for live-fire training and other maneuvers. While training was halted on Culebra, it was continued on the island of Vieques.

The Vieques issue has been contentious in Puerto Rico for the 58 years that Vieques has been used for this live-fire assault training, but has only in recent months garnered a unanimous and united response across the island on a cross-party level. This has been in part due to the tragic death of Dept. of Defense civilian employee, David Sanes, which occurred during a training exercise. This accident has served to galvanize the already-existing public dissatisfaction with the situation in Vieques.

The citizens of Vieques, numbering just over 9,000 (although the population was once as high as 14,000 or more) are as a result of the live-fire training experiencing a number of crises. The unemployment rate is a staggering 50%. Economic development remains largely infeasible while the Navy maintains its presence. Furthermore, there is evidence that the Navy has in its operations contaminated and damaged groundwater and other natural resources on the island. Finally, the incidence of cancer on the island is reported as more than 26% percent higher than that of the larger Puerto Rican population.

The United States Conference of Mayors is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. There are about 1,100 such cities in the country today. Each city is represented in the Conference by its chief elected official, the mayor.