RAY SUAREZ: Now, to the perspectives of the Pentagon and Puerto Rico. Paul Wolfowitz is Deputy Secretary of Defense. Anabelle Rodriguez is the Secretary of Justice for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Two days ago she argued unsuccessfully before a federal court in Washington to stop the exercises.
Well, Madam Secretary, can the U.S. government look at the Puerto Rican government today and say, "I thought we had a deal." Yes, it was previous administrations in both cases, Clinton and Governor Rossello, but they seemed to have put in place a plan for settling this issue once and for all.
ANABELLE RODRIGUEZ, Secretary of Justice, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico: Well, let me explain somewhat what has transpired since that time. During the last few months and during the last year, specifically, we have undertaken a number of medical studies, which tend to indicate that there are very serious health hazards to the people of Puerto Rico, so assuming... as a result of the Naval exercises taking place in Vieques. So as a result of that, even if we assume that indeed there was an agreement reached between the people of Puerto Rico and the United States, the fact remains that new evidence has surfaced that tends to indicate that the health of our people is very seriously undermined by these exercises. Therefore, this is a matter that needs to be attended to by your government.
RAY SUAREZ: And you are saying that it can't wait until the referendum for the people of Vieques to speak one way or another on this issue?
ANABELLE RODRIGUEZ: Well, on the fact of the... On the issue of the referendum, of course, we would like a referendum to undertake and the people of Vieques to express themselves as to this matter. But it cannot wait... The health hazards are too serious and they have to be taken into account as soon as possible.
RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Secretary, how does the United States government respond to these concerns from the people of Puerto Rico?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ, Deputy Secretary of Defense: Well, we're responding to those concerns very seriously. But let me put it in a larger context. We send our men and women, service people, around the world every day and put them in dangerous missions that help to preserve the security of the United States and frankly, the peace of the world. And when they go into those situations, they really need the best possible training they can get.
It isn't only in Vieques that we do this training. I think there are 33 locations around the United States where we engage in live fire training. There are many others where they suffer the problems of noise from jets and so forth. There are burdens that are imposed on the whole country from sustaining the finest military in the world, but we do everything we can to minimize those burdens.
And in the case of Vieques, in fact, under the agreement that President Clinton concluded with Governor Rossello, we have agreed to stop the use of live ordnance. It's only inert ordnance. We've cut the number of training days back from roughly 200 to less, considerably less, than 90.
But I come back to the point: The Kerry Group Enterprise, which is the one that's training there now, is going to be in the Persian Gulf in a little while. Some of those pilots are going to be flying combat missions over Iraq. We care about their health and safety also. We've looked at the health studies. We have yet to see a convincing case that there is, in fact, a serious effect from this noise level, and the noise level really isn't very high. In fact, I think CNN this morning said, "We can see them shooting, but we can't hear it."
RAY SUAREZ: But in the waning months of the Clinton administration the president also said that he wanted the Navy to look for another place to do this. Has that order survived into this current administration? Are you still looking?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: We're looking very hard. In fact, we've asked them to look harder. But, I mean, as another example, we're... Look, we know that if you go back to the 1950s, there's a history of some insensitivity, not just in Vieques, probably-- I don't know that it was in Vieques-- but I can't emphasize how much our military has become environmentally conscious, tries to be a good neighbor.
One example: We heard Governor Calderon make the rather reasonable point that she wasn't too happy we were going to train on Sunday. Sunday is a special day in Puerto Rico, when the first Puerto Rican ever to be beatified will be beatified in Rome. The Navy's agreed to stand down the training for that day. We're trying to be a good neighbor, we're trying to take all the health concerns into account, but we also have to worry about the ability... the skill level of our pilots. It has to be at the absolute maximum when they go and deploy.
RAY SUAREZ: How do you respond?
ANABELLE RODRIGUEZ: Well, let me, first of all state to you and to the vice secretary that the people of Puerto Rico take very seriously all the matters related to national defense, and we have done so throughout our history. The people of Puerto Rico, our men and women, have fought along your lines and fought very hard. Per capita, Puerto Ricans are amongst the highest in the United States as it relates to volunteering in the armed forces, as it relates to dying in the battlefield, and as to receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor because of their bravery. So I don't think this is a question of whether or not the Puerto Ricans really do not put the weight that should be placed on national defense, on national readiness.
This is basically for us a question of human rights, health-- the health of our people, of our children, and of our environment. As recently as a year and a half ago, which recently surfaced, there was a study by a scientist from the University of Atlanta -- of Georgia, I'm sorry, by the name of Professor Potter, and he has in his study determined the serious environmental effects to the coral reefs of Puerto Rico because of all the bombs that are laying there on our pristine waters. So to us it's a matter of human rights.
RAY SUAREZ: But under the terms of last year's agreement, there was a narrowing of the window for training, a limiting to inert bombs, an attempt to work with Puerto Rico until such time as the people of Vieques can vote on their own. Has the governor tried to speed up this timetable? Does she recognize that timetable any longer?
ANABELLE RODRIGUEZ: Well, the governor has been forthright from the beginning that she is open to dialogue and to discussion about this matter because we would like to resolve this matter through dialogue. It's a matter of utmost importance to the government of Puerto Rico as well as to the United States government. The medical information and the medical data that has surfaced has surfaced since that time that President Clinton signed his directive. So it really has changed the... it has changed all the scenarios for us.
RAY SUAREZ: You mentioned earlier, Secretary, the fact that many other states bear similar burdens, but perhaps when those burdens get too onerous, a United States Senator can call the Secretary of the Army, or a member of a congressional delegation can bring the whole delegation along to speak to the Secretary of the Navy. Puerto Rico has a little different situation, doesn't it?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Actually, the differences tend to go the other way.
RAY SUAREZ: How so?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I mean, we have limited our training in Vieques in ways that we haven't agreed anywhere else. We've never agreed to a referendum anywhere else. I mean, I'm not trying to... It's not my job to get into the issue of Puerto Rican representation. I think that is a very important...
RAY SUAREZ: No, but just as a matter of mechanics, how does it differ?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I think... Every facility... Every... It's... By the way, it's not states. We say, talk about, states. It's really the localities, and one of the unfortunate things, this is a burden that's not distributed uniformly around the country. It's where you have Fort Sill or Eglund Air Force base or the Vieques training range, but every one of those localities has complaints, has concerns, and we try to respond to them. Some of them have Senators who raise them; some of them have very eloquent governors who raise them.
In the case of Puerto Rico, as a matter of fact, we've heard from two Senators from New York State and from the governor of New York State. So we're hearing; the most important point is we are listening, and we are responding, and I think we're trying, for example, on the question of the health studies, to look at every one of them as... in the most serious possible way, and all the data we've had so far has been studied by the Department of Health and Human Services or in one case the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. If we get more data, if there's indications of things that haven't turned up in the previous data, we'll look at it.
We take these problems seriously, and I don't say I understand, but I am certainly am told and I appreciate special feelings that Puerto Ricans have, and by the way I... What the Secretary said about the patriotism of Puerto Ricans is absolutely certain. I mean, their contribution to our military individually is extraordinary. I understand the special feelings they may have because they aren't a state and think maybe they're treated worse because they're not a state. From everything I've seen in three months, two months in the Pentagon, we've paid much more attention to the concerns of the people of Vieques perhaps than any other community in the country.
RAY SUAREZ: Is the governor satisfied that the Navy is listening to the concerns of her government, as the Secretary suggests?
ANABELLE RODRIGUEZ: Well, the governor would have liked that no bombing would have taken place as they are at this time. We were under the impression that no such bombing will take place until such time as the HHS study would have been concluded. That's a study that's been undertaken to evaluate the medical data coming from Puerto Rico. That was our impression. We thought we were in a process of dialogue, and as recently as yesterday Judge Kessler in her opinion, which she issued yesterday, recognized that there was indeed an implied agreement made by the U.S. government to the governor of Puerto Rico that no such bombing will take place.
Having said that, however, we continue to be open for dialogue. We want to resolve this matter through dialogue. It's a matter of health and the health of our children and our women, our men who reside in Vieques. These are 9,000 American citizens who are residing there, and we would like their concerns to be taken and attended to as fast as possible.
RAY SUAREZ: Wasn't Judge Kessler also skeptical of whether there would be irreparable harm if the exercises continued?
ANABELLE RODRIGUEZ: Well, Judge Kessler made it very clear that she was addressing a very limited issue at that time, and that was whether or not there was irreparable harm to grant a temporary restraining order, which is, of course, a legal term, and it refers to an extraordinary remedy. At that time, of course, the Navy had deployed its forces towards Puerto Rico, and she determined that we could not prove only at that particular time, irreparable harm, but she made it exceedingly clear that she was not addressing herself to any of the issues in the long run. So we are extremely confident that in the end we will prevail.
RAY SUAREZ: So you're saying you're going to take another run at this in court?
ANABELLE RODRIGUEZ: Well, the case is still pending in court. As a matter of fact, today at 5 o'clock our attorneys and the Department of Justice attorney were to have a conference call. The case has not been dismissed. The only thing that the judge did was that she did not issue a [temporary restraining order]. But our case continues, the judge asked the parties to continue their dialogue, and she also stated that it would be the wiser course for the Navy not to conduct any further bombing until those studies are concluded.
RAY SUAREZ: If they prevail, does the Navy have a good plan "B"? Is the government ready in case a judge sides with Puerto Rico?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I assume the reason the original agreement was written the way it was, was it's still a pretty short amount of time to transition from where we are to some unknown alternatives. We recognize that under the law, which we will certainly follow, we may very well be unable to train in Vieques two years from now, and we're certainly doing everything we can to find alternatives. My guess is that there's probably no alternative that will be as good. It's a matter of finding the near second-best.
I think frankly, at this stage, we would get much further on the health issues if we could in fact get some of the data that's been promised us, because I know the Department of Health and Human Services has had trouble getting some of the data that was said to indicate consequences of noise. But the noise level from any one training exercise is pretty modest, as that CNN reporter observed. And they're firing a long way from the beach, and the training range itself is ten miles from the town of Vieques. It's a fair distance away.
RAY SUAREZ: Secretary Wolfowitz, Secretary Rodriguez, thank you both.