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PuertoRicoWOW News Service

Mixed Reviews On The July Referendum

By Proviana Colon Diaz

June 18, 2001
Copyright © 2001 PuertoRicoWOW News Service. All Rights Reserved.

VIEQUES - Gov. Sila Calderon's decision to hold a local referendum on the presence of the U.S. Navy in the small island has received mix reviews from the over 9,000 municipality residents.

For some, it is now more imperative than ever to hold the local consultation, as it is the only mechanism left through which they can express their desire, since U.S. President George W. Bush announced on Thursday his decision to end military maneuvers on the island municipality by May 2003.

For others, it is precisely Bush's decision which makes the local referendum a worthless effort.

Such is the case of pro-Navy leader Luis Sanchez, who allegedly represents more than 3,000 voting residents.

Sanchez said the local referendum is a "desperate act" on Calderon's part, since "all her previous strategies have failed."

According to the pro-Navy activist, Calderon should invest the money, more that $600,000, on the people of Vieques and their problems and not on the local consultation, which will fail to have the Congress avail.

Since they consider the local referendum to be of no significant value, Sanchez and his group will not participate in the event.

They warned however, that the event may become an electoral fraud, since the only group represented will be the one seeking the departure of the U.S. Navy.

But for Sixto Perez, of the Luisa Guadalupe Camp and resident Ismael Guadalupe, the local consultation is a most, and they will campaign and work towards achieving a victory for the option calling for the clean-up, transfer of land and halt of the military practices on Vieques.

The same position was taken on Sunday by Municipal Assembly President Victor M. Emeric, who said the administration will promote the referendum, and the option calling for the clean-up, transfer, and permanent halt of military practices on Vieques land.

"President Bush's decision to continue bombing until 2003 is unacceptable. How many people need to die before he realizes that what the Navy is doing here is unfair," Emeric said, adding that he was sure that at least 90% of the voting residents will seek that option.

A visit from State Elections Commission (SEC) President Juan R. Melecio to Vieques is schedule to take place on Wednesday.

Perez and others expect the meeting to be an informative one in which the rules and regulations of the local referendum will be established.

During such meeting, the groups supporting each of the three alternatives will request funds to do their campaign, recommend who will be supervising the works, and who will make sure that no electoral fraud is committed.

Guadalupe said people from all political parties have approached him and expressed their desire to work as electoral commissioners for their option.

During the meeting with Melecio, Guadalupe will make sure that those seeking to back any of the options are truly a representation of a group.

"We won't accept any group of a lot of noise and few base. We want to make sure that this process is carried out by those who have been fighting for this cause on a day to day basis, regardless of their beliefs," Guadalupe said.

The three alternatives in question are: the indefinite continuance of the bombings with live ammunition and the permanence of the Navy in Vieques, the limited use of the target range with inert ammunition and the departure of the Navy before May 2003, and the cleaning and transferring of the lands to the people of Vieques with the halting of military practices and the departure of the military force from the island municipality.

Perez and Guadalupe assured that the third option of the consultation will win, and that they will not seek a "single penny" to promote their choice.

A campaign nonetheless will be held under the theme "out now and forever".

Numerous artists, including singers, songwriters, and graphic designers have already expressed their desire to donate their talents for such campaign, Guadalupe said.

Meanwhile, the special working schedule preceding an electoral event began on Saturday at the local SEC permanent inscription board.

However, few residents attended the board on Saturday, Puerto Rican Independence Party SEC officer Maritza Rivera said.

According to Rivera, one resident did visit the facilities on Saturday, but was unable to get his voting card as he lacked a copy of his birth certificate.

The slow pace of participation is no surprise to Popular Democratic Party SEC officer Wilfredo Ortiz given the small number of residents who are able to vote; less than 5,500.

Furthermore, the lists used for the past general elections, Nov 8, 2000 are updated and ready to be used for which few changes are expected to take place.

A representative from the New Progressive Party was not present as the lady was out sick, Ortiz said.

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