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Thousands Celebrate Fourth Of July

Report On Protesters' Treatment To Be Ready In August

NPP, PIP Nix Section 956

Padre Island Impact Study Ordered

U.S. Flag Posting Campaign Continues


Thousands Of Puerto Ricans Celebrate Fourth Of July

July 5, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Compiled From Wire Services Reports

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Thousands of people waving or wearing U.S. flags gathered in a stadium parking lot Wednesday to show Washington politicians that, despite the bitter confrontation over the U.S. Navy's bombing in Vieques, they love the United States.

Fearing the impact of "anti-American" images going north because of the deepening Vieques dispute, the crowd packed every inch of the Plaza of the Fountains. Many wore stickers that said "Our U.S. Citizenship: What Would We Do Without it?"

" Puerto Rico U.S.A.!" chanted the crowd of people dressed in red, white and blue, some holding up giant U.S. flags and Puerto Rico 's one-star flag. Police estimated that 50,000 people attended Wednesday's celebration.

As guests from the Navy sitting on stage looked on, New Progressive Party leaders took the microphone to decry Gov. Sila Calderon's "unnecessary confrontation" with Washington over the Vieques issue, which they consider solved now that the Navy is slated to leave the island by May 2003.

New Progressive Party (NPP) pro-statehood Sen. Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer said the activity "raises the spirits" of statehood supporters, who she said have been "very bullied and ridiculed" recently.

Host San Juan NPP Mayor Jorge Santini, a statehood supporter, alleged that supporters of Puerto Rican independence are using Vieques to promote their own agenda by whipping up anti-U.S. sentiment. Independence has garnered less than 5% of votes in recent status plebiscites.

"We, as well as the governor, have to take this opportunity to determine the terms of a solution that will vindicate the rights of citizenship for the people of Vieques but also safeguard the principle of a permanent union (with the U.S.)," said Santini, to the cheering crowd.

"We have to prove that we're Americans and that we love the U.S. flag," said Domingo Pellicier, 70, a Korean War veteran who served in the Army for 20 years. "I fought against communism, and many Puerto Ricans shed blood for our freedom and our democracy."

Last week, statehood supporters provoked clashes with anti-Navy activists when they raised a U.S. flag outside a chapel in San Juan dedicated to the cause of ending Navy exercises on Vieques. Five people were injured when people began throwing rocks.

President George W. Bush has said the Navy will leave Vieques in 2003, but many Puerto Ricans want it to leave the island of 9,400 residents now. The Navy has used the range for six decades.

Gov. Sila Calderon, who has been pressing for the Navy's immediate departure from Vieques, has been quick to point out that she supports Puerto Rico 's ties with the U.S.

Some in Calderon’s Popular Democratic Party don't hold the holiday in the same regard.

"I have never celebrated the Fourth of July, why should I celebrate it now? I have never celebrated foreign holidays," PDP Sen. Margarita Ostolaza was quoted as saying in The San Juan Star this week.

Senate Vice President Velda Gonzalez said in the newspaper that she supports celebrating U.S. independence in Puerto Rico , calling it an important date for "our sister country."

Meanwhile, across town in Old San Juan, at the official government ceremony marking Independence Day, Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado scoffed at the NPP's frenzied defense of the flag.

"Nobody has to defend what is not in danger," he said. "This is just part of a strategy to benefit the political party."

The much smaller crowd at the government's last-minute ceremony didn't have U.S. flags until event organizers began handing them out to hold with Puerto Rican flags. The separate events not only marked the traditional ideological divisions on the island, but also reflected the many layers of Puerto Rican identity.

"If they are American and not Puerto Rican, then it's good for them to do their event," said Alba Lebron de Ayala, 67, a federal-program administrator who said she saw no evidence of an anti-American image of Puerto Ricans in her recent visits to Washington. "People know how to separate the wheat from the chaff."

Jose Garcia, an Air Force veteran of 20 years on a visit to Puerto Rico from Fort Walton Beach, said he is a loyal American who is also a proud Puerto Rican, and wanting the Navy out of Vieques is compatible with that. "These disputes can happen in any state of the nation," said Garcia, 57, a Vietnam veteran. "They just have to understand the main reason why we're fighting for Vieques. We're not anti-American. Far from it."


Committee Report On Protesters' Treatment To Be Ready In August

July 5, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - Civil Rights Committee Chairman Antonio J. Bennazar said he expects to present to Gov. Sila Calderon, the Legislature, and the Judicial branch the final report on the investigation of the alleged rights violations denounced by civil disobedience protesters arrested in Vieques by August.

Bennazar said in published reports that the investigation began due to a complaint filed by Prof. Carlos Ala Santiago over the treatment he received when he was at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Guaynabo.

More than 20 witnesses presented their arguments in public hearings, among those were Puerto Rican Independence Party Rep. Victor Garcia San Inocencio, New Progressive Party Sen. Norma Burgos, and Popular Democratic Party Sens. Velda Gonzalez and Juan Cancel Alegria.

Bennazar said he is confident that the report will serve to establish legislation to prevent situations like this one in the near future.


Calderon Fails To Obtain Approval For Section 956 From Leaders

July 3, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - After a two-hour meeting, Gov. Sila Calderon failed to obtain the support from the New Progressive Party (NPP) and the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) for the approval of Section 956 in Congress.

During the meeting, NPP President Leo Diaz and PIP Executive Director Fernando Martin only agreed not to hinder the proposed amendment to the U.S. Internal Revenue Code that seeks to include Puerto Rico in the Section 956, which only applies to foreign countries.

Calderon said she didn't think that the opinion of her political counterparts would affect her proposal.

Meanwhile, Diaz, who is an advocate of Section 30-A, said Section 956 is not the right approach for the development of the local economy.

For his part, Martin said Section 956 is not an adequate strategy.

"This is not the moment in history for Puerto Rico to ask tax privileges but to demand more power," Martin said.


Texas Leader Orders Impact Study Of Padre Island Bombing Plan

July 3, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Citing environmental concerns and doubts about an economic boon, Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander said Tuesday she's against using Padre Island as a bomb training site to replace Vieques.

"Bombing Texas beaches just doesn't make sense," Rylander said. "I think some may think there's economic benefits. I don't."

She ordered an economic impact study of the plan. "We'll see if the numbers back me up," Rylander said.

The possibility of using sparsely populated Kenedy County for practice bombing is one plan being considered as an alternative for training now done on Vieques. That agreement ends in May 2003.


U.S. Flag Posting Campaign Continues

July 2, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - A group of activists lead by former New Progressive Party Rep. Carlos Diaz posted a U.S. flag at the Luis A. Ferre monument, at the expressway near El Señorial area early Monday morning, according to police reports.

Police agents went to the location immediately, and although initially requested that the flag be taken down, an official later said the police would only intervene with the people to ask them to move their cars to another location.

The official said the activists had the right to express themselves freely and it was up to the Roads Authority to determine if the flag should be removed.

At the same time, in Guanica, where a monument was built to commemorate the entrance of U.S. troops to the island 103 years ago, a group lead by Roberto Mejil called "Guaniqueños Pro American Citizenship" posted U.S. and Puerto Rican flags.

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