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The San Francisco Chronicle

Political Duds

By Lynn Ludlow

August 5, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The San Francisco Chronicle. All Rights Reserved.

LA BOMBA: When Hamlet says "hoist with his own petard," he refers to the bell-shaped grenade employed in Shakespearean times to blow a hole in a wall or door. Instead, all too often the sapper who lit the petard's crude fuse was himself hoisted skyward. That's how many a journalistic Hamlet viewed last week the blowup of President George W. Bush's tactics on Isla Vieques . Its Puerto Rican inhabitants voted 2 to 1 last Sunday to demand the Navy immediately go somewhere else to blow holes in the landscape.

Since the Navy appropriated about two-thirds of the 33,000-acre island 60 years ago, its beaches and hills have been punctured by shells, bombs and live munitions in dress-rehearsal beachhead invasions. In an editorial, the Chicago Tribune said Bush was transparently courting the Hispanic vote when he declared earlier that the Navy would pull out in 2003.

"As a political tactic, however, this choice may turn out to be a dud," said the Tribune. "And as a military decision, it's worse."

Despite the vote Sunday, the Navy announced plans to continue maneuvers. Civil disobedience by activists will no doubt continue, said the Trib, "in which Bush is sure to be portrayed as a villain, not a savior."

That's how Bush's Vieques policy is regarded by liberal columnist Mary McGrory in the Washington Post. She wrote, "President Bush, on his June visit to Europe, issued a statement that infuriated everybody, the Navy and disobedientes alike. He said the bombing was a bad thing and the Navy could only do it for two more years."

But the Republican president was assailed also by conservative voices, including editors of the National Review: ". . . Not so surprisingly, Bush has gotten nothing for his pains: Activists denounce the 2003 pull-out as too late, and abler stateside panderers, such as Sen. Hillary Clinton and Gov. George Pataki, echo their dismay."

As for the Navy, the Press Herald in Portland, Maine, called Sunday's vote "a crushing defeat in a public relations battle that has been going on for years." In Puerto Rico itself, managing editor Richard Becker of the San Juan Star said the vote was important in what he called a propaganda war over a much larger issue: the conflict among defenders of Puerto Rico 's commonwealth status, "the tiny independence movement" and the politicians he called "statehooders." In the Puerto Rico Herald, he wrote: " ' Vieques ' has now grown to mean not just the U.S. Navy's future on the offshore island but it has become a line in the sand over one's loyalty to the United States."

In the Tucson Citizen, retired Foreign Service officer Richard Salvatierra said most Hispanics in the United States could care less about Vieques : "Hence, a basically wasted, but patently cynical, move by the president."

SHRAPNEL: The press itself has been hoist with the petard of comparative orthography. Credibility is blown when " Vieques ," which is said to come from an Indian word "bieques" (small island), is supposed to be pronounced as "v'YEH-kes" (New York Times), "vee-ECK- ess" (Voice of America), "vee-A-cus" (Chattanooga Times Free Press) and the most authoritative entry, "Bee-yekk-ess" ( Puerto Rico Herald).

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