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Tragedy, War Reshuffles The Political Deck
By Maria Padilla
October 10, 2001
When the World Trade Center collapsed and a part of the Pentagon was flattened, a number of political initiatives were crushed.
These pretty much have been forgotten, except for an occasional mention. So let us pause to remember at least two issues -- Vieques and immigration amnesty for Mexicans -- and consider what might have been.
Among the first movements to lose momentum after the Sept. 11 attacks was Vieques, the Puerto Rican island where the U.S. Navy has conducted target practice for more than 50 years.
About 60 percent of the Puerto Rican people want the Navy out. More than two years of protests had drawn a slew of celebrities and members of Congress to the island to declare solidarity with the Puerto Rican people, who are U.S. citizens. More than half of Central Florida's Hispanic population is Puerto Rican.
Even President Bush agreed to end the practice bombings by 2003. Momentum was so great that many island leaders believed the Navy might leave before then. Then came Sept. 11.
The celebrities ended their pilgrimages to the island, to say nothing of politicians, who don't want to appear anti-American at a time when the country is hurting. Even the protest groups aren't sure where to go from here. Some have continued to protest. Others say this is not the time. Congress is considering suspending a proposed vote among Viequenses scheduled for November. A decision hasn't been made.
Vieques still is a worthy cause, but resuscitating the issue will be difficult. The best that can be hoped for is for President Bush to honor his decision to withdraw the military in 2003. But with the country engaged in a war campaign in Central Asia, current events will determine the outcome of Vieques, and it may not turn out the way Puerto Ricans hoped.
Mexicans also may face a disappointment of their own. Before the terrorist attacks, a proposal was floating in Washington to grant amnesty to 3 million Mexicans who are in the U.S. illegally. Many Mexicans in Central Florida, the region's second largest Hispanic group, had pinned their hopes on this measure, which meant that they could come out from the underground economy and lead normal lives.
In peacetime and wartime immigration is a hot-button issue, likely to draw voters' ire. So, amnesty would have had rough going under normal circumstances. But since Sept. 11, Washington's and the nation's appetites for amnesty have diminished considerably. Mexican President Vicente Fox didn't help matters much.
Fox had visited Washington just a week before the Sept. 11 attacks with much fanfare. His was the first official visit by a head of state. In an address to Congress, Fox, feeling his oats, demanded an open border with the United States. After the attacks, Fox took more than three weeks to send condolences to this country.
He was equivocal in his support of the United States. Indeed, Mexico polls show that Mexicans want to remain neutral in the fight against terrorism. Neutral? Realizing he had blundered, Fox returned to the United States last week to assure President Bush of Mexico's support. It's too late. Fox has become an inconsequential leader, a political footnote.
Contrast Fox's behavior with that of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who after the attacks immediately boarded a plane for the United States in a show of unity and has continued to stick his neck out for us.
All this is to show that in politics it's not over till it's over. And Sept. 11 definitely reshuffled the cards.