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Angst Over Vieques Bombing
Local Puerto Ricans Balk At Idea Of More Exercises On Island
By Andrea Rubin
September 1, 2002
Local Puerto Ricans expressed anger, disappointment and resignation over the U.S. government's decision to begin nearly a month of Naval maneuvers on the island of Vieques this week.
In June - two months after the most recent round of Naval exercises in Vieques - President Bush announced that all bombing on the island would stop in May 2003.
But the Navy recently announced plans to begin its latest training Tuesday and continue for about 23 days. Exercises will include bombing from airplanes and ship-to-shore shelling. Only dummy bombs will be used.
The eastern end of the small Puerto Rican island has been used by the Navy for military practice for nearly 60 years.
Some area residents said they had thought April's exercises would be the last.
"It seems to me that it's kind of disrespectful. If you're getting out, what is the necessity for doing this type of last-ditch bombing?" asked Yonkers resident Herbert Padilla, chairman of the Hudson Valley League of Puerto Rican and Latino Voters. "You know you're going to create certain animosities within the Puerto Rican community."
Puerto Ricans, with 10,681 people, represent the largest percentage of Rockland's 29,182 Hispanics. In Putnam, 38 percent of the 6,000 Hispanics are Puerto Rican . In Westchester, about 25 percent of the 144,000 Hispanics are of Puerto Rican heritage.
West Haverstraw resident Walter Zayas said he was disappointed - but not surprised - at news of the latest round of exercises.
"I can't say I believed that would be the end of the bombing until 2003. I didn't have enough faith or trust in them," he said yesterday. "What happened on 9/11 and with hysteria behind that and Iraq, there probably are a lot of people who feel that it's appropriate to do the bombing and testing. This had been going on for many, many, many years. The people of Vieques have suffered the results of all the bombing through the destruction of the natural beauty that is that island."
Stephen Lopez of Yonkers said opposition would rise again when the bombing is revived.
"Why is the government going to continue to do something that's totally unpopular? This government is founded on the will of the people," Lopez said. "They could find targets somewhere else. This is a big country."
Zayas agreed, saying "there is plenty of desert" where the testing could be done.
"If somebody got together and said they were going to start bombing Seaside Heights, I would guarantee you that the congressional representatives would fight along with the people and that would be stopped," Zayas said. "It's an insult on the citizens."
Nanuet resident Eric Reyes, whose brother is in the military, said he was against the Naval testing. But the 24-year-old, whose parents were both born in Puerto Rico , said he doubted the government would take heed of protesters.
"I feel that it's wrong. It shouldn't be done like that," Reyes said. "I don't think it's all that right. But the government's going to do what it's going to do."