|December 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
The Resident Commissioner to Iraq! Troop Morale or Politics?
On Monday, November 24, 2003, in the company of Congressmen Michael "Mac" Collins (R-GA) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Puerto Ricos Resident Commissioner, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, boarded a C-32 U.S. Air Force transport destined for Amman, Jordon. Like other notables with Washington addresses, they were flying eastward to greet the U.S. and Coalition troops in Iraq struggling to pacify and reconstruct that troubled country.
On different itineraries, but with the same objective, President George W. Bush and Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Jack Reed (D-RI) visited soldiers and spoke with military commanders and civilian leaders.
Although the junkets were ostensibly to boost troop morale and inform legislators and policy makers of details of the conflict and efforts at reconstruction, the national holiday of Thanksgiving gave the politicians the chance to make happy faces with soldiers feasting on turkey with all the trimmings. News shots of the President showed him actually serving food to surprised and delighted troops at a fortified installation on the grounds of Baghdad Airport. Before the trays could be washed, the President was off again on Air Force One, headed west for Texas and a meal with his immediate family.
Mr. Acevedo Vilá was also directed to troops enjoying a holiday break, but there was no turkey in sight. According to the Resident Commissioners account, the menu consisted of ribs (costillas), shrimp (camarones), rice (arroz), corn on the cob (mazorcas de maíz), and salad (ensalada). Like other visiting congressmen, Acevedo Vilá met with Ambassador L. Paul Bremmer III, Administrator of the Provisional Coalition Forces, Ambassador Patrick Kennedy and Army General Richard Sánchez. Armed with plenty of film and tiny Puerto Rican flags, he was pictured with Puerto Rican National Guard soldiers from Orlando, Florida, and a contingent of Reserve, National Guard and Regular Army troops from the island.
Because of security concerns Acevedo Vilás party spent each night of this three-day trip in Amman, Jordan, shuttling back and forth to Iraq each day. The visit was also subjected to a tightly controlled and closely guarded schedule. Although such precautions were necessary, such visits can hardly bring much real insight to the real situation on the ground. Pictures of a jovial Acevedo Vilá surrounded by mugging Puerto Rican military personnel dominated newspaper and TV coverage on the island throughout his trip.
Congressional trips to visit U.S. troops in combat zones are common and are generally well received by constituents, although they can backfire at election time if they have created the perception of exploitation of American men and women living in danger, used to gain partisan advantage or to justify wrong policies.
This week, Herald readers may register their opinion as to whether or not the trip of Anibal Acevedo Vilá was appropriate and in the best interests of the nation.
Before during and after the trip, the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Resident Commissioner was criticized for making it, mainly by opposition New Progressive Party (NPP) stalwarts, pointing out that in his new capacity as his partys candidate for Puerto Rico governor in 2004, his motives were less to gain information for his legislative duties (although he has no vote in Congress) but more for visibility as a candidate running against a popular opponent considerably ahead in the polls, NPP former Governor Pedro Rosselló.
Without doubt, there is considerable interest and concern within the Puerto Rican community about the participation of Puerto Rican military personnel since 9/11 engaged in the war on terrorism. Since that fateful day, some 7500 men and women of the Puerto Rican Army Reserve and National Guard have been called to active service, some fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and others mobilized for the fight against Saddam Hussein and his remaining pockets of armed resistance. In November alone, some 79 U.S. troops were killed in hostile action in Iraq, bringing the total to nearly 500 since the start of war.
Thirteen Puerto Ricans, residing either on the island or mainland, have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. If all 13 were listed as casualties from the island, Puerto Rico would have more fatal casualties, proportionate to population, than any of the 50 states.
For those who feel that Mr. Acevedo Vilas trip to Iraq was justified and helpful to the overall morale of Puerto Rican sons and daughters serving in that conflict, his efforts will be seen as warranted. For those who consider it to have been an opportunity to gain political favor at the expense of American military men and women, it will have been a mistake.
What do you think? Was Resident Commissioner Aníbal Acevedo Vilás visit to Iraq justified or not?
Please vote above!