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The Boston Globe

Group Seeks To Bring Light To Vieques Fight

By Alonso Soto, Globe Correspondent

June 13, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

With merengue blasting outside on Montebello Road, a small group of friends and Latino leaders met in a quiet house basement decorated with Puerto Rican flags and pictures of professional fighters and baseball players.

They had come to the small shrine to Puerto Rican culture last night in Jamaica Plain to plot their next political move in a campaign to bring concerns about the US military's handling of the country's island of Vieques to next month's Democratic National Convention.

At the meeting were Everett native Robert Rabin and his wife, Nilda Medina, two leaders of a movement that strikes at the Puerto Rican sense of nationality.

Four years ago, their efforts brought to the world stage the controversy over the military's use of the tiny isle 8 miles southwest of Puerto Rico as a testing ground for arms.

They've been fighting the military presence there since 1993, when Rabin and Medina cofounded the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques

The testing stopped in May of last year; and now leaders are demanding that the federal government clean up the area.

"I want people to know that the fight goes on," Rabin, 50, said in Spanish.

Local Latino leaders said the issue could be very important for Latino voters in the next presidential election, which is why they plan to introduce it to delegates at the July 26-29 gathering of the Democratic Party in Boston.

For 60 years, the Navy used the eastern tip of Vieques as a firing range, spurring anger among local islanders and resentment among many Puerto Ricans.

For four years, hundreds have gathered to protest on the island, including political figures such as former Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton and environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Rabin said that despite the end of the bombing, the issue remains far from being resolved, and local leaders need to inform the Latino community about the problems faced by the residents of Vieques.

Rabin, a former Chelsea high school teacher, and other activists last night accused the US government of contaminating parts of the island and adversely affecting residents' health.

They say decades of bombings have led to higher-than-normal cancer rates.

They also want the government to offer health care to local residents and return the land to the people of Vieques, Rabin said.

"This is an issue that unites many Latin Americans; that's why it's so important," said Giovanna Negretti, executive director of the Massachusetts Latino Political Organization, or OISTE, who was born in Vieques and has family on the island.

"We are trying to reinvigorate the issue for Latinos to know that the problem is not over," Negretti said.

Negretti said the plan to circulate the agenda at the convention was first discussed yesterday and that she and other leaders will make that political agenda available to the delegates in letters, through activities, and during news conferences.

"We started part of this fight in Boston," said Jaime Rodriguez, the president of the Boston chapter of the National Congress for Puerto Ricans Rights, referring to the battle to stop the bombing in Vieques.

"We are asking for respect and dignity," Rodriguez said.

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