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Battle Brings 'Schizophrenia' to Forefront

by Ivan Roman

August 16, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Both things were happening the same day. And the timing and symbolism raised more than a few eyebrows.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson joined protesters and activists Friday morning and walked along the bombed-out terrain of eastern Vieques, calling for the U.S. Navy to stop military exercises there and leave the island off Puerto Rico's southeast coast.

Meanwhile, in San Juan, Gov. Pedro Rossello watched the U.S. Army's Golden Knight parachuters drop onto parade grounds at Fort Buchanan with the flag of the U.S. Army South, which left Panama this year and part of which was moved here.

At the welcoming ceremony, Rossello told them, "Esta es su casa" (This is your home).

But when it comes to Vieques, he has told the Navy to clean up and get out.

"He's trying to get them out of Vieques, and he's bringing them into San Juan," socialist activist Carlos Gallisa said. "The difference is that one group is dressed in white and the other dresses in khaki. That only happens in the schizophrenia of the colony...."

Rossello, the government of Puerto Rico , political parties and many others are in a battle with Washington to get the Navy out of Vieques ever since a fatal accident during bombing practice killed a security guard in April.

Before that happened, the governor lobbied to get part of the Southern Command here. About 1,300 soldiers are coming to Buchanan and another 400 to Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, which includes the three-quarters of the 52-square-mile island of Vieques that it uses for training.

Rossello sees no mixed messages, no contradictions.

"[Vieques] has to do with the human rights of the civilian population," he said. "The message coming out of here is that Puerto Rico is united about the Navy leaving Vieques, but it supports the U.S. armed forces and supports Puerto Rico's participation in the national defense."

About 100 of those he was referring to, mostly socialists and pro-independence activists, chanted slogans against the militarization of Puerto Rico outside the U.S. Army South installations as the ceremony took place. Recent consensus against the Navy's presence in Vieques leads the activists to believe they are closer to winning this battle.

"It's a contradiction for the United States to pretend to see this Vieques matter objectively while they are reaffirming the militarization of Puerto Rico today in San Juan," said Sen. Ruben Berrios, who has been camped out on restricted Navy grounds in Vieques for 100 days.

"But the world is full of contradictions," he said. "What's important is to win the battle over Vieques now, so that we can later win the battle of demilitarization."

Puerto Rico has had strong ties to the military since its population was granted U.S. citizenship in 1917, just in time to fight in World War I.

Rossello said most Puerto Ricans welcome the military presence on the island because "95 percent of our people cherish our U.S. citizenship."

Some argue about the numbers, but it's clear that an overwhelming majority of people here value that citizenship. And considerations about citizenship influence discussion about political status.

Many people who want statehood for Puerto Rico , and also many who support the current commonwealth status , don't want Washington to get the wrong message. Even Jackson, while pledging to turn the Vieques issue into a national campaign, was careful about his words.

"We hope the U.S. government sees people here as saying to the Navy, 'Out as an occupier, but not as a defender of peace,'" Jackson said, standing near a former lagoon dried up by the Navy's bombing exercises.

"And I hope Secretary of Defense [William] Cohen will see that distinction."

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