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PUERTO RICO REPORT
Clemency and Vieques
by Lance Oliver
September 17, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Will the furor over President Clinton's parole of Puerto Rican
prisoners affect the Vieques issue?
There are more angles to that question than found at a convention
of trick-shot poolroom sharks.
At a press conference in San Juan last week, Resident Commissioner
Carlos Romero Barceló said he thought the clemency issue
could reverberate once the question of the Navy's use of Vieques
comes to the forefront in Washington.
San Juan Mayor Sila Calderón said she thought the two
issues would be dealt with separately.
Fernando Martín, the Puerto Rican Independence Party's
candidate for mayor of San Juan said it could affect the Vieques
issue, but it was hard to say for sure.
So there you have it: three parties, three candidates, three
The one thing that's certain is that the clemency issue has
drawn more attention in Washington than most people expected
the kind of attention people wanted the Vieques issue to receive.
Puerto Ricans are more unanimous on their desire to see the
Navy stop bombing Vieques than they are about the prisoners.
On the question of Vieques, there is the closest thing to consensus
you can find, short of asking who you favor in the Trinidad-de
la Hoya fight. There are more ifs, ands and buts attached to
the issue of the prisoners. Lots of sympathy for them because
of the long sentences they were given, but some people have a
few doubts, also.
The common thread is that both issues really come down to a
decision by President Clinton. Usually, it's Congress that holds
Puerto Rico's fate when controversies arise, but this time the
buck stops in the Oval Office.
It was Clinton who had the power to offer clemency and did,
only to face an overwhelming censure by the Congress. And it
is Clinton who has the crucial say in deciding whether the Navy
can hold on to Vieques and continue to use it for live bombing
practice and other maneuvers.
Most people in the states assumed Clinton offered clemency
to try to win votes for his wife in her likely run for Senate
in New York. They believe that for two reasons. First, because
of the general cynicism toward politics in the states these days,
and the particular cynicism toward Clinton, much of which he fully
earned through his lying and legal hair-splitting. And second,
because the U.S. public had no idea that the clemency issue had
been going on for years. To them, it popped up out of nowhere.
To those people, the Vieques issue will also come out of nowhere,
even though it has been going on for half a century. Even one
member of Congress said last week that the people of Vieques "all
of a sudden" wanted the Navy to leave.
Now, assume that the federally appointed panel studying the
Navy-Vieques issue turns in a report suggesting a compromise solution,
such as allowing the Navy to keep Vieques but restricting the
use of live ammunition and requiring face-saving measures such
as a promise to help the local economy.
If Clinton went further and ordered the Navy to abandon Vieques,
he would be seen by the U.S. public as doing another "favor"
for Puerto Rico.
It may well be true that Clinton didn't discuss the clemency
issue with his wife beforehand, as he asserts. But now that she
has been buffeted by the issue and mishandled it politically,
it would be impossible for him not to think about how another
Puerto Rico controversy could affect her in New York.
So choose your scenario:
Take your pick and place your bets. I don't pretend to know
how this one will go.
Lance Oliver writes The Puerto Rico Report weekly
for The Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached by email