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THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
Hispanics Blast Clinton As Climax Of Island Dispute
December 1, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.
VIEQUES, Puerto Rico -- A group of Hispanic Democrats on Tuesday
-- assuming that President Clinton plans to allow bombing to resume
on the target range here -- warned there would be strong consequences.
The announcement of Clinton's decision was expected today or
Thursday, but politicians on the mainland and some in Puerto Rico
were trusting their sources and acting as if the decision were
made. Protesters camped on the target range dug in their heels
as word spread that the impending decision would have the U.S.
Navy leave Vieques in three years but would allow bombing on a
reduced basis in the interim.
The 20 Democrats warned that Clinton's anticipated move would
damage relations with Puerto Ricans and implied it could threaten
Hillary Clinton's Senate aspirations.
"The measures you propose to implement are unacceptable,"
the lawmakers said in a letter. "Your anticipated action
will change forever the way your administration is viewed by Puerto
Ricans throughout the United States, with potential ramifications
to your administration and others who might be seeking to carry
on your policies and programs."
The letter, signed by Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., Rep. Nydia
Velazquez, D-N.Y., Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and
others, expresses "absolute rejection" of the plan.
"It is completely intolerable to bomb American citizens
on American territory," they wrote.
Meanwhile, Pentagon officials indicated that limited target
practice may resume on Vieques soon, as a battle group prepares
to head for the Persian Gulf.
Navy Rear Adm. Craig Quigley stopped short of saying an agreement
had been reached, but he told reporters on Tuesday that some naval
forces "may utilize portions of the Puerto Rican operating
area, depending upon the outcome of current discussions."
Sources in Washington indicated that warships would fire non-explosive
rounds at the range.
While visiting some of the nine protesters' campsites on the
range, Puerto Rico Rep. Anibal Acevedo Vila, the opposition Popular
Democratic Party's candidate for resident commissioner, said he
hoped the letter from New York would exert pressure.
"I'm glad they tell the president that he shouldn't just
be talking to the governor," Acevedo Vila said. "He
should be talking to the people of Vieques too."
Puerto Rico, supported by many stateside, has been in a battle
with Washington since April 19 to get the U.S. Navy to stop bombing
and military-training exercises on the three quarters of the 52-square-mile
island of Vieques it has owned since 1941. Puerto Rico wants the
land cleaned up and returned. A fatal accident in which a wayward
bomb killed security guard David Sanes Rodriguez during target
practice spurred a consensus across political lines.
However, with the official announcement near, cracks in that
consensus are beginning to surface. After returning from a week-long
vacation in the United States during which he talked with Clinton
almost daily, Gov. Pedro Rossello was deliberately vague about
whether he still upholds the island government's public policy.
Rossello has repeatedly told Congress and the White House that
Puerto Rico wants no more bombs to fall on Vieques. On Monday,
he said the goal is for bombing to stop, but he hedged on whether
that meant an agreement to stop at some future date would be acceptable.
On Tuesday, Rossello's people offered some hints. His successor
in the New Progressive Party, gubernatorial candidate Carlos Pesquera,
said a proposal of the type expected in Clinton's announcement
could benefit Puerto Rico. He asked people not to jump to conclusions
or to treat the possibility of a compromise so harshly.
"We have to evaluate it, analyze it and show we are mature
enough to receive it in an objective manner," Pesquera said.
Those committed to the island's original stance, particularly
those using themselves as human shields on Vieques, want no part
of the apparent new position and are prepared for federal authorities
to move in and arrest them. Hundreds gathered for a vigil Tuesday
night in front of the gates to the restricted Navy grounds of
"There are people who think five more years, three more
years is nothing. For us, one more minute is too much," said
Carlos "El Prieto" Ventura, president of the Fishermen's
Association of Southern Vieques. "We are just too tired of
this, and that's why we're not going to allow it."
An emotional Vieques Mayor Manuela Santiago counseled calm,
but she made it clear that the anticipated decision would not
be favorable to her island municipality.
"Even though there are people who say we haven't achieved
anything, we have achieved a lot when you take into consideration
that the Navy is a tough opponent," Santiago said.