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THE WASHINGTON POST
Puerto Ricans Celebrate U.S. Citizenship; Rally Tries
to Counter Image Left by Protests Of Navy Target Range
by John Marino
March 6, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE WASHINGTON POST CO. All Rights Reserved.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, March 5 -- Concerned that Puerto Rico
is gaining an anti-American image, leaders of the pro- statehood
New Progressive Party and tens of thousands of supporters celebrated
their U.S. citizenship today in a rally on the grounds of the
Waving U.S. flags, participants danced to salsa and merengue
music from enormous loudspeakers on an oceanside road that serves
as the main entrance to the Old San Juan tourist district.
"The time has come to raise the voice of alarm,"
New Progressive Party president and gubernatorial candidate Carlos
Pesquera told the crowd. "Here is the silent majority of
Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero Barcelo, Puerto Rico's
nonvoting member of Congress, criticized islanders who "wear
their citizenship like a piece of clothing which they put on and
take off when it is convenient," and said that U.S. citizenship
carries with it responsibilities as well as opportunities.
"All of us who are celebrating at this festival are proud
to be Puerto Ricans and proud to be Americans too. We feel proud
to fly both flags," Romero Barcelo said.
Puerto Rico Police Assistant Superintendent Jesus Garcia estimated
attendance at 90,000.
The rally, celebrating the March 2 anniversary of the Jones
Act of 1917, which made Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens, was designed
to counteract what organizers say is an "anti-American message"
that protests over the Navy's use of Vieques for bombing practice
has projected in the mainland media.
It follows a "Peace for Vieques" march last month,
in which religious leaders and throngs of Puerto Ricans called
for no more U.S. military training on Vieques. Commonwealth police
estimated that 85,000 people participated in that march, while
San Juan police put the number as high as 150,000.
"Ultimately, the Vieques issue gives the impression that
the people of Puerto Rico are anti-American, and the majority
of the people are pro-American," said William Santos, 42,
a resident of Vega Baja, a north coast town west of San Juan,
who attended today's rally.
Although the religious leaders who organized last month's demonstration
made a call to participants to leave home flags and other partisan
symbols, New Progressive Party leaders attacked the event as "separatist."
Puerto Rico 's political leadership has been pushing for the
Navy to quit its Vieques training ground, where it has trained
the Atlantic fleet for more than five decades, since the April
19 death of a civilian security guard during a bombing exercise
On Jan. 31, a deal was announced between Gov. Pedro Rossello,
Clinton and the Navy that calls for a referendum for Vieques voters
to decide if they want the Navy to leave by May 1, 2003, or stay
indefinitely and give the commonwealth an additional $50 million.
But during the three-year interim, Clinton called for the target
range to be reopened and protesters cleared from it so that the
Navy can practice 90 days a year using dummy ordnance.
Critics of the deal say there are not sufficient guarantees
that the directives will be followed through to completion. They
object that the Navy gets to choose the date of the referendum,
either nine months before or after May 1, 2001, and say the vote
is being postponed too long.
But most of the participants in the "My Citizenship Festival"
today said they thought it was a good deal.
"The people of Vieques have been used by pro-independence
leaders," said Fernando Luis Cruz, a 63-year-old resident
of San German, on the southwest coast.
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Rep.
Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) attended today's rally to show support
for Puerto Ricans' choosing a future political status with the
"If and when I become speaker of the House, we will pass
legislation in the Congress which will call for self-determination
for Puerto Rico," Gephardt pledged. "That legislation
will say that what Puerto Rico wants, America wants. It will say
what Puerto Rico decides, America decides."
Kennedy said that "Puerto Rican culture is now American
culture" and told the crowd in Spanish that "for a 51st
state, I am with you."
[Republican presidential candidate, George W. Bush, in a message
read to the crowd, said the commemoration was an "example
Bush underscored the bond between the United States and Puerto
Rico since 1917, noting that Puerto Rican soldiers have served
in all U.S. wars since then.
"As citizens residing in a commonwealth of the United
States, the Puerto Rican people have the right to vote for their
island's political status. I have advocated statehood for the
island, if that's what the Puerto Rican people choose," Bush
Although San Juan Mayor Sila Calderon, the pro-commonwealth
Popular Democratic Party's candidate for governor in November's
elections, attended the official ceremony last Thursday declaring
U.S. Citizenship Day, she stayed away today, saying the rally
was a political activity for her opponent Pesquera.
"We have to rescue Puerto Rico from the negative forces
of fear that the NPP leadership is directing," Calderon said
in a statement released after the march.
The third candidate for governor, Puerto Rican Independence
Party president Ruben Berrios Martinez, remains illegally camped
out on restricted Navy land in Vieques, where he has vowed to
remain until he is arrested or the Navy pledges not to resume