by Proviana Colon Diaz
The Monument to the Fallen Soldier on the south side of the Capitol was the site Monday of two completely different ceremonies with the same purpose: to commemorate Memorial Day.
While one group celebrated the occasion in the traditional way, by placing a flower offering at the monument, another group decided the site was the ideal place for a symbolic ceremony in support of the U.S. Navy's withdrawal from Vieques.
Under the burning sun and without the benefits of a cooling breeze, dozens of veterans, members of Veterans for Peace, turned in the medals they earned while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces in protest for the Navy's practices in Vieques.
The medals will be sent to President Clinton along with a two-page letter in which they stated their disagreement with his orders on Vieques and demanded an immediate stop of military practices on the small island municipality.
The 232 members of Veterans for Peace had already announced that they would turn in their medals Monday. However, an additional 80 veterans who showed up to the activity to do the same surprised organizers and observers.
"There was a time when I wore these medals with pride. Now they burn my chest as I see the destruction and the harm done to Vieques," said retired Navy Petty Officer Jose Soto Millan as he took off his military jacket, threw it on the ground and stepped on it.
For his part, organization spokesman Ruben Linn said they will continue to collect medals until November to be sent periodically to Clinton. In addition, Linn called on all Veterans who received medals but lost them, to join the group by giving their name, military position and time served.
The ceremony concluded when two children released a white dove as a sign of peace.
Also Monday, during a ceremony at the Hato Tejas National Cemetery, Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero Barcelo strongly criticized the Veterans for Peace activity, The Associated Press reported.
Linn reacted to Romero's statement by saying that the resident commissioner had no authority to criticize the group because he was not veteran.
But Romero was not the only politician to criticize the group's action. During an afternoon ceremony at the Monument to the Fallen Soldier, after the veterans had held their activity, Senate President Charlie Rodriguez asked demonstrators to also waive all benefits granted by the Veterans Administration. In addition, Rodriguez said the demonstration was disrespectful to the memory of fallen soldiers.
"In my opinion, to carry out a demonstration like that in a day like this, in a solemn place like this, is disrespectful to the memory of those who died [in the line of duty]," Rodriguez said.
One of Rodriguez's guests was the top representative of the Navy in Puerto Rico, Adm. Kevin Green. He said the demonstration was an act protected by the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.
"They made that decision. This is a free country and one that I am sworn to defend along with 2.5 million armed forces members," said Green.
May 30, 2000
SAN JUAN (AP) - White House Interagency Working Group on Puerto Rico Co-Chairman Jeffrey Farrow said Sunday that the U.S. government can't accept a proposal to stop military training in Vieques until a referendum on the Navy's future is held there.
During his speech before the League of United Latin American Citizens, Farrow said suggestions have arisen to have the Navy stop bombings in Vieques until the referendum is held or that an option be included for no more military practices, according to published reports.
"The experience of 13 months without the range and having to train in a number of other locations prove the Navy's reliance on Vieques," Farrow said.
He said the Navy is committed to replace Vieques, if its residents vote for that in the referendum provided by President Bill Clinton in his Jan. 31 directives.
May 30, 2000
SAN JUAN (AP) Speaking from Washington, Gov. Pedro Rossello said the "status issue" is the "root" of the recurring problems faced by Puerto Rico.
In published reports, the governor said all the recent issues in which Puerto Rico has played a central role Vieques, the release of Puerto Rican prisoners, the release of political dossiers kept on Puerto Rican independence supporters by federal authorities, etc. have all called attention to the lack of definition in the islands status.
"I think this year we can move ahead to reach some accords about the process, the mechanism to be used to make the decisions and on the viable alternatives," he said.
White House officials have said status definitions to be proposed by the U.S. government could be ready by October.
by Robert Burns
WASHINGTON (AP) - Gov. Pedro Rossello of Puerto Rico predicted Tuesday that residents of the tiny Puerto Rican island of Vieques will vote to expel the U.S. Navy from its training range there.
As part of an arrangement that enabled the Navy to resume training on Vieques this month, the Navy agreed that a referendum would be held on whether it could continue to operate its bombing range. The referendum is to be held as early as August 2000 or as late as February 2002, with the date to be set by the Navy.
Rossello, in a meeting with reporters, said he hoped the referendum would be held before the end of this year.
"I think the outcome of the referendum will be one that will support in a very solid manner the termination of the presence of the Navy in Vieques ," the governor said. He said that would be his personal preference, too, although there would be no organized Puerto Rican government campaign for it.
"This is a decision that has to come from the people of Vieques ," he said.
If the vote goes against the Navy, it would be compelled to leave by May 2003.
The Navy agreed to hold the referendum in the belief that by the time of the vote it would have demonstrated through safe management of the training range that Vieques would benefit from a continued Navy presence. The Navy has used the island as a bombing range for more than 50 years and has said no proposed alternate site in the region can provide the same realistic training for the Atlantic fleet.
Rossello said he believes the Navy has miscalculated, and that the islanders will vote against it.