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The Record, Northern New Jersey

Shelling Wins No Friends


June 28, 2000
Copyright © 2000 The Record. All Rights Reserved.

When the bombs fall there, the thud resonates here. We're 1,500 miles from Vieques , but when the Navy resumed bombings on that civilian-inhabited Puerto Rican island Sunday, pain, anger, sadness, and helplessness was felt among many Puerto Ricans who live in New York and New Jersey.

From Puerto Ricans here, "a necessary evil" is just about the most complimentary comment you might get about the renewed military shelling on Vieques .

That comment is more likely to come from those who support statehood for Puerto Rico . They claim to have confidence in the deal cut earlier this year between pro-statehood Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello and President Clinton.

After a Puerto Rican civilian was killed by an errant bomb last year, Rossello vowed that not one single additional bomb would be dropped on Vieques . But he later did an about-face some called it betrayal when he agreed to renewed shelling with inert bombs in exchange for a referendum by Vieques residents to determine if they want the Navy to leave their island by May 3, 2003.

And so the estadistas state-hooders argue that painful and sad as the shelling may be for a few years longer, it is a "necessary evil."

To most other Puerto Ricans , it's just plain evil completely unnecessary.

They don't buy the Navy's argument that Vieques is a crucial training site and that it cannot be easily replaced. They tell you that none of Clinton's promises to Rossello have been reaffirmed by Congress and that the U.S. government is stalling for a new president who may be more inclined to keep the Navy in Vieques . For them, news of renewed bombings provokes stronger sentiments.

"You feel outrage, anger, incense," said Gerson Borrero, editor of the New York Spanish-language daily, Diario La Prensa, and host of "Bajo Fuego," a talk-radio show on WADO-AM.

"But at the same time, we deserve it for being so docile, so permissive, so foolish to think that this country really believes in democracy," he added.

As he does on the radio, Borrero doesn't mince words.

"After 101 years of North American prejudice occupying Puerto Rico , and 41 years bombing Vieques , it's about time the problems that the United States has created in my country become common knowledge to those who profess that this is the land of liberty."

Borrero said in a way, he's actually glad that the U.S. government has been "so arrogant, so imperialistic in their decision to resume the bombing, that they have disregarded human beings who are, by U.S. imposition, citizens of the United States." He was referring not only to the 9,000 residents of Vieques , but to the hundreds of Puerto Rican protesters including some from our area who have been arrested for trespassing into the bombing range in an effort to stop the shelling.

"That the government is willing to treat American citizens this way, should be very revealing to every American in terms of what the Constitution really means and who is equal under this system," he said.

And for Puerto Ricans , he said the bombings should "make it clear that we are not on equal footing with U.S. citizens, that we may have the privilege of U.S. citizenship, for those who see it as a privilege, but that clearly the treatment is not the same, that we are third-class citizens, at most."

As one who wants independence for Puerto Rico , Borrero sees a long and winding road to his goal for the island where he was born. First, he tells you that the political psyche of most Puerto Ricans has been so "brainwashed" with a negative image of independence and "the fear of not being associated with the United States" that the Vieques controversy alone will not convert many Puerto Ricans into independentistas.

"But I assure you there is a more critical look at the United States," he added.

Having the people of Vieques subjected to more bombing hurts him deeply, but Borrero said "this is the best thing that can happen" for those who want the Puerto Rican people to realize that their only real choice is independence.

Borrero said he would like to see a plebiscite on the status of Puerto Rico , sanctioned by (and binding for) the U.S. government and giving the Puerto Rican people only two choices, instead of the three they have had in previous referendums.

"Statehood or independence no middle ground," he said, referring to the current "commonwealth" relationship that Puerto Rico currently has with the United States.

Surprisingly, Borrero tells you that in such a two-choice plebiscite with commonwealth out of the picture he expects statehood to win.

"But then the rejection, the full, all-out rejection by the United States of Puerto Rican statehood," he said, "that's what I'm waiting for."

He said this country doesn't really want Puerto Rico to become a state. "It's a game for them. We're still a commodity for them. They can still make money off of us. They can still exploit us. They can still abuse us. Why should they do a binding plebiscite when they have it so good? This isn't even a matter of what Puerto Ricans want, this is what the U.S. wants."

So in order to achieve independence, Borrero's winding road has to go through a Puerto Rican vote for statehood, and an American rejection of Puerto Rico as numero 51.

Independentistas are normally a small minority among Puerto Rican voters. As they see it, a U.S. rejection of statehood is the final turn in the winding road, the last blow that would turn most Puerto Ricans into independentistas. And, as they see it, their march on that road resumed with the U.S. bombings of Vieques on Sunday.

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