Puerto Rican gov. to Bush: Put it in writing

The governor of Puerto Rico, Sila María Calderón, called on President Bush to put his promise to end the Navy’s use of Vieques in writing by issuing an Executive Order that would stop use of the island for bombing practice by May 2003. The governor also sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld challenging statements Rumsfeld made suggesting the Navy will stay in Vieques to “fulfill our obligations.” Calderón told Rumsfeld his statements were contrary to Bush’s promise, and expressed hope that they did not represent a policy change.

Calderón’s Sept. 17 letters followed comments by Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado that Puerto Rico might agree to the continued use of Vieques in case of a war against Iraq. A flood of criticism caused Calderón to reaffirm that the policy of her government was that the Navy has to leave Vieques as soon as possible.

Calderón received heavy criticism for her previous refusal to demand an Executive Order from Bush. Many organizations and leading activists for peace in Vieques expressed “disgust” with what they termed her “cooling down” on the issue.

Puerto Rican Senator Fernando Martín, who had pressed Calderón to issue a statement declaring that the government of Puerto Rico “finds unacceptable any attempt to use the issue of war to postpone the Navy’s leaving” Vieques, praised Calderón for her letters to Bush and Rumsfeld, saying that her “previous silence projected ambivalence” on the issue. The senator represents the Puerto Rican Independence Party and is that organization’s executive president.

Many other pro-Vieques leaders praised the governor’s letters. Ismael Guadalupe, a leader of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, said Calderón was to be “applauded” for giving in to the “demands of the people.” Guadalupe had been among those who criticized Calderón for her lack of action.

Last week, the mayor of Vieques, Dámaso Serrano, led a march to the gates of the Navy’s Camp Garcia. There the group erected a fence and then used a bulldozer to topple it. Serrano, who drove the bulldozer, said this was a demonstration of what would happen in May 2003 if the Navy was not out of Vieques. Serrano previously served jail time for entering the firing zone in an act of civil disobedience to protest the Navy’s presence.

The author can be reached at jacruz@attbi.com