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South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Elections A Mandate On Vieques Issue Will Be A Challenge For New President

November 11, 2000
Copyright © 2000 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

When voters in Puerto Rico made Sila Maria Calderon the island's first woman governor on Tuesday, they weren't voting against statehood . Calderon, the former mayor of San Juan, is the standardbearer of the opposition Popular Democratic Party.

Instead, her victory reflects the electorate's unhappiness with lame-duck Gov. Pedro Rossello, a statehood advocate whose eight-year administration has been marred by rampant corruption.

Over the past three decades, Puerto Rican voters have switched between the pro- statehood and pro-commonwealth political parties. Their support for Calderon is not a vote for the U.S. territory's future political status .

But it may be a vote against the Navy's use of the tiny Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a bombing range.

Vieques has been a hot topic in Puerto Rico since April 1999 when a local security guard was accidentally killed during a Navy bombing exercise.

Calderon campaigned on an anti-bombing range platform. She has promised to revisit the issue when she is sworn in as governor in January.

The Vieques issue will be a challenge for the new president. In the past year, President Clinton and Gov. Rossello reached an agreement that calls for Vieques residents to decide the future of Navy war games in a referendum election to be held before 2003.

But no date has been set for the vote. Furthermore, Clinton was unable to persuade Congress to approve the transfer of 8,000 acres of Navy land in Vieques to the Puerto Rican government, which was part of the earlier agreement. This has prompted pessimism in Puerto Rico over the White House-brokered Vieques deal.

Puerto Rican voters have given Calderon a mandate to resolve the Vieques issue sooner rather than later. The final decision will be up to the new president. He should take the will of Puerto Rican voters on this matter into serious consideration.

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