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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Clinton's Puerto Rico Policy Bombs in More Ways Than
by Jose Fuentes
October 5, 1999
Copyright © 1999 DOW JONES & COMPANY, INC. All Rights
Many commentators have observed that in deciding to offer clemency
to 16 convicted Puerto Rican terrorists, President Clinton did
not adequately consider the perspectives of any of the victims
of their organization, the FALN (a Spanish acronym for Armed Forces
of National Liberation). But that's not all the president seems
to have overlooked. He also failed to consider how his actions
might harm relations between the people of Puerto Rico and their
fellow American citizens in the 50 states.
The people of Puerto Rico have not been immune from the FALN's
campaign of terror. In 1975 a bomb detonated in a restaurant in
Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, killing a six-year-old child and wounding
several other diners. And a senior FBI official believes that
the FALN may be responsible for more recent bombings in Puerto
Rico as well as in Chicago.
Even more surprising to me was that the FALN terrorists received
clemency as a group. A full exoneration of a criminal group --
rather than just individuals -- is, to my knowledge, unprecedented
in modern American history. I fear that this may set a troubling
new standard. Other terrorist organizations may view this clemency
offer as a weakening of American resolve. What appeared to some
as an act of mercy might have the unintended effect of actually
increasing the danger to U.S. citizens.
Much of the recent discussion surrounding the clemency decision
has focused on the suspicious timing in light of Hillary Clinton's
political aspirations, on Vice President Gore's conspicuous silence
on the issue and on the unanimous counsel of senior law-enforcement
officials against the release of the terrorists. Largely absent
has been the voice of the Puerto Rican community.
I fear President Clinton may only have succeeded in igniting
resentment and suspicion against the Puerto Rican people -- by
fueling the assumption that we all supported the clemency decision.
Most of us did not. And we do not want to give our fellow Americans
the mistaken impression that our sympathies lie with terrorism.
Mr. Clinton needs to know that Puerto Rico stands with the U.S.
against terrorism -- and we emphatically reject any insinuation
to the contrary.
Generations of goodwill between Puerto Ricans and Americans
on the mainland may be seriously harmed unless there is a change
of direction from the White House. While the decades since World
War II have witnessed countless nations seeking self-determination,
Puerto Rico stands as a notable exception. In repeated referendums
over the years, Puerto Ricans have consistently rejected independence
(an option favored by less than 3% of Puerto Ricans in the most
recent vote, last year) and strongly favored maintaining our strong
ties with the U.S. Although Puerto Ricans are divided almost equally
between proponents of full statehood and advocates of maintaining
our current status as a commonwealth, an overwhelming majority
agrees in shunning independence.
And we do not take our relationship with the U.S. for granted.
Thousands of Puerto Ricans have served in the U.S. military this
century, and many of them paid the ultimate price in defense of
freedom. These solemn sacrifices have been described as the "blood
tax" proudly incurred by Puerto Rico to protect and promote
American ideals. Furthermore, in the century since the U.S. took
control of Puerto Rico, we have grown from abject poverty to robust
prosperity and now have one of the very highest levels of per
capita income in Latin America. In short, we consider the U.S.
as a benevolent administrator rather than an overbearing parent.
Now Mr. Clinton is on the verge of unraveling these strong
bonds on two fronts. Besides his untimely clemency decision, he
continues to avoid taking action on another matter of deep concern
to Puerto Ricans.
Puerto Rico 's goodwill towards the U.S. received a jolt when
a Navy jet's practice bomb inadvertently killed a civilian on
our island of Vieques in April. This was a tragedy waiting to
happen. Our vibrant relationship with the U.S. has been strained
in recent years by the Navy's continued insistence on practicing
bombing missions in close proximity to American citizens living
and working on this island -- a practice that has no clear military
This recent accidental death gave Mr. Clinton an opportunity
to reverse course and end these unnecessary bombing practices.
Instead, he formed a commission to study a situation that has
already been studied enough and now demands action.
Months after the fact, and weeks after its due date, the commission
has yet to even issue its report. Now Mr. Clinton is in a difficult
position. After the public relations pummeling he took on the
clemency case, the last thing he wants to do is make any high-profile
decision regarding Puerto Rico. It seems unlikely that the commission
will take the right and proper step of recommending that the Navy
cease its harmful training practices on Vieques. Many observers
fear that Mr. Clinton will merely rubber-stamp the commission's
report, and the Navy practice bombings will probably continue.
If the Navy persists in using Vieques for target practice, an
unprecedented outburst of civil disobedience could erupt from
frustrated Puerto Ricans.
Many Puerto Ricans find themselves questioning their faith
in President Clinton's political judgment following the unfortunate
focus on the FALN and the concurrent inaction toward Vieques.
We wish to reassure Americans on the mainland of our consistent
affection for -- and loyalty to -- the U.S. I only hope that the
clemency of FALN terrorists does not cause the American people
to lose faith in their fellow citizens on Puerto Rico.
Mr. Fuentes is attorney general of Puerto Rico.