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Puerto Ricans, Vieques, Civil Rights And Patriotism

ALCIDES ORTIZ, Executive Director and General Counsel

Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration - Washington

November 1, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE WASHINGTON TIMES. All Rights Reserved.

The Washington Times editorial "Puerto Rico 's NIMBY problem" (Oct. 25) accuses Gov. Pedro Rossello of Puerto Rico of demonstrating "appalling callousness and lack of patriotism" because of his opposition to the continued use of Vieques Island by the Navy for live bombing exercises.

Throughout the history of our nation, groups of Americans have sought to exercise their constitutional right to petition their government for the redress of a grievance. These Americans were not accused of being unpatriotic. Indeed, many are honored for their contribution to our nation's civil rights. But today, the people of Puerto Rico, who are exercising their basic constitutional rights, are being called unpatriotic for doing so.

There are legitimate issues of concern on both sides of the Vieques issue. Different people can look at the facts in this issue and come to an honorable disagreement on how it should be solved. But it is insulting to the more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States to say that Puerto Ricans who disagree with the Navy are unpatriotic.

More than 1,200 Puerto Ricans have died wearing a uniform and protecting the flag of our country during battle in this century, a number proportionately higher than almost every state of the Union. This is even more remarkable when considering that the nation these soldiers fought and died for did not grant them the most basic of political rights in our democracy - the right to elect their commander in chief, the president.

For more than 50 years, the U.S. citizens of Vieques have had to live under conditions of war. The live bombing exercises that occur on this small Caribbean island are unlike those at any of the Navy's other training ranges around the United States, both in their size and scale and in the amount of real damage they cause to a neighboring community of civilians.

It is time for our Navy to find an alternative location for these exercises - just as it is time for all Americans to recognize the tremendous contribution of their fellow citizens in Puerto Rico to our nation's defense and security.

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