Hillary Clinton Vieques stand is watched
BY STEWART M. POWELL
NEW YORK -- If Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to gauge the political
fallout of the
Vieques controversy on her New York Senate campaign, all she has to do is stop
for lunch at La Fonda Boricua, a chummy walk-in luncheonette in the heart of the
Spanish-speaking neighborhoods of East Harlem known as ``El Barrio.''
``Everybody's talking about Vieques,'' says Jorge Ayala, the easy-going,
Rico-born owner of the narrow, bustling restaurant that serves 400 lunches and
dinners a day to regulars who includes artists, teachers, lawyers, police officers
Some customers at the packed eatery on Manhattan's East 106th
anger that President Clinton has refused to order a permanent end to military
target practice on the 52-square-mile Puerto Rican island that is home to 9,300
civilians, all U.S. citizens by birth.
Other patrons, stirring midnight-black coffee amid lunch hour
clatter, voice fears
that the White House may order U.S. marshals and FBI agents to round up
dozens of protesters camped on the bombing range and make way for the
resumption of military training that has been suspended since April.
Many complain that the First Lady has done too little to help
end an eight-month
standoff between Puerto Rico and the Navy over the future of the Vieques target
range that has been used to train every East Coast-based Navy-Marine Corps
combat force since World War II.
The president waded into the dispute Dec. 3 and ordered resumption
training on the island next spring. Clinton gave a concession to the protesters by
limiting future combat exercises to nonexplosive munitions.
LIKE A PIECE OF THE ISLAND
The dispute between Puerto Rico and the Navy has become a political
for many in this tightly knit Spanish-speaking community that traces its roots to
Cuban and Puerto Rican cigar workers moving into 19th Century brownstones
after World War I.
``El Barrio'' enjoys such close ties with Puerto Rico that residents
developments back home as though East Harlem were just another town on the
island of Puerto Rico. Neighborhoods like these are home to many of New York
state's 2.2 million Hispanics -- 1.4 million of them New Yorkers with ties to Puerto
``Everybody understands Vieques,'' says Antonio Martorell, 60,
University-educated artist who divides his time between New York and Puerto
Rico. ``Vieques is about life and death, and making a living. That's why the issue
has gone so far.''
Gloria Quiñones, 55, a retired Puerto Rico-born legal aid
lawyer with two sons,
says both of the Clintons' actions on Vieques will determine whether she supports
the First Lady for the Senate in November's election.
``I would have a very hard time voting for her for the Senate
given what the
President has done,'' says Quiñones, whose husband was arrested with nine
others during peaceful civil disobedience protest over Vieques at the United
Nations on Dec. 7. ``If the Clintons don't resolve Vieques by the time the
Democratic Convention takes place in Los Angeles next summer, we Democrats
will be there to put this issue in the platform.''
Melissa Mark-Viverito, 30, a Puerto Rico-born New Yorker who graduated
Columbia University, complained that Mrs. Clinton has not followed up her public
statement supporting an end to Navy bombardment with concrete action to
change White House policy.
``What counts is what you do, not what you say,'' says Mark-Viverito.
been the President's equal partner on policy for seven years. Now she stands idly
RANGE CLOSED AFTER FATAL ACCIDENT
The Clinton administration's Dec. 3 compromise calls for the Navy
from the island in five years, grants $40 million in economic development
assistance and calls for the immediate turnover of 8,000 acres of the 22,000
acres that the Navy has owned since 1941.
The President's plan was designed to reopen the target range that
closed since April 19, when a Marine pilot mistakenly targeted a range
observation post with two 500-pound bombs, killing David Sanes Rodriguez, 35, a
civilian security guard working for the Navy, and injuring four civilian workers on
The White House plan has been rejected by Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro
Puerto Rico's political allies in New York because they said the Clinton
administration did not go far enough and immediately end Navy bombardment of
an 899-acre target range located 10 miles from the island's civilian population.
Sixteen New York City politicians with ties to Puerto Rico, led
Reps. Jose Serrano and Nydia Velazquez, had pointedly warned the President
and the First Lady that the Clinton administration should end 58 years of Navy
bombardment or face ``potential ramifications to your administration and others
who might be seeking to carry on your policies and programs.''
Both the First Lady and her Republican rival, New York Mayor Rudolph
are courting Hispanic voters in their quest to succeed retiring Democratic Sen.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Both Senate candidates have endorsed Puerto Rico's
demands for a permanent end to military training and phased Navy withdrawal.
But New York's Hispanic politicians and some lunchtime customers
at La Fonda
Boricua say they expect more direct action from Mrs. Clinton because of her
influential role inside the Clinton administration.
VIEQUES, A NO. 1 ISSUE
State Sen. Olga Mendez, whose district includes this neighborhood
brownstones, rental apartments and multistory public housing complexes, says
the Clintons' actions on Vieques will determine the breadth of her support for Mrs.
Clinton's Senate campaign.
Mrs. Clinton's efforts on behalf of education, health care and
a social safety net
are important, ``but Vieques ranks No. 1 because our people are being abused,''
says Mendez. The veteran of 21 years in the New York state Senate and the
longest serving elected Puerto Rican woman politician in America adds: ``Now if
Hillary influences her husband to take the Navy out of Vieques, she will be
crowned St. Hillary in Puerto Rico and New York.''