The Miami Herald
December 26, 1999

Hillary Clinton Vieques stand is watched

 Hearst Newspapers

 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, Puerto
 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
 and firefighters.

 Some customers at the packed eatery on Manhattan's East 106th Street express
 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 of military
 training on the island next spring. Clinton gave a concession to the protesters by
 limiting future combat exercises to nonexplosive munitions.


 The dispute between Puerto Rico and the Navy has become a political litmus test
 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 here debate
 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, a Georgetown
 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 from
 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. ``She has
 been the President's equal partner on policy for seven years. Now she stands idly


 The Clinton administration's Dec. 3 compromise calls for the Navy to withdraw
 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 has been
 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 range.

 The White House plan has been rejected by Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello and
 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 by Democratic
 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 Giuliani,
 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.


 State Sen. Olga Mendez, whose district includes this neighborhood of aging
 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.''