- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2000

Vice President Al Gore faces the prospect of another federal raid that could anger the Clinton administration's Hispanic supporters.
Federal agents are poised to evict Puerto Rican protesters from a Navy firing range on the island of Vieques, less than two weeks after armed agents angered Cuban-Americans by seizing 6-year-old shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez from his relatives' home in Miami.
"Puerto Ricans are united on this. It will be an issue in November," Rep. Jose E. Serrano, New York Democrat, said yesterday.
"This is going to be worse than Miami for the Clinton administration," Jose Aponte, a prominent Democrat in Puerto Rico, said on Tuesday.
Mr. Gore, who broke with President Clinton on the Elian Gonzalez case, hoping to keep Florida's 25 electoral votes in play, will not say whether he supports a federal raid to evict the protesters in Vieques.
"It would be inappropriate for us to comment on a potential law-enforcement operation," said Matt Gobush, a foreign-policy spokesman for Mr. Gore's office.
But Puerto Rican politicians from New York and Illinois, home to large concentrations of Puerto Ricans, are urging the Clinton administration not to evict the protesters. Reps. Nydia M. Velazquez, New York Democrat, and Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, joined the protesters yesterday in Vieques.
"The whole idea of getting the people out and then having the referendum [on whether the Navy should remain in Vieques] doesn't make sense," Mr. Serrano said in a telephone interview.
"We're asking the president to call them off, to hold the referendum and see what the people think."
First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton who is seeking a U.S. Senate seat in New York, home to 1.4 million Puerto Ricans spoke to Mr. Serrano Tuesday and issued a statement in which she reiterated her opposition to federal maneuvers at Vieques.
Mrs. Clinton said in a statement that "a small inhabited island should not be used as target practice."
Mr. Gore said during a campaign stop in Atlanta that the Navy should leave Vieques, but he would not comment on the protesters.
Some Puerto Ricans may wish for a more specific response on the demonstrators, but "the big issue is, do you support the Navy leaving Puerto Rico?" Mr. Serrano said.
Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore have enjoyed strong support among Hispanic voters. The Democrats won among Hispanic voters 72 percent to 21 percent in the 1996 presidential election.
Mr. Gore led Texas Gov. George W. Bush among Hispanics by 41 percent in California's March 17 open primary.
But Mr. Bush, who is courting Hispanic voters this week in California, won nearly half the Hispanic votes in his 1998 re-election bid in Texas.
Presidential spokesman Joe Lockhart on Tuesday cut off a questioner who asked whether the White House has any second thoughts about the use of force following the raid in the Little Havana section of Miami.
"I'm not going to speculate on what may or may not happen," Mr. Lockhart said.
Protest leaders in Vieques warn that the operation could trigger demonstrations on the main island of Puerto Rico, where most of the political leadership and public sentiment are firmly in support of the Vieques protesters.
"Any action to remove us will be the beginning, not the end of the protests," said Ruben Berrios, head of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, who has camped illegally on the bombing range for the past year.
"If they arrest us, they can expect a million people to protest because this issue has united Puerto Ricans of all political persuasions as never before."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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