State of Siege
Not all of the Vieques protesters were arrested when U.S. officials stormed the Puerto Rican island/bombing range last week. Many scattered into the brush and are still hiding out. Meanwhile, charges of mistreatment of arrested protesters began to surface.
After rounding up demonstrators, federal marshals and FBI agents turned them over to Navy officials, who herded them into trucks or onto barges and let them sit in the hot sun for hours before aggressively searching them. Activists charge that women’s blouses were opened and that searchers ran their hands up their crotches. There were no sanitary facilities for the women so they were forced to urinate in public.
On Monday, a reporter for the newspaper Voz de Vieques, who himself had been arrested, e-mailed the Voice: “Today, Vieques is under a state of siege. The National Guard has been activated and deployed. Federal marshals are still encamped in Vieques, and 1200 U.S. Marines, plus a few hundred specialized search troops, are camped inside the range. They have yet to clear the area. Many protesters just withdrew into the bush, and have stayed there all this time.”
Meanwhile, a blockade consisting of Navy vessels, Coast Guard ships, and nuclear subs has cordoned off the island. Clinton has invoked an old statute making trespassing a major crime, subject to a $250,000 fine and a 10-year prison sentence. Fishermen tending their nets are being harassed by low-flying Marine helicopters, which at times hook their nets for sport.
“Viequeans are used to military arrogance and swagger,” wrote the Voz de Vieques reporter. “For many years we have been subject to a virtual military dictatorship (there is no other term for a system of government where the military owns the civil bureaucracy, the police, and judicial institutions, and calls all the shots, despite the manifest will of more than 80 percent of the people).
“As I write this to you, we are organizing ourselves to continue our struggle. We appeal to people of conscience to cover our story. This is not over.”
Registering at 5 percent in the polls, Ralph Nader made it into prime time on Sunday with an appearance on Meet the Press, where he lambasted Vice President Gore and said he could care less whether he took enough votes from the Democrats to put Bush in the White House. According to polls, Nader is drawing principally from liberals who are turned off by Gore. Both he and Pat Buchanan, who plans to run as the Reform Party candidate, are courting the “Perot vote”—a polyglot of the alienated working class, which is being targeted because of its intense dislike of the WTO, World Bank, IMF, NAFTA, and GATT. In theory, Nader would draw votes that would hurt Gore, while Buchanan would pull right-wingers who otherwise would back Bush. To this end, both are pushing hard to get into the fall debates, which are restricted to candidates registering at least 15 percent in the polls, and of course the inclusion of one or both could wreak havoc on those ultimate mainstream talkfests.
As Nader’s stature rises, Buchanan is sinking. Last month in San Diego, Buchanan warned that Mexico might attack the U.S., seeking to seize control of the American Southwest as part of a plan to resurrect the Aztec nation. “Politicians may gush over the warm relations, but there is no peace on the frontier,” he told the San Diego World Affairs Council. “Nightly, ranches are turned into bivouac areas for armies of aliens that cut fences and poison cattle and leave trails of debris behind in their long march north.” Buchanan views the swelling Latino population in California (it’s now about one-third of the state’s total population) as similar to the 19th-century increases in the U.S. population under Manifest Destiny. “Mass immigration followed by insurrection, independence, and annexation: This is how all of Europe’s American empires were eventually expropriated and lost, and [this] is how America grew,” Buchanan proclaimed. “We may forget this history; Mexico remembers. And while we shudder at the idea it could happen again, Mexican irredentism is alive and well.”
The Selling of Elián
A photo of a forlorn-looking Elián González leaving a Georgetown pool party flanked by bodyguards has sent the flagging Clinton scandals crowd into a frenzy. A photographer spotted the boy emerging from the home of Democratic fundraiser Smith Bagley, the R.J. Reynolds tobacco heir, and his wife Elizabeth, Clinton’s former ambassador to Portugal. The Bagleys have entertained both the Clintons and the Gores. Bagley is president of the ARCA Foundation, a Washington-based philanthropy that has awarded numerous grants to groups working on Cuba. In the past, he was in the news as an associate of Maryland developer and Gore financier Nathan Landow, known for his links to Monicagate figure Kathleen Willey.
Given this background, the hysterics that greeted the photo were predictable. “A Prisoner of Communism,” shrieked one Web writer. “What is wrong with Elián?” asked another. Was Elián drugged by the Cuban doctor who was caught by U.S. customs agents with tranquilizers in her purse? Could this be, as some suspected, another shameless Clinton-Gore fundraiser, with the administration selling “Elián coffee klatches” like they rented the Lincoln Bedroom?
Meanwhile, Elián, his father, his stepmother, his younger half-brother, his kindergarten teacher, and four playmates from Cuba were said to be enjoying quality time at the upscale Carmichael Farm on the eastern shore of Maryland, protected by 58 federal agents cruising the estate on golf carts and a small armada of Coast Guard vessels in Chesapeake Bay. The government figures the González entourage needs extra protection since Betty Mills, the INS agent who carried the lad when he was removed from his Uncle Lazaro’s house in Miami, has received death threats and now travels with bodyguards herself. Carmichael Farm is owned by Corning Glass heiress Nina Houghton.
For Web conspiracists, other questions persisted. Could Bagley be doing a deal as a front for Big Tobacco in a ploy to get Cuban cigars from Castro? Given Bagley’s real estate interests, might he be fishing for hotel properties? Or, as Charley Reese of the Orlando Sentinel suggests, could the sugar industry be involved? According to Reese, Dwayne Andreas, head of Archer Daniels Midland, has had dealings with the law firm of attorney Greg Craig, who represents Elián’s father, Juan Miguel González. Andreas has met with Castro and reportedly hopes to do business in Cuba through a Spanish subsidiary.
Footnote: On May 11, a federal appeals court judge in Atlanta will hear arguments on requests for political asylum for Elián.
The Exorcist in Austin
George W. Bush’s debt to Jesus is well known. What is not so well-known is that Dubya has gone out of his way to involve the Christian clergy in running the State of Texas through a program called “Faith in Action: A New Vision for Church-State Cooperation.”
In welfare reform, and especially in the prison system, Shrub has exempted church people from elaborate procedures so that they can reach their clients more directly. But as The Washington Post reported last week, after cops raided a home for young Christian adults in Corpus Christi following complaints that teenagers were being beaten and roped to beds, this approach can result in its own problems.
One teen recalled: “Every night I . . . heard someone getting beat and screaming, saying, ‘Please help me’ and ‘Please stop hitting me.’ ” A sign over a Christian-based drug-treatment center in Houston reads: “Drug Addiction Is NOT a Disease. It’s a Sin.”
To top things off, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported last week that two fundamentalist Christian chaplains broke county jail rules to perform an exorcism on an accused child molester. According to records obtained by the paper, the chaplains took the inmate to an isolated part of the jail—without the consent of guards—and began beseeching the devil “to leave this man’s body.”
Still undecided over a future career, Bill Clinton says he’ll work first on setting up his Little Rock library while living with his mother-in-law, Dorothy Rodham, in her Arkansas condominium and visiting Hillary on weekends in New York. “I really like her,” Clinton said of Mrs. Rodham over the weekend. We get along great.
Additional reporting: Kate Cortesi