I have recently read Frank Schneiger's Op-ed piece "Make year of few tourists a year of change" and the reply of Eric K. Roeske of Watertown, Wis., "More federal money won't solve V.I. problems". I feel compelled to add my views on the subject of the relationship between the federal government and its territory, the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Mr. Schneiger's position is that the federal government should provide grants and low-interest loans to its territory as a Band-Aid effort to lessen the economic loss that the territory has experienced and will experience as a result of the attacks of Sept. 11.
Mr. Roeske's position is that the territory should take the opportunity to find an antidote to cure its ills on its own. He writes, "Since when has the federal government been in the business of financing companies that are nonessential to the everyday life of its citizens?"
The federal government has allotted millions of dollars to assist the "victims" of the Sept. 11 attacks. The private sector has displayed an outpouring of benevolence that will be equal to, albeit, surpass the commitment of the federal government.
These funds are intended to give some sort of economic relief to the said "victims." These funds will go directly to the businesses that were housed within the World Trade Center towers, as well as the pizza shops, sandwich shops, hot dog carts, boutiques, other sundry businesses and individual entrepreneurs located within and without the immediate area that were affected by this unprecedented attack on America.
It is contemplated that "victims" will also include the families of the heroes who selflessly gave their lives in the call of duty, as well as the families of the more than four thousand individuals who perished as a result of this cowardly act. The airlines were the recipients of immediate federal funds to make payroll and stave off bankruptcy.
Recently, I have read that a congressman has proposed a bill that would allow tax credits for vacation travel within the 50 states of the Union. It is an obvious attempt to jumpstart the tourism industry. Bill proponents claim that the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico were inadvertently omitted from the bill and promise to include them by way of amendment or by adding "territories" to its language. No such benefit would be rewarded for travel to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands without the change.
At any rate, it is clear that the citizens of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are afterthoughts. It is apparent that the term "victims" as defined by the Congress and contemplated by Mr. Roeske does not extend to Americans impacted by the attack wherever they might be found. Mr. Roeske implies that the businesses of the territory are not essential to the everyday life of American citizens. The implication is that a hotdog stand is.
Since when are the businesses of this territory not essential to the everyday life of the citizens of the United States? Ask the cruise ship companies. For that matter, since when has tourism not been included in the calculation of the gross national product of the United States? The president has declared war. Now is the time for the representatives of the citizens of the United States in the Congress and the individual chosen by the citizens to head the executive branch of the federal government to recognize their obligation to "all citizens" of the United States.
"All citizens" should include those citizens who voted them into office, as well as those who did not vote for them and those who could not vote for them or for the chief executive. This will happen only when my fellow Americans on the mainland stop looking upon Americans residing in the territories as parasites draining the nation's lifeblood and include its territories within the meaning of "From Sea to Shining Sea."
Lofton P. Holder
Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to firstname.lastname@example.org.