Heartthrob Ricky Martin visited the White House the evening of February 1 for a quiet tour and a chat with President Clinton and Deputy Chief Of Staff Maria Echaveste, "The Washington Post" reports.The Puerto Rican pop star is an outspoken critic of the Navy's bombing exercises over the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, also affectionately known as La Isla Nena, or the "Baby Island" (see "Ricky Martin Urges President Clinton To Halt Bombing Practice"). Since April 1999, the island has been a contested political issue after a Navy training exercise resulted in the death of a civilian security guard. An agreement was reached, however, on February 1, when President Clinton finally persuaded Puerto Rico to let the Navy continue its training exercises in the Caribbean. In exchange for $40 million in aid, Puerto Rico's governor Pedro Rossello has approved "dummy" bomb exercises, or Navy training flights using inert bombs.
At a referendum, the date still unset, the residents of Vieques will vote on whether or not to let the Navy resume live ammunition training over the island, which is inhabited by about 10,000 people. If the people vote yes, they will receive a remaining $50 million in aid. If they vote no, the Navy must vacate its facilities and halt training exercises by May 2003.White House spokesman Joe Lockhart claims that Ricky Martin did not actually speak to President Clinton about the Vieques issue. "The substance of the conversation that he had was with Maria," stated Lockhart. "The visit with the president was social."