Aug. 11, 2004 – Virgin Islands hunger striker Edward Browne finally got what he wanted more than food — written responses from President Bush and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.
Browne's abstinence from solid food in a crusade for voting rights in presidential elections for Virgin Islanders and the residents of other U.S. territories captured the attention of both leaders. On Wednesday, after 10 days of fasting, Browne received copies of press releases issued from both camps.
The St. Croix resident's story, first reported by the Source on Aug. 1, has made its way around the world. A CBS Radio news reporter called for an interview on Sunday. CNN, the New York Daily News, the Orlando Sentinel, the Associated Press, the BBC and other news media have carried his story.
In a release carrying Wednesday's date, Kerry campaign spokesman Anthony Coley referred to correspondence recently received from Delegate Donna M. Christensen regarding her constituent Browne.
"Congresswoman Christensen is a friend of this campaign and an effective advocate for the constituents," Coley said. "Last month she pressed her case for voting rights in front of a national audience at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Recently she introduced a bill to remedy this issue through the legislative process, which we believe is the appropriate venue to address Mr. Edward Browne's concerns."
Coley added that Browne "should be lauded for his heartfelt conviction and commitment to this cause."
President Bush acknowledged Browne's protest by sending him a copy of a press release dated last Dec. 5 announcing the establishment of a task force on the status of Puerto Rico. The purpose of the task force, the release stated, is "to consider and clarify options for the commonwealth's future status that are not incompatible with the constitution and basic laws and policies of the United States, toward the end of enabling Puerto Ricans to determine their preference among those options."
Charged with assessing the current situation and devising a framework for moving forward, the task force will "provide advice and recommendations to the president and the Congress," the release said.
A White House spokeswoman said on Wednesday said that the findings will serve as an example for all of the U.S. territories in addressing the issue of voting for president.
"I want to thank President Bush and John Kerry from the depth of my heart for acknowledging the plight of the people of the territories," Browne said. "I am humbled."
He said he still would like to see representatives of the two leaders meet with military personnel and veterans from the territories and thank them for their contributions to and sacrifices for their country.
Meanwhile, Browne said, the national leaders' responses could herald a new day for persons living in U.S. territories. "It may take four years or eights years or longer," he said, "but the people of the territories can wake up tomorrow morning knowing they are one step closer to full political participation on this country."
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