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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 April, 2003, 04:50 GMT 05:50 UK
Hispanics divided over Iraq war

By Kevin Anderson
BBC News Online, Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Hispanic community in the United States is divided in their opinion about the war in Iraq, state and national polls show.

San Felipe de Neri, Old Town, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
New Mexico's Hispanics have a mixed heritage
Hispanics born in the US overwhelmingly support the war, while those born abroad are more sceptical.

Three-quarters of Hispanics born in the US say they support the war, according to a national poll conducted by the Pew Hispanic Centre - that is up 23% since hostilities started.

For Hispanics who were not born in the US, about half support the war, with a third opposed.

"There's a rallying-behind-the-flag effect, and you see that very notably among US-born Latinos," said Roberto Suro, the director of the Pew Hispanic Centre.

Hispanics became the largest minority group in the US earlier this year, surpassing black Americans, and both political parties are courting Hispanic voters.

Overall support

The state of New Mexico, like many border states, shows some of the complexities of the changing face of the US.

New Mexico is unique in that no ethnic or racial group is a majority, said Dr Gilbert St Clair, a professor of political science at the University of New Mexico.

Whites make up 48% of the state's population, with Hispanics the next largest group with 42%.

But the Hispanic population is divided between those who trace their heritage back to the Spanish conquistadors who came to the area more than 400 years ago and those who regard themselves as Mexican-Americans.

Hispanics overall in New Mexico are strongly in support of the war.

"Our latest poll shows slightly greater support amongst the Hispanics than even amongst the whites, and a majority of the whites support the war," said Dr St Clair.

Economic uncertainty

In New Mexico, Hispanic support of the war does not extend to support of President Bush's domestic agenda, he added.

 Juan Jose Pena, vice chair of Hispano Round Table, Vietnam Veteran
Juan Jose Pena: Bush should focus on the economy
And the Pew Poll showed Hispanics, especially those who came to the US in the last 10 years, are concerned about the impact of the war on the economy.

Juan Jose Pena and Chuck Montano head the Hispano Round Table, a Hispanic advocacy group in New Mexico.

They are critical of the Bush administration's opposition to affirmative action, his handling of the war and his handling of the economy.

Mr Pena believes President Bush needs to address issues at home, not fight wars abroad.

"Bush needs to focus on the economy, not invading other countries," he said.

Mr Pena's family first came to the New World with the Spanish conquistadors and came to New Mexico with General Diego de Varga's armies in the 1690s.

Mr Pena continued his family's military tradition and spent 11 months and two days in fighting with the 4th Infantry Division in the central highlands of Vietnam.

He personally opposes the war. However, the official position of veterans' organisations he is a member of is supportive of the president as commander-in-chief.

"I see this as Bush's war. It was an unnecessary war," he said. "The United States already had almost total control of Iraq."

Path to citizenship

In addition to heading the Hispano Round Table, Chuck Montano works as a project leader at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Chuck Montano, chair of Hispano Round Table and project leader at Los Alamos
Chuck Montano: US is hypocritical
He says it is hypocritical for the US to argue that other nations should not develop weapons of mass destruction when the United States has chemical, nuclear and biological weapons.

"No other nation on earth or in history has had so much destructive capability in its military force as we do right now," he said.

He said Hispanics support the war to try to gain acceptance in the US, even though some families have been in New Mexico for more than four centuries.

And many Hispanics join the military as a path out of poverty and to citizenship.

About 31,000 non-citizen soldiers are serving as active-duty military personnel in the US military, according to the latest figures from the department of defence.

One of the first casualties of the war was Guatemalan-born Jose Gutierrez, who died in fighting on 21 March outside the southern port city of Umm Qasr.

Along with three other Hispanic soldiers from Mexico, he was granted US citizenship posthumously.

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