Former Marine Fasts in Cage To Protest POWs-MIAs
WASHINGTON (AP) _ For 50 days, Gino Casanova of Kent, Wash., has sat in a bamboo ″cage″ to protest what he perceives as the Reagan administration’s failure to help account for Vietnam-era MIAs and reported POWs.
At midday Wednesday, the 35-year-old former Marine turned construction worker vowed to stop taking food or liquid until Reagan agrees to hold a news conference on the question of live prisoners of war in Southeast Asia.
″The people tell me if I stop taking everything I could last from three to 10 days,″ said Casanova, who says he’s been fasting for seven weeks near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
″If I can last another 17 or 18 days without food or water they can put me in the Smithsonian,″ he added with a wry smile.
″I am rational, thinking clearly,″ he said. ″I am not on a suicide pact, not a fanatic, I am just a patriot who loves his country.″
Casanova, who says he started his food fast Sept. 26, staged a similar protest near Seattle last year. He said he ended that fast after Reagan promised to meet with veterans’ groups over the POW-MIA issue.
The United States lists more than 1,700 Americans missing in Southeast Asia since 1975, but the government says it has no evidence to support claims that some Americans still are being held captive there.
Casanova said the meeting with Reagan never was held. The White House has said no meeting was promised.
″I would trade that promise for one press conference to bring the POW issue into the open now,″ he said.
Meanwhile, Casanova, wearing thermal clothing and huddled under a blanket against the cold, sits in a 6-by-8-foot bamboo cage. The cage, while slightly cramped, is four times the size of the tiger cages employed by the North Vietnamese to hold captives during the Vietnam War, Casanova said. Casanova’s time in the cage is limited to daylight hours. Sleeping on the park grounds is forbidden, so at night Casanova retires to a friend’s house in nearby Arlington, Va.
Among his visitors over the past 49 days have been a group of legislators dubbed ″Rambo Congressmen″ by veterans’ groups for their continued support on the MIA issue.
On Tuesday, Veterans Day observers crowded around the cage.
″There were a lot of veterans who came up and I could see and hear their frustrations about never winning one,″ Casanova said. ″Who knows, maybe just this one time we can win this POW mess. I just want to be a small part of that.″
″That guy has a lot of guts,″ said Dave Lee, a welding inspector in Raleigh, N.C., and a member of the North Carolina Vietnam Veterans Inc. that is helping this week to operate a POW-MIA information booth near Casanova’s cage.