“The veterans museum will once again dominate the news cycle tomorrow — that we are not unified, that we are not well-represented in this ongoing circus, and that veterans are in conflict with the community and each other about the proposed North Central Park location,” said Gabriel López of STAIVA, the South Texas Afghanistan Iraq Veterans Association.
“What the media will miss is that tomorrow we have given 25 pairs of shoes to children who need them at Juarez Lincoln School in Río Bravo. Our service to those in need should be our focus,” he continued.
López announced on December 19 that STAIVA, like the American Legion Post 59 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9194 do not support the North Central Park location for the museum.
According to López, the STAIVA announcement “has been a huge relief in light of the lack of transparency that has dogged the debate.”
The announcement, he said, had been planned for a post-Christmas date, but that reading District VI Council member Charlie San Miguel’s recent pronouncements about the proposed location prompted STAIVA’s early announcement.
The STAIVA press release referred to San Miguel as persona non grata and one who “has mis-led the public and veterans.” The release said that STAIVA had never given San Miguel “marching orders” for the museum in the park.
López said, “We all want a veterans museum, but we also feel that as protectors of the Constitution, veterans need to respect the wishes of the public.”
Commander Cesar Montemayor of American Legion Post 59 drove home the same point in framing the Legion’s non-support of North Central Park as a viable museum site.
“The citizens of Laredo have spoken and are really concerned about that area. They have every right to have their opinion, and speaking for our members, if the community doesn’t want it there, we have to respect their opinion,” he said, adding, “Likewise we veterans have always had the respect of the community, because we always take the community into consideration when we do something.”
Montemayor stressed, “There are other places to build it. We don’t support the North Central Park location.”
He said that many Legion members are opposed to the site and are also concerned about costs. “I find it hard to believe that the funding is available. You can’t build a museum with a million dollars. Who will maintain it after it is built?”
He said not every Legion member agrees on a museum location.
“Laredo Community College has a lot of history and could be a good location, but not 100% of our membership is for that site. Some have said they want it in front of the Veterans Clinic on the base. We’ve agreed there are other choices that should be explored,” Montemayor said.
López said there are many Laredo veterans who don’t belong to any veterans organizations and are therefore not represented in the debate on the museum location.
He said that San Miguel, whose Council district encompasses North Central Park, is not a frequent attendee of the meetings of veterans organizations that meet to discuss the museum location.
“Charlie San Miguel is not at our meetings. Güero Segovia of the Laredo Veterans Coalition is the conduit of information to the Council member,” he said.
López said that San Miguel “is fond of saying he is simply acting on our wishes, following our lead.”
According to López, after a late October meeting with District V Council member Nelly Vielma and assistant city manager Cynthia Collazo, that he, Segovia, and Ruben Contreras went to a proposed location across from the veterans clinic on the old Air Force base.
“Güero agreed it was great, but the very next day he reported that San Miguel said it was going to be in North Central Park. So who is giving who marching orders?” López asked.
“Given the unfortunate controversy this has generated, I want what’s best for the community, and when people look back, I want them to remember the good we have done and not that veterans tried to assert their will over the community’s wishes,” López said.
He advised San Miguel. “There are veterans who themselves need help in the way of food insecurity, medicine, homelessness, and transportation. Help them; don’t use them as a pawn to get your politics done,” he said.
VFW Post 9194 was the first veterans organization to withdraw its support of North Central Park as a museum site. Commander Roberto Lara Jr. made the announcement in early December, stressing that the public needed to be part of the plans for the location.
The veterans museum has been an issue that seven years ago had momentum, organization, the interest of local veterans, and the support of Webb County and the City of Laredo to build the Juan Francisco Farias Military Museum in the historic Farias home downtown.
The Laredo Veterans Coalition spearheaded the effort and worked closely with architects and a designer of museum exhibits to develop the museum’s concept.
Time and factions in the veterans community tore away at the organization’s momentum. Until recently, the initiative had flatlined, revived with the support of Council member San Miguel and a vaguely stated October 2, 2017 City Council agenda item to allow a veterans museum on City property. “Discussion with possible action to consider city property for the possibility of a Veterans Museum,” the item read, giving no indication of its proposed site.
Once the site was named, residents and property owners in nearby subdivisions, environmentalists, veterans, and many Laredoans who use North Central Park for recreational and family activities, rose in opposition to the proposed museum inside the park.
Friends of North Central Park and the Río Grande International Study Center have spearheaded resistance to Council member San Miguel’s drive to have the museum in the Marshall Tract of the park, a tract that features an environmentally sensitive wetland, a branch of Manadas Creek, and wildlife habitat.
North Central Park’s riparian ecosystem is considered one of the most significant birding sites of the annual City-sponsored Laredo Birding Festival.
According to RGISC executive director Tricia Cortez, members of RGISC, Friends of North Central Park, local veterans, neighbors of North Central Park, runners, cyclists, and members of the greater Laredo community will gather Wednesday afternoon at the park to film a 30-second TV spot to Save North Central Park.
She said, “Thousands of Laredoans, including veterans, homeowners, and users of North Central Park do not support the City’s proposal to build a veterans museum, concrete pavilion, and more parking lots at North Central Park. The tract of land in question is an ecologically-sensitive site that is home to woodlands, wetlands, a branch of Manadas Creek, and a diversity of wildlife.”
Cortez said she is inviting Laredoans to “join us as we film our supporters who wish to stand and be heard to save North Central Park from any development, and to build the much-needed veterans museum at a more appropriate and accessible location. We plan to film and record our final closing shot between 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m., and hope that you will join us for that moment.”