Sunday, August 15, 2004

Vieques: A Betrayed Paradise


May 1, 2003 was an important day in Puerto Rican history. It was the day the US Navy was forced out of Vieques after sixty years of bombing, health and human rights violations. It's been 16 months since that day and not much has happened to improve the conditions of the people of Vieques. The promises of decontamination and economic aid made by the government has yet to become a reality.

Vieques continues to suffer from a 50% unemployment rate while 67% of its population lives under the poverty line. The government promised to create 500 new jobs, which it hasn't; it promised to improve health conditions and environmental conditions, yet none of it has occured.On a recent trip to Vieques, Howard Dean was shocked to see that progress hasn't been made and the Viequenses (US citizens) have been ignored by the federal government. Here's some facts concerning the health situation in Vieques that he pointed out in an article on his website www.democracyforamerica.com:

* Tests by civilian, government and military scientists have proven the migration of toxic substances from the bombing range into the civilian areas and the offshore environment.

* A comprehensive study of death certificates by a medical doctor and an epidemiologist demonstrated gross disparities in cancer, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes rates between people who live on Vieques and those who live on the island of Puerto Rico. Both the University of Puerto Rico scientists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have reported the presence of toxic metals in the
crabs of Vieques.

* Hair tests showed toxic levels of aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury in the bodies of island residents.

* A recent peer- reviewed study of mercury risk assessment corroborated higher levels of mercury in Vieques residents as compared to the residents of eastern Puerto Rico and the U.S. Atlantic Coast.

The island has been betrayed by both the US and Puerto Rican governments. It's amazing that the US has spent billions of dollars on fighting wars, building unnecessary weapons and providing aid to foreign countries but can't seem to provide for their own citizens. Howard Dean makes this point clear when he writes, "We are currently spending billions of dollars on the healthcare of Iraqi citizens. We need to spend our money on American citizens as well. And we need to start by addressing the health crisis and clean up in Vieques."

But who can Vieques turn to? The government really can't be trusted. Is Sila really working hard for the people of Vieques? She has betrayed Vieques before. Plus, the candidiates for governor have nothing included in their plans to address the problems of Vieques. As for the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed to add certain areas on and around the islands of Vieques and Culebra to the National Priorities List (NPL) of the country's most contaminated hazardous waste sites. But it's only a proposal, a sort of a maybe, let-me-think-about-it thing. I wouldn't be surprised if Congress rejects the EPA's proposal.

The only way to bring change and progress to Vieques is if the same movement and unification of Puerto Ricans reappears and pressures the government. Otherwise, Vieques will continue to be a paradise lost.

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