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Vieques may not be as notorious as Love Canal, but thanks to the U.S. Navy it's beaches, bays and reefs may be just as toxic.

Related Gully Stories

Vieques: Puerto Rico Under Fire
The U.S. is bombing an inhabited island. Why?

Vieques and Miami:
The Perils of Swallowing Nations.

In Depth Puerto Rico
The Gully's complete coverage.

sunset
Vieques sunset.

Letter From Vieques

by Lee Lawrence

VIEQUES. MAY 11, 2000. The willful destruction of Vieques is not something that could happen to Cape Cod, or Fire Island, or California's Russian River. But because Puerto Rico is a "protectorate" (colony) of the U.S., and has no say in Congress, these atrocities have gone on for almost 60 years. "Not one more bomb!" is the cry of the protestors.

When I first came here I was reluctant to get into the argument. I just wanted to manage a guest house and enjoy the peace and tranquility of this beautiful island. A friend wrote the other day and said; "How come I never heard of this island until you moved there?" Intimating that if I moved to the North Pole Santa's elves would go on strike and that would be the end of Christmas.

I didn't start this and I won't finish it, but I can't help but become a part. Imagine something like this happening where you are. You would not sit around and claim "It's not my problem!" any more than I can.

The Raid
On May 4, at about 4 a.m. barricades were put in place by the Vieques Police Department on the road leading to the military base at Camp Garcia. As dawn broke, and with an embarrassing display of muscle and might, the United States government, with the assistance of Federal Marshals, the FBI, and the Coast Guard began to arrest citizens of this tiny, but controversial island off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico.

Their wrists bound with plastic restraints and singing the words to Shalom Alechem, a Hebrew peace song, the citizens of Vieques proudly held their hands high, while they permitted themselves to be peacefully loaded into vans and moved inside Camp Garcia. They were later transferred to Roosevelt Road's Military Base on the main island.

Possibly they are protesting because their island home has been systematically bombed, strafed and mutilated by live ordinance (aka. bullets and bombs) since World War II. Possibly they resent the fact that when the United States government is not doing the bombing and strafing itself, it enables other countries to do so, while the Navy gets paid for it. They may also object to seeing their herds of horses and cattle being used for target practice.

Maybe the people are protesting the fact that their beautiful island has been turned into the Chernobyl of the Caribbean. It may not be as obvious or notorious as Love Canal, but it's beaches, bays and reefs may be just as toxic. Although nobody is really sure because the people who are doing the testing aren't telling the people who are doing the asking.

It could be the people are upset because fully two-thirds of the island that was once home to cattle ranches and banana and sugar plantations are now lost for generations to come. Possibly forever. Instead of agriculture and wages the people have unemployment and welfare.

Or maybe they are just protesting because they're afraid to eat the fish that come from their waters because they don't know what the fish ate, and the people who do know refuse to say.

There are documents, 1,006 of them to be exact, regarding the situation in Vieques that are being ignored, "overlooked" or shunted aside so that military operations may continue. Environmental impact studies have been done, but the results never quite seem to get the attention that the protesters receive. The truth is out there. Show it to us.

sunsetPresident Clinton has offered the citizens of Vieques 40 million dollars if they will allow bombing to resume and another 50 million if they use live bombs rather than inert. That's like saying, "We already know you're a whore... now we just have to settle on your price." What good will the money do if a family can't celebrate a child's birthday at the beach because the waters are too toxic? Who cares how rich a family is when its children are dying of cancer?

I spoke to a CNN reporter as he was stuffing papers into his backpack. "We'll all be gone by 5:00 o'clock." he said. "The story here has been told, the pictures taken. It's over."

"Not true," I thought. I'd just come from downtown where hundreds of people were beginning to gather in the town plaza to continue their demands for truth and respect. In fact, in cities and town squares all across Puerto Rico and in the United States, in Hawaii and in Europe people were gathering to show their support for Vieques, the little island in the Caribbean that held the US Navy at bay for 381 days.

The protestors were released: "...without any charges being filed" according to Janet Reno. "....charges will be filed if they trespass on Navy property again," she added.

Sorry, Janet, but it's not over yet. There's gonna be a whole lot of trespassing going on.

Related links:

To read comments by the former head of the Pentagon's depleted uranium project condemning Environmental Contamination Of Vieques.

For University of Georgia Professor James Porter's discovery of Live Bombs Underwater Off Vieques. Porter is an authority on marine coral reefs.

To read excerpts from the U.S. Navy's ads touting Vieques as a shooting gallery, testing ground for experimental weaponry, and One Stop Shopping.

For up-to-the-minute info on Vieques protests go to Vieques Libre.

For Complete Coverage Puerto Rico


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