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"...we must be steadfast in our struggle, attentive to any plan to continue using and abusing Vieques..."

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Local children carry a mock coffin in an anti-U.S. Navy motorcade last Sunday, Vieques, Puerto Rico. Ricardo Figueroa

Navy Bids Vieques Adiós

by Toby Eglund

FEBRUARY 13, 2003. The U.S. Navy announced last Friday that it will end battle training on Vieques on May 1, transferring most of its exercises to Florida and North Carolina, and handing the land over to the Interior Department.

The announcement coincided with the end of four weeks of bombing exercises in the Puerto Rican island in which nineteen demonstrators were detained for trespassing on the bombing range, while one man was detained for cutting a Navy fence.

Nilda Medina, spokesperson for the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques (CRDV), expressed skepticism that the Navy will leave as planned. "We do not trust the Navy or the Federal Government, so we must be steadfast in our struggle, attentive to any plan to continue using and abusing Vieques."

Protests have been intense since David Sanes, a civilian security guard, was killed in a botched April 1999 live fire bombing run by Marine Corps jets, though the demonstrations have occurred sporadically since the Navy expropriated from residents two-thirds of the 52-square-mile island in 1941.

The focus of the 1,000 protesters arrested since 1999 have been claims that the exercises damage the environment and harm the health of the island's 9,300 residents.

The Navy has used shells containing depleted uranium, napalm, and other controversial substances, while papers released last year under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that in experiments held during May 1969, the Navy exposed some residents of Vieques to triocyl phosphate, a chemical related to problems of the skin, eyes, the respiratory tract and to cancer in animals.

Puerto Rican and independent studies have indicated both elevated levels of several contaminants in the water, food chain and population, and elevated rates of cancer, asthma, skin conditions and birth defects among the inhabitants of Vieques, though direct linkages between pollution and health are difficult to prove.

Embattled EPA head Christie Whitman has promised that, "We're going to do it right, and we're going to do it as fast as we can," but the Vieques cleanup in these times of budget cuts and environmental deregulation will likely require the same kind of pressure from activists, Puerto Rico's Governor Sila María Calderón, and Puerto Rican politicians in the U.S., that forced George W. Bush to comply with his 2001 post-election promise to withdraw the Navy.

Related links:

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

For Vieques Overview: Puerto Rico Under Fire

For Depleted Uranium: the Vieques-Kosovo Connection

For Complete Coverage Puerto Rico


The Gully In Depth

Puerto Rico
navy out All about Puerto Rico, U.S.-Puerto Rico colonial history past and present, and the struggle to evict the U.S. Navy from Vieques. ¡Viva Borinquen!

New World
new world Our Americas. Politics, democracy, failed utopias, and the heirs of colonialism: from Canada to Argentina.

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