Ten Years after Ousting US Navy, Vieques Confronts Contamination


In “Ten Years after Ousting US Navy, Vieques Confronts Contamination” (the Huffington Post’s The World), Maritza Stanchich writes about Vieques’ recent 10-year anniversary of a struggle and the ongoing problems the island faces. Here are just a few excerpts; the full article is a must:

The island of Vieques—referred to as la Isla Nena in Puerto Rico—recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary of a struggle that became an international cause célèbre and ended 60 years of U.S. Navy test bombing there. Yet the legacy of Navy devastation is sobering, and Viequenses remain dispossessed of their lands. Attending the festivities to mark the May 1st anniversary were activists from relief missions to Gaza and protests against drones in upstate New York, as well as Puerto Ricans from New York and as far as California. Radical environmentalist Tito Kayak, known for his 2001 Statue of Liberty stunt to publicize the Vieques struggle, was also on hand. Concerts featured Puerto Rico’s finest, including Zoraida Santiago, Chavela Rodríguez and Tito Auger, and a Vieques calypso band lent an air of the island’s distinct regional identity.

[. . .] Yet the beauty of Vieques is belied by its grim social reality: severe environmental contamination; shockingly high cancer, unemployment and crime rates; and even more restricted access to its land than before the Navy ceasefire, with nearly 18,000 acres outside the bombing range now strictly controlled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior. Add to that gentrification brought on by an influx of new residents in the tourist sector, with both communities often excluded from each other.

Ten years later, Vieques languishes in neglect.

Things are so bad for the community of about 10,000 there, that an editorial opening a special series in Puerto Rico’s main daily El Nuevo Día called the situation a crime against humanity.

AP I PRI Puerto Rico US Vieques The Bombs

Chief among the problems is the deadly contamination that the US Navy is required to clean up, as Vieques was in 2004 deemed a Superfund site, the federal program for the worst toxic waste dumps. Though more than $180 million has been reportedly contracted and more than 38,000 munitions removed, completion has shifted from projections of 2020 to 2022 and 2029. [. . .]

The contamination includes long list of heavy metals that are known carcinogens, such as mercury, lead and depleted uranium. Yet the level of cleanup will not make the land fit for human habitation, which is much more expensive, confirmed [Daniel] Rodríguez [an Environmental Protection Agency official on site in Vieques for nine years].

[. . .] Some Vieques community activists were skeptical when Puerto Rico’s Governor Alejandro García Padilla visited there last week and reactivated a key community development initiative that had been instituted a decade ago but was since abolished by a previous governor of his Popular Democratic Party, which favors Puerto Rico’s Free Associated State status instead of Statehood or Independence.

[. . .] While the Free Associated State status that defines Puerto Rico’s relationship to the US was being negotiated, and as African Americans still suffered segregation and lynching in 1951, Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes asked: “What happens to a dream deferred?”

After the celebrities came and went, and as this anniversary’s media attention subsides, his same questions — so wedded to the American Dream in the broadest sense — echo for a Vieques community freed from decades of US Navy bombing but still chained to its aftermath: “Does it dry up/ like a raisin in the sun?/ Or fester like a sore–/ and then run?/ Does it stink like rotten meat?/ Or crust and sugar over–/ like a syrupy sweet?/ Maybe it just sags/ like a heavy load./ …Or does it explode?”

For full article, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maritza-stanchich-phd/ten-years-after-ousting-u_b_3243449.html

Photo above from http://www.latinabroad.com/2012/04/12/blue-beach-vieques-puerto-rico-photos/

For second photo and additional 2012 article by Ben Fox, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/05/vieques-cleanup-bomb-site_n_1942107.html

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