Anniversary of Sanes' death
U.S. Navy threatens new bombing of Vieques
It has been two years since the U.S. Navy's F-18 dropped the
bombs that killed civilian guard David Sanes in Vieques, Puerto
Rico. This tragic event has been the catalyst for a
nationalist, anti-U.S. movement unprecedented in that country's
Several activities were planned to commemorate this event
but also to celebrate the increase in political consciousness
that has led to the "consenso"--Spanish for consensus. In
Puerto Rico, "el consenso" is the great unity that has
prevailed for the last two years in the opposition to the U.S.
Navy's presence in Vieques.
Taking account of the feelings of Doña Epifania
Rodríguez Rosa, Sanes' mother, many of the activities
were held in a more somber mood. Sanes was killed on April 19,
Outrage and anger against the Navy, however, have been the
prevailing sentiments these days in Vieques. On April 11, the
Navy announced that the bombing practices would resume anytime
after April 26. This challenge struck a special chord since the
Navy had cancelled the last scheduled exercises last month,
pending the outcome of a health study by the Centers for
Disease Control and the U.S. Health and Human Services
The study deals with the impact of the bombing practices on
the health of the Viequenses. Though the federal government's
results are not yet available, the Navy decided to resume the
Since April 19, 1999, Vieques has been the axis of Puerto
Rican political life. Election outcomes are decided according
to the candidate's stand on the issue of the U.S. Navy. The new
governor of Puerto Rico, Sila Calderón, the first woman
in that position, won the election based on her pro-Vieques,
anti-Navy position. Part of her political platform was the
removal of the Puerto Rican police from the Navy's gate in
Vieques and the stopping of the bombing practices.
Calderón did remove the riot police who had kept
24-hour duty since the massive arrests of hundreds of anti-Navy
activists on May 4, 2000, by federal forces. But to appease the
U.S. colonial masters of the island, she replaced them with
Vieques activists have been protesting the increased number
of police since then.
Calderón contracted Richard Copaken, a U.S.-based
lawyer, to file a lawsuit against the Navy demanding the
bombings stop because of their impact on health and the
environment. Copaken is well known for his research on
illnesses caused by bombing noise.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, under Health and Human
Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, is supposed to review a
study by the Ponce School of Medicine and contract an
independent source as a third party to also review the
The comparative study, performed under strict scientific
guidelines on 53 fishers from Vieques and 42 fishers from
Ponce, found that 79 percent of the Viequenses had thickened
pericardium, the membrane that covers the heart. Some 75
percent had a widening of the aortic valve. These are both
indicators of future heart ailments.
In order to get around this study's results, the Navy paid
John Hopkins University Hospital $46,000 to evaluate not this
study by the Ponce school, but data provided by the US Navy
itself. As a consequence, John Hopkins stated that there is no
health danger from the bombings.
The U.S. Navy is now using this John Hopkins statement to
justify resuming bombing practice.
The other federal agency involved in this matter is the
Agency for the Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Last
month the ATSDR issued a statement on the "lack of
contamination" of the drinking water in Vieques.
While they were addressing the media at a news conference in
Vieques, activists with placards carrying white crosses and a
black coffin representing the deaths due to contamination
interrupted the conference. They accused the ATSDR of basing
its conclusion on incomplete data, only six samples, provided
by the Navy from water samples of 1978.
Viequenses are paying a great deal of attention to their
health now. They found in another study that until 1974 the
risk of cancer in Vieques was 33 percent lower than in the rest
of Puerto Rico. Between 1985 and 1989 Vieques' children between
the ages of 0 and 9 had a cancer risk 117 percent greater than
the rest of Puerto Rico.
These are children born after 1970, when the Navy increased
the bombing practices.
There have been other reports of environmental damage
covered up by the Pentagon. Damaged and contaminated coral
reefs have also contaminated the fish that feed from them.
Unexploded ordinance and cylinders with unknown substances
have been found on the bottom of the sea. These can explode
when inert bombs hit them, releasing whatever toxic chemicals
The governor has even introduced a bill in the Puerto Rican
legislature aimed at stopping the announced Navy bombing. The
law would make loud noises illegal on Puerto Rican coastal
But on the three previous occasions when the governor or
other Puerto Rican entities tried to use legal proceedings to
stop the Navy, the ruling has always been in favor of the
Pentagon, based on "national security." This is the imperialist
And Vieques activists know this truth very well. They
welcome Calderón's efforts, but they say that they do
not trust politicians. They have continued to organize, locally
The case of Vieques is now quite well known around the
world. Delegations have gone to Japan, Korea, Spain, the U.S.,
Cuba and many other places. International delegations have also
visited Vieques and pledged solidarity. These efforts have been
conducted at every level, from lobbying in Washington to
grassroots union solidarity.
Recently New York Gov. George Pataki, in an effort to win
Puerto Rican votes in his state, visited Vieques, denouncing
the U.S. Navy. As a "side benefit," he held a $1,000-per-plate
fundraising lunch for his campaign in San Juan.
How many phone bills of the Committee for the Rescue and
Development of Vieques that fundraiser could have paid if
Pataki's solidarity had been sincere!
Just a few days later the Navy announced its intent to
Vieques activists know that only the people organized on the
streets will win the battle. They have been preparing for that
with community meetings, caravans, and the weekly Saturday
night vigils, among other activities.
And they are planning massive actions for this round of
military practice. For more information readers can contact the
CPRDV at [email protected]
U.S. Navy out of Vieques now! U.S. imperialism out of Puerto
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