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Anniversary of Sanes' death

U.S. Navy threatens new bombing of Vieques

By Berta Joubert-Ceci

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 history.

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, 1999.

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 Dept.

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 bombing anyway.

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 regular police.

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 tests.

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 they contain.

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 waters.

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 truth.

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 and internationally.

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 bomb.

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 Rico!

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