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Date: Fri, 7 May 1999 23:49:12 -0500 (CDT)
Organization: AOL http://www.aol.com
From: raulmax@aol.com (Raulmax)
Subject: U.S. Out of Vieques
Article: 63419
Message-ID: <bulk.29297.19990509001519@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Testimony by the Comité pro Rescate y Descarrollo de Vieques

before the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, 6 May 1999

Washington, DC

May 6, 1999

Comité Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques
Box 1424
Vieques, Puerto Rico 00765
Phone: (787) 741-8651
e-mail: bieke@tropicweb.net

GOOD MORNING, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The Comité Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques (Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques) is a non-partisan grass-roots organization dedicated to the permanent cease and desist of the bombing by the U.S. military in Vieques, Puerto Rico, to putting an end to the military presence in Vieques, and to promoting the sustainable development of the island. The Committee was founded in 1993 by community and civic leaders in Vieques of all political ideologies.

As this Committee discusses issues related to the political status of Puerto Rico, our organization would like to bring to your attention an issue that transcends political status preferences: The occupation and bombing by the U.S. Navy on Vieques, Puerto Rico. This situation is unconscionable and must be stopped. We urge this Committee, the U.S. Congress and the Administration to do all it can to address this situation without further delay. Our land and the lives of our 9,000 residents are literally at stake here.

Around 7:00 PM (EST) on April 19, 1999, a U.S. Navy pilot launched two five hundred pound live bombs from his FA-18 jet that missed their target at the bombing range in Vieques, destroying the Navy's observation post, killing David Sanes, a civilian security guard at the observation post, and injuring several others.

David Sanes' death was the chronicle of a death foretold. For decades Viequenses have been clamoring for an end to the bombings and shellings on our Island and for an end to the military presence. As The Washington Post well put it in its editorial "Island Casualty" this past Monday, May 3, David's death "is more than an isolated accident. It is the latest instance of predictable harm to the people of Vieques that goes back through decades of military neglect of island interests." The Post editorial correctly added that the military can find another site as there simply should be no bombing on a small inhabited island.

Political and religious leaders, as well as leaders and representatives of other sectors of Puerto Rican society, have spoken out firmly and consistently since the killing of David Sanes, demanding an immediate end to the bombing and the gradual end of the military presence in Vieques.

This was not the first time that the Navy missed its target. Fishermen generally complain about the great number of unexploded bombs in the coastal waters of Vieques and the destruction caused to coral reefs and other elements of the marine environment done by stray bombs from jets and ships. In October of 1993, another FA-18 fighter jet missed its target by about ten miles, dropping five five hundred pound live bombs about one mile from the main town of Vieques. Luckily, no one was killed in that incident.

Last year, during maneuvers involving Navy and Puerto Rican National Guard troops, bullets broke windows in the Public School Buses parked at the Public Works area of the Municipal Government in the Santa María sector. Several government employees in the area at the time had to take cover until the shooting stopped.

The Mayor of Vieques has not received an explanation from the Navy about either of these recent "accidents", and probably will never receive much information about the killing of David Sanes.

Vieques is an island municipality of Puerto Rico, six miles southeast of the main island. 72% of its population of approximately 9,000 live below the poverty level. The Municipal Government reports over 50% unemployment. Studies by the University of Puerto Rico School of Public Health indicate that Vieques suffers a 27% higher cancer case rate than the rest of Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rico Legislature approved legislation ordering an epidemiological study to determine the causes of the higher cancer rate. People on Vieques, environmental and health experts throughout Puerto Rico, relate the abnormally high cancer rate to the environmental degradation caused by U.S. Navy and NATO bombing (the Navy "rents" Vieques to NATO and other countries for bombing practice) on this small Caribbean Island.

Since the 1940's, the U.S. Navy controls 3/4 of Vieques' 33,000 acres. The western end is used as an ammunition depot while the eastern third is a bombing and maneuver area. Military expropriations in the 40's caused a social and economic crisis that lasts to this day. The Navy controls the shortest economic point between Vieques and the main island (the Puerto Rico Ports Authority must use an 18 nautical mile route instead of the six mile route controlled by the military). The Navy controls the highest points on the island, the best aquifers and most fertile lands, extensive white sand beaches, and hundreds of archaeological sites.

Large scale ecological destruction is the result of over half a century of bombing and experimentation with new weapons systems. In his study titled "Vieques: The Ecology of an Island Under Siege", Professor José Seguinot Barbosa, Director of the Geography Department of the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras, explains that "the eastern tip of the island constitutes a region with more craters per kilometer than the moon." Professor Seguinot Barbosa adds that "the destruction of the natural and human resources of Vieques violates the basic norms of international law and human rights. At the state and federal level the laws pertaining to the coastal zone, water and noise quality, underwater resources, archaeological resources and land use, among others, are violated."

Chemical engineer Rafael Cruz Pérez, in an article titled "Contamination Produced by Explosives and Residuals of Explosives in Vieques, Puerto Rico" (published in Dimensión, Magazine of the Association of Engineers and Surveyors of Puerto Rico, Year 2, Vol. 8, Jan. 1988) points out that ". . .chemicals from the bombing (TNT, NO3, NO2, RDX and Tetryl) are transported by diverse mechanisms toward the civilian area. . .We find that the effective concentration of particles over the civilian area of Vieques exceeds 197 micrograms per cubic meter and therefore exceeds the legal federal criteria for clean air."

Fishermen have for decades struggled to get the Navy to stop bombing and leave the island. Giant military ships destroy fish traps and bombing and other maneuvers impose severe restrictions on fishermen's entry into some of the best fishing areas around the island. On numerous occasions fishing boats have been damaged by naval gunfire and fishermen have been severely hurt by exploding bombs close to their fishing activities.

The Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques has begun to articulate, with the assistance of experts from Puerto Rican universities and international organizations, a vision for the future social and economic development of a Vieques freed from the Navy.

Our Committee recommends the creation of a land trust to keep and maintain the lands rescued from the Navy in the hands of the community of Vieques. Our Committee also recommends the establishment of a continuing education and training program in order to adequately empower the community of Vieques to manage its own resources, including but not limited to, its hotels, restaurants, agricultural projects, small factories, and scientific and environmental projects. The goal is to ensure the sustainable development of Vieques by Viequenses, for the benefit of Viequenses and those who visit our beautiful island.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, this is a historic moment for the people of Vieques. We ask the United States Congress to take a historic step in ending more than half a century of crude and persistent violations of the basic human rights of the people of Vieques, Puerto Rico. Help put an end to the military presence in Vieques. We demand peace and request that you give us hope for peace in our island in the new millennium. Thank you.