Date: Sat, 25 Apr 98 17:10:57 CDT
From: email@example.com (Rich Winkel)
Subject: PUERTO RICO: US Navy Not Wanted Here
/** reg.carib: 200.0 **/
US Navy Not Wanted Here
By Carmelo Ruiz, IPS, 10 April 1998
VIEQUES ISLAND, Apr 7 (IPS) - Residents of the Puerto Rican island town of Vieques are determined to put an end to the activities of the United States military in their area which they claim are taking a toll on their health.
They say they are now suffering from rare and extreme health problems, which have been attributed to pollution caused by the Navy.
According to studies by the Puerto Rico health department, the cancer rate in Vieques began to rise steadily in the late 1970s.
The latest survey, which covers the years 1990 to 1994, shows that the cancer rate is 26 percent above Puerto Rico's average.
But Dr Rafael Rivera-Castano, a resident of Vieques estimates that in the last three years the rate has climbed to 52 percent over the Puerto Rican average. He has also documented abnormally high rates of asthma, lupus and other illnesses among the local population.
"There are no polluting industries here in Vieques, so the only possible cause of our health problems is the pollution caused by the Navy's bombardment," he says.
According to the US Navy's own data, Vieques's underground water contains toxic chemicals like, tetryls, nitrous oxide, and other carcinogens.
In 1941 the US Navy forcibly seized more than two thirds of the island town with a population of 8,000 and has been using it as a firing range ever since.
In addition, the Navy now plans to build a radar system to help the US authorities interdict drug airplanes flying over the Caribbean area.
Environmentalists are concerned that the Navy's proposed radar will further exacerbate health problems here. Chemist Neftali Garcia, who works closely with the Vieques community, confirms that the electromagnetic radiation to be generated by the radar will have detrimental health effects on local residents.
The radar is expected to be located 500 metres from a populated area.
Vieques lies between the main island of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, both of which have been US territories since 1898 and 1917 respectively.
Over these years, residents say they have been subjected to bombardment from both sea and air. The sounds of heavy artillery, missiles and low-flying airplanes are often heard in residential areas.
"Vieques is the best example of destruction and environmental injustice in the Americas. The US Navy (has) destroyed coral reefs, thalasia beds, lagoons, mangroves, coconut groves, beaches, endangered species, fish and other marine organisms," declared the Navy's opponents in a recent press release.
And according to geography professor at the University of Puerto Rico, Jose Seguinot-Barbosa, the eastern edge of Vieques has "more craters per square mile" than the surface of the moon.
Seguinot-Barbosa, wrote in a 1989 study that "the US Navy's destruction of Vieques violates the most basic norms of international law and human rights".
In recent years opponents of the Navy's presence in Vieques have engaged in peaceful protests, hosted press conferences and even travelled to Washington DC to meet with White House and Defense Department officials and members of Congress to voice their complaints.
However, these actions do not seem to have had any effect, since the bombardment of Vieques continues, they say.
According to community leaders in Vieques, the inaction of the authorities, both in San Juan and Washington, could lead to a major confrontation between civilians and the military.
Such a confrontation could be a repeat of the clashes that took place in 1978 and 1979, when Vieques fishermen and their supporters obstructed naval manoeuvres with their boats.
Dozens of protesters were arrested as a result. The arrested included Ismael Guadalupe, a school teacher and veteran of the anti-Navy struggle.
"Over the years our movement has been the target of intelligence operations by the US government," he says.
He adds that "there is no doubt that even as we speak, US intelligence agencies are plotting to destroy the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques". The Committee, formed in 1993, currently leads the organised opposition to the US Navy presence here.
In 1979 Guadalupe was arrested for his anti-Navy activities.
"It was evident from the prosecution's case that I had been the object of intense surveillance in the months before my arrest. Not just me, but fellow activists as well," he says.
Another anti-Navy activist that was indicted and sentenced along with Guadalupe was Angel Rodriguez-Cristobal. He was sent to a federal penitentiary in Florida, where he later died. (end/ips/en-he/cr/cb/98)
Origin: Rome/ENVIRONMENT-PUERTO RICO/
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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