From Fri Jan 21 10:27:36 2000
Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2000 23:20:48 -0600 (CST)
From: Haiti Progrès <>
Subject: This Week in Haiti 17:44 1/19/00
Article: 87110
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Will the Vieques bombing range relocate to Haiti?

This Week in Haiti, Haiti Progres, Vol.17 no.44, 19–25 January 2000

The island of Vieques, about eight miles from San Juan, Puerto Rico, has all the ingredients of the perfect Caribbean tourist paradise: picturesque villages, white sand beaches, swaying palm trees, and warm seas of azure blue.

But for the past 60 years, the citizens and wildlife of this paradise have been under attack from U.S. bombs and bullets. The U.S. Navy occupies 75% of Vieques's 33,000 acres, which it uses to practice aerial and naval bombings, amphibious invasions, and other acts of war.

Last April 19, a stray bomb from a practicing U.S. warplane killed David Sanes, a civilian. Since then, the people of Puerto Rico have united like a single fist to demand the immediate and permanent departure of the U.S. military from the island. Massive demonstrations forced Washington to announce on Dec. 3 that it was suspending all military activity on Vieques. But Clinton is threatening to resume war exercises with inert bombs in March. That will be very difficult, however, because progressive Puerto Rican organizations have occupied the Navy's 28,000 acre restricted areas with 13 different protest encampments and vow that they will not be moved.

Now the U.S. government is looking to move its Vieques bombing ranges to Haiti or Nicaragua, according to Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer, a right-wing Senatorial candidate of the New Progressive Party (PNP), who is very close to Congressional Republicans in Washington.

I know that they are negotiating with Haiti and with Nicaragua to move these military operations there and this is very reliable information given to me by a source I cannot identify, she told El Nuevo Dia, the largest Puerto Rican daily, in its Jan. 9 edition.

She added that possibly these exercises are being received very well by these countries.

However, Edmond Frédérique, a Haitian unionist who lives and works in Puerto Rico, reports that the government of Nicaragua has already rejected the possibility of receiving the Vieques range, but the same cannot be said of Haiti. The Nicaraguan government made a declaration saying that the constitution did not allow it to establish a foreign base in Nicaragua, Frédérique said. But the Haitian ambassador to Washington said he didn't know about it. He remained mute. He didn't say anything. The Haitian consul here never responded to the press which called him. This created confusion. With a rumor like this, the Haitian government should issue a press statement to say whether or not what the woman said is true.

Haïti Progrès succeeded in speaking to Jean Rameau York, the Haitian Consul in Puerto Rico. I did my duty, Mr. York declared. I contacted my embassy [in Washington]. I contacted who I had to contact in Haiti. I sent them all the articles, and I told them what people here were saying. If they have a directive to give me, I am waiting for it... In the meantime, for all those newspapers [asking for an official response], I refer them to the government in Port-au-Prince.

But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Haiti claimed to know nothing about the matter. The secretary who answered the phone at the foreign minister's secretariat claimed that they had received no information from the Consulate in Puerto Rico. Even after Haïti Progrès faxed a copy of the article from El Nuevo Dia to the Foreign Ministry, neither Foreign Minister Fritz Longchamp nor his chief of staff came to the phone or returned Haïti Progrès' phone calls.

The experience was repeated with Harold Joseph, the Haitian Ambassador in Washington. His secretary also claimed that the Embassy knew nothing of the matter. M. Joseph too was faxed a copy of the El Nuevo Dia story but did not come to the phone or return calls.

Meanwhile, spokesmen from both the White House and U.S. National Security Council had heard the reports of negotiations for a possible base relocation but could neither confirm or deny their validity. Navy spokesman Lt. Commander Herman Phillips was almost as mum but did offer that the Center for Naval Analyses is conducting a six-month study into alternate sites and methods of the training. I am sure they are looking at a wide range of things, and the study is on-going. Personnel at the Center for Naval Analyses, an independent contractor based in Arlington, Virginia, would not comment on the content or status of their study.

Mr. Frédérique said that he and many Puerto Rican organizations are disappointed by the lack of a clear and rapid denial of Mme. de Ferrer's assertions from the Haitian government. This thing has created a sort of disarray in the progressive community here, because there were many organizations here which supported the Lavalas, Frédérique explained. Everybody comes to me and says: Listen, [President] René Préval was the prime minister of Aristide. How can something like this happen? Just like the U.S. military intervention in 1994, this thing has hurt the morale of people here.

Frédérique questioned whether the Haitian government was practicing an ostrich policy. In any case, he warned the Haitian government that it better take a good look at what is going on in Puerto Rico before they go and sell the country to a foreign power to make a base for something like that... If they put something like Vieques in Haiti, it will be fifteen times worse than the problem of the toxic wastes which were dumped in Gonaïves [in 1988].

A few statistics vouch for the justice of his warnings. Vieques, with about 8,000 people, accounts for 46% of all the cancer cases in Puerto Rico, with a population of 3.9 million. There is a very high concentration of contaminants like TNT, NO3, NO2, RDX and Tetryl in the sources of drinking water for towns on Vieques. There is a very high rate of asthma among children on the island and of several rare diseases like Scleroderma, lupus, and thyroid deficiencies.

Furthermore, military operations have destroyed mangroves, lagoons, beaches, coconut groves and other natural resources. In fact the eastern end of the island, where most of the bombing is done, has more craters per kilometer than the moon.

The waters around the island, once teeming fishing-grounds, are now almost devoid of fish. In addition to napalm and other poisonous bombs, the Navy now admits to using shell casings made of depleted uranium (DU), an armor-piercing radioactive metal. For instance, on Feb. 19, 1999, the Navy fired 263 of these shells. According to an article by Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo for the Hispanic Link News Service, a particle of DU that is one- quarter the diameter of a human hair—small enough to enter the lungs—emits 800 times the amount of radiation that can be tolerated during an entire year. Each of the 25mm shells fired by the Navy over Vieques contained a third of a pound of depleted uranium. Thus almost 90 pounds of the material were detonated. They fired enough to poison every man, women and child on the island 420 times over, said Tara Thornton of the Military Toxic Project, a public advocate agency.

The rape of Vieques by the U.S. military has enraged the Puerto Rican people, who are already chafing under a century of U.S. colonial rule. On Jan. 16, thousands marched on the island to show solidarity with the encampments and to demand that the Navy leave Vieques and take with it all the debris, garbage, and undetonated bombs it has left there. Although the U.S. is hoping to carry on negotiations to remain in Vieques, the movement has reached such a pitch that even Puerto Rico's pro-annexation Governor Pedro Rosselló has rejected the Clinton administration's proposal of continuing to use the island for military exercises. In another example of the movement's breadth, popular singer Ricky Martin declared Vieques, I am with you when he accepted the 1999 Billboard Music Award for Male Artist of the Year on Dec. 8.

Is the Haitian government seriously considering an offer from Washington, which surely would come with a handsome bribe? A country like Haiti might be tempted to accept the establishment of such a training ground because the U.S. government would offer to pay it a lot of money, said Col. Dan Smith of the Center for Defense Information, an independent military research organization based in Washington, DC.

Ironically, the week that this controversy has flared is the last week that U.S. troops will be permanently based at Camp Fairwinds at the Port-au-Prince airport. The base is scheduled to close on Friday, Jan. 21. This doesn't mean, however, that U.S. troops are leaving Haiti yet. About 200 U.S. soldiers are now being deployed in the northern city of Cap Haïtien as part of the Pentagon's new configuration in Haiti (see Haïti Progrès, Vol. 17, No. 24, 9/1/99). Under Operation New Horizons, U.S. troops will be constantly rotated throughout different regions of the country, creating a less visible but more widely spread presence. The Pentagon also believes this will create a better training experience for the soldiers.

The reluctance of the Haitian government to show U.S. troops the door suggests that they might also accept the Navy's alleged request for a training ground. The absence of any denial by the government is certainly some cause for alarm. Nonetheless, it is unlikely that the Haitian people would ever allow such an affront to their sovereignty and such a danger to their health and ecology. Just like the millions of Puerto Ricans now demanding that the U.S. Navy get out of their island, the Haitian people would undoubtedly rise up against the prospect of any part of their territory being ceded for a new Vieques.