Vieques is a small Puerto Rican island and home to about 10,000 people. They have an unwelcome guest: the U.S. Navy, which uses 75% of Vieques as a live firing range (www.viequeslibre. addr.com) to train recruits for island invasions. This involves using real ammunition, bombs, and what the Navy barely mentions on its website on Vieques (www.navyvieques. navy.mil): depleted uranium (DU) ammunition.DU is a byproduct of enriching uranium with radioactive isotopes. NATO used DU shells extensively in Kosovo because they can pierce tank armor. However, the shells emit a fine dust on impact which is easily inhaled. This dust is suspected of contributing to the Gulf War Syndrome, as well as various health problems in Kosovo. The only reference to DU on www.navyvieques.navy.mil is an ambivalent report stating that the health effects of DU are basically unresearched. In this vacuum, the Navy pretends that DU poses no health threat and therefore it can test freely. After this total disregard for the health and safety of 10,000 people, they offer pompous, amorphous promises of “rebuilding the relationship with people of Vieques.”
Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican government reports that cancer diagnoses on Vieques are 27% higher than the Puerto Rican average. In addition, the navy’s presence is widely unpopular because of the noise the training creates, the subsequent decrease in business, and environmental concerns (The Economist, 31 July 1999).
In response, the Navy has detained and even fired on (gbgm-umc.org) nonviolent demonstrators. Among them was Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez (www.cnn.com), who was, amazingly, forced to sleep on concrete among roaches and lizards. What “relationship” can the Navy possibly foster with Vieques under this martial law, in which even elected representatives are not safe?
Puerto Rico is effectively our 51st state, and we owe its citizens a commensurate dignity. The Constitution’s third amendment, prohibiting quartering soldiers in private residences, was created to prevent this sort of brutish quasi-occupation. The Navy should stop inventing half-baked excuses for loitering on Vieques and abusing its people.