Discontinuing Use of the Island-Municipality of Vieques, P.R., for the US Navy's Training Exercises

  • Date: Jan 01 2000
  • Policy Number: 200032

Key Words: Military, Warfare

The American Public Health Association,

Recognizing the broad consensus among the people of Puerto Rico regarding the immediate cessation of the US Navy’s military exercises in the Island-Municipality of Vieques, P. R., and the imminent risks faced by the population in view of the US Navy’s resumption of exercises and the recent arrests of nearly three hundred civil disobedients considered as interfering with the military maneuvers;1,2 and

Understanding that although the US Navy has been in Puerto Rico during the last sixty years, the extent of the damage caused by the Navy’s maneuvers had not been assessed until the Governor of Puerto Rico commissioned a task force, which rendered a report in June 1999; and

Acknowledging that the findings of said Commission were not widely disclosed until June-July 1999;3,4 and

Acknowledging that the US Navy permanently occupies two-thirds of the island’s nearly nine thousand acres and that 180 days per year, they engage in military exercises that involve shelling the island with live ammunition, including depleted uranium ammunition without the authorization of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.5 launched from the air by the U. S. Air Force attack planes as well as from naval vessels at sea to areas eight miles from where the 10,000 inhabitants of Vieques work and live; and

Realizing that the US Navy assumed responsibility for the most recent accident that resulted in the death of a civilian employee, who was killed by a 500 pound Mark 82 missile; and

Acknowledging that officials from Puerto Rico’s Department of Education testified to the Governor’s Commission of Vieques that “...bombing practices make school buildings tremble, affecting the teaching activities and damaging the physical structures”,3 and 

Knowing that the Environmental Protection Agency stated on August 27, 1999, that the US Navy has violated the norms established for the disposal of contaminated discharges and has, according to EPA officials, demonstrated an incapacity to comply with the agency’s regulations;6 and

Understanding that samples obtained by a group of marine biologists from the coral reefs in Vieques located in close proximity to unexploded leaking bombs reveal highly diseased and discolored coral specimens, and magnetometer studies performed by the same group reveal unequivocally that craters on the seaward side of Isla Alcatraz, which are pock-marking coral reefs and sea grass beds in the region, were not originated by hurricanes but by detonation of ammunition;7 and

Recognizing that Puerto Rico’s Health Department’s Cancer Registry, published in November 1999,8 and showing cancer trends for Vieques and the main Island of Puerto Rico for 1960-1994, demonstrate that, prior to 1979, Vieques exhibited cancer rates lower than those of the main Island, whereas the cancer rates for Vieques subsequently increased, generating standardized incidence ratios for the periods 1985-1989 and 1990-1994 that exceed the alert levels adopted by the surveillance system as defined by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry of the US Department of Health and Human Services, prompting the Puerto Rican Legislature9 to mandate an epidemiological study of the cancer rates in Vieques; and

Realizing that the current conditions to which the people of Vieques are exposed constitute serious threats to the environment and to their health; and 

Recognizing the right of the people of Puerto Rico to take the necessary actions to assure their well-being; therefore

  1. Calls upon the President of the United States to order the permanent cessation of military exercises in the Island-Municipality of Vieques, Puerto Rico, and transfer of the present occupied land to the people of Vieques; and
  2. Calls upon the President to order the U S Department of Defense to immediately establish a clean-up program that will facilitate the prompt restitution of the Island’s environment and that will include the necessary steps that must be taken to mitigate the threats to the health of the people of Vieques for which the US Navy is responsible.

References

  1. Burns, R. Navy: No viable alternative to Vieques. Associated Press. October 19, 1999, Washington DC. www.salon.com/news/wire/1999/10/ 14/Vieques/
  2. WWW.ViequesLibre.com, Articulos de prensa.
  3. Governor of Puerto Rico’s Special Commission on Military Operations in Vieques. June 1999.
  4. Cronología: Resumen de los Eventos. El Nuevo Día, August 2, 1999.
  5. Letter from Luis A Reyes, Regional Administrator, Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Dr. Carmen Feliciano, Secretary of Health, P.R., February 1, 2000.
  6. US Naval Contamination on Vieques, Puerto Rico. Pacific Studies Center Isiegel@igc.apc.org, June 1997.
  7. Memo from Dr. James W. Porter, Professor of Ecology and Marine Sciences, University of Georgia, Athens, Re: Draft statement of findings on Vieques, P.R. Sent December 6, 1999, to C Tisdale of King and Spalding, Atlanta, GA, as representatives of the Government of Puerto Rico.
  8. Zavala-Segarra, D. Incidencia de Cancer en Vieques, 1960-1964. Registro de Central de Cancer, Division de Vigilancia Epidemiologica y Estadisticas, Departamento de Salud de Puerto Rico, November 1999.
  9. Joint Resolution No. 568. Puerto Rico Legislative Assembly, August 1999.

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