Vaya aquí para la versión española.
Lost among the news of wars and destruction that monopolize the reports on TV and the headlines of newspapers, the official announcement of the closing of the US Navy base on the island of Vieques does not have to go unnoticed. This is an enormous triumph for Puerto Rico that for decades had an unequal fight to recover its rights for this beautiful island and to remove the inherent dangers of military bases.
In November of 1999 I had the opportunity to visit the island, as an observer of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. We received the invitation from several NGO’s, among them the Committee for Rescue and Development of Vieques and Pax Christi. Nearly without exception Puerto Rico was united in their demands for closing the U.S. Naval Station Roosevelt Roads in the town of Ceiba.
Governor Sila Calderón joined the jubilant celebrations of the islanders this past May first and said: “This is a moment of great happiness and profound emotion, together, we achieved the end of the bombing.”
But this initial joy cannot hide a very serious problem that Vieques has inherited, the enormous contamination that the Navy left after more than 60 years of naval and aerial military exercises. It will require a lot of time, effort and money so that the beautiful beaches can be used by the thousands of visitors eager to enjoy the beauties which, in a previous article I called “a lost paradise or a paradise to be lost.”
The remains that pile up in the shallow waters of the shores represent a serious danger; bombs not exploded, twisted irons and innumerable chemical polluting agents. Also, lost in the middle of the dense vegetation lie thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of unexploded shells and live ammunition. Among them are the remains of Depleted Uranium projectiles used in exercises in March of 1999 that the US Navy has admitted using. In that same year the Puerto Rican government at the request of the Vieques Municipal Assembly and the Committee for Rescue and Development of Vieques prepared an epidemiological study to investigate why Vieques suffers a 27% higher cancer rate than the rest of Puerto Rico.
This is the pitiful heritage that we humans leave on our blue planet that houses us all: Remains of instruments for death tested on a site full of life. The names continue piling with each new conflict: Iraq, Bosnia, Chechnya, Vietnam, Afghanistan. Every year thousands of children and adults are killed or dismembered in accidental encounters with live ammunition and mines that lie in holes or ravines, in shallow waters of rivers and lakes, waiting to catch new victims.
The government of Puerto Rico will have to be very attentive to verify that the EPA and the Department of Interior add Vieques to the Superfund list of contaminated sites intended for cleanup and to eliminate the dangers that the Navy leaves after its long stay.
Let us celebrate this symbolic triumph of a small island that reminds us that our common home, the Earth, must be loved and protected instead of hated and destroyed.
*Ruben Arvizu is Director for Latin America of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.