II. Cancer and Other Worries
III. Ni una bomba más
IV. The Pentagons Report
V. Negotiations with Clinton: The
VI. Behind Closed Doors
VII. "Endless Liability"
VIII. As Long As it Takes
Heaven and Hell
Vieques is a little island off the eastern coast of Puerto
Rico, the Isla Nena to the main islands Isla
Grande. By all accounts it is ravishingly beautiful. There
are palm trees, white sand beaches, stunning coral reefs, and three
of the worlds seven bioluminescent bays, lit up
at night by tiny phosphorescent organisms.
And though its
only six miles from the Isla Grande, it has never been developed.
No hotel chains, no fast food, no strip malls. In fact, most of
it isnt even populated.
Why? Because for the
past sixty years, Vieques has been a training-ground for the Atlantic
Fleet. Its the Navys only combined-assault
live-fire target range, involving subs, boats, Marines and planes,
in whole or parts. When the Navys not using it, they rent
it out to foreign navies.
The Vieques ranges are
part of Roosevelt Roads, one of the largest Navy bases in the world,
which is just across the bay on mainland Puerto Rico. And Vieques
is its dumping ground, where it cooks off unwanted
and highly toxic ammunition in open pits, exposed to land,
sea, air, and the local residents.
Talk about heaven and
hell in the same place...
The civilian population,
about 9,400 people, is confined to a narrow band of land set between
a firing range on the eastern end of the island and a series of
Navy ammo and industrial dumps to the west. By all accounts
including the militarys the citizenry has been treated
like shit. They cant farm or raise much livestock, the shelling
is hard on the fish, and the islands considerable tourist
potential has withered. Life for the viequenses is rough: unemployment
hovers around fifty percent, rates of alcoholism and depression
are high, of poverty even higher.
It doesnt need
to be this way. In communities from San Diego to Norfolk, Virginia,
the Navy makes an effort to be a good neighbor, providing
training, jobs and community services. Military installations can
be lucrative, attracting people and government largesse to the favored
But in Vieques the opposite
has occurred. There were no jobs offered, no infrastructure investments,
no 4H clubs or scout troops for the kids. In fact, many viequenses
have bitter stories to tell of local initiatives that were squashed
by the Navy.
Its almost as if
the policy was to make people so miserable, theyd leave. In
1961, the Navy drew up a plan for the abolition of the Municipality
of Vieques (locals call it the Dracula Plan), and they would
have acted on it, had President Kennedy not intervened.
The continued presence
of the viequenses to say nothing of the sea turtles, brown
pelicans, and other endangered species must be deeply frustrating
to the Navy. But the live-fire exercises continue, because they
are as integral to combat training as Vieques is irreplaceable
as a combat-training ground.
This is the situation:
difficult for everyone.