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Vol. 76/No. 40      November 5, 2012

US Navy seeks to drop cleanup
of Vieques bombing site
Nine years after it was forced by years of protests to stop using the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a bombing range and munitions disposal site, the U.S. Navy is proposing to fence off some of the contaminated areas instead of cleaning them up.

For more than six decades the Navy used a one-square-mile area on the eastern edge of the 20-mile-long island as a bombing range. It also maintained other military facilities on the 25,000 acres it had confiscated, much of it from local farmers and fishermen, including about 400 acres on the western edge that it used to bury or blow up munitions.

On May 1, 2003, the day after the Navy officially ended its military exercises there, thousands poured into the streets of Vieques to celebrate. The successful fight to kick the Navy out was an example and inspiration for all those who opposed the U.S. colonial domination of Puerto Rico.

The Navy sites were not returned to the people of Vieques, but turned over to the U.S. Department of Interior.

The U.S. Health Department admits that there is an abnormally high rate of cancer and other diseases on the island, but denies this has anything to do with the toxic substances, including depleted uranium, dumped by the Navy.

The U.S. Navy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are now recommending that no cleanup be performed on close to 300 acres of the site on the western edge of the island, and propose instead that the contaminated area—which includes unexploded munitions—be fenced off with barb wire and warning signs.

“They should complete the cleanup and turn over the land the way they found it,” said Ismael Guadalupe, a longtime leader of the fight against the Navy occupation.

“Their plan implies that they are never going to finish the cleanup on the larger site” on the eastern edge of the island either, Guadalupe said, “including thousands of bombs on the sea floor.”

Even community members of the Navy’s Restoration Advisory Board have rejected the Navy’s recommendation. A final decision has not been made.

“We have no power, we are not a sovereign country,” Guadalupe said.

Removing all the munitions “would destroy beneficial habitat” for wildlife, claimed Navy spokesperson James Brantley in response to questions from the Militant Oct. 16, adding that it would cost an initial $57 million.

When asked if the Navy planned to limit the cleanup on the bigger areas around the old bombing range in the same fashion, he said there would be “remedies in place by 2022.”  
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