Devon Peña comments on my Vieques article
Devon Peña’s note: Speaking of the American Empire, the prison complex at Guantanamo Bay on occupied Cuban soil is not the only case of an unwanted and damaging U.S. military presence in Latin America and the Caribbean. The U.S. naval bombing range at Vieques in Puero Rico is often overlooked. From 1999 to 2003, it remained at the heart of one of the preeminent anti-militarism struggles by environmental justice activists in the Western Hemisphere.
I first became aware of the struggle against the bombing range at Vieques through the work of Professor Deborah Berman Santana, a renowned environmental justice scholar, who penned an influential paper on environmental justice at Vieques in the journal, Social Justice (2002). In that paper, Santana makes the case that military installations and activities are among the worst sources of pollution. Deborah’s work presciently connected connected militarism to environmental racism and eloquently documented the long campaign to evict the Navy and reclaim the island for the people of Puerto Rico.
So, how is Vieques today, some 15 years after the bombing ended and the Navy went home? It is too easy to forget such a place, even one that captured our imagination and thirst for justice, once the struggle has ended and life has moved on.
It is a pleasure to present this portrait of Vieques as it is today from the vantage point of Carmelo Ruíz-Marrero. There is growing crime and the looming threat of gentrification but Carmelo also found close-knit people working hard to restore the land and re-establish its role in maintaining a healthy community. The new island is a work-in-progress – and at its heart, local people are working to produce a sustainable heritage landscape that includes conventional growers and more innovative organic farmers. As I understand it, some of the island’s beekeepers arelearning how to produce honey from Africanized bees.
If you can get rid of the Navy’s bombers, you can certainly handle some angry bees while learning to make peace with the local landscape. The island is a crossroads of economic deprivation and creativity, as is so often the case when marginality is an inventive force.
There is another part to this story and not all is happy local food times for all! While the people are creatively obtaining right livelihoods on the island they are also trying to produce food and other materials on a landscape that still has very serious pollution problems from the decades of environmental abuse by the American military. As Carmelo notes:
Vieques was mercilessly bombed for sixty years from both sea and air. And the explosions lifted up deadly clouds of dust polluted with heavy metals and toxic chemicals used in ordnance and even particulate from uranium ammunition. These clouds of death moved downwind to the west, blanketing the civilian zone. The cancer rate among Vieques residents is 26.9% above Puerto Rico’s average…
So, the Navy may be long gone but it left a toxic legacy behind; one that is still affecting the health and wellbeing of the people of Vieques.
This essay originally appeared in Counterpunch Magazine, Vol. 21, No. 4. May 2014.
Map of Vieques used by EPA to manage Superfund sites.
Return to Vieques
ORGANIC GARDENS AMIDST TOXIC LEGACY?
Carmelo Ruíz-Marrero | Vieques, P.R. | January 2014
The ferry from the town of Fajardo to Vieques island leaves at 4:30 pm. I arrive at 4:25 and there is a line at the ticket counter, made up of Viequenses