[du-list] Vieques

Dear Tara,

This Sunday, the residents of Vieques, Puerto Rico will express themselves in a non-binding referendum that includes an option for an immediate cessation of bombing and military training by the Navy, as well as transfer and cleanup of the lands.  Most observers believe that this option will win handily.

Three days later, on Wednesday, August 1, the House Armed Services Committee will mark up the Defense Authorization bill, which is likely to include language about the binding referendum scheduled for November, the eventual cessation of bombing and transfer of lands in Vieques.  If the November referendum is cancelled in the absence of a definitive order to end bombing, there will be no legal guarantees that the Navy will ever stop bombing.

We wish to use this brief window to emphasize to Congressional Members the importance of the non-binding referendum and of the health and environmental concerns that motivate opposition to Navy training in Vieques.

We are seeking organizational and religious leaders to sign on to this letter, which will be sent to the 58 members of the House Armed Services Committee on Monday afternoon.  To sign on, please provide the following information by 5 p.m. ET, Monday, July 30 to the Fellowship of Reconciliation (forlatam@igc.org):  name, title, organization.  If the organization is for identification only, let us know and it will designated as such.  If you have questions, contact John Lindsay-Poland at FOR in California, 415-495-6334.

Text of letter:

July 30, 2001

Dear Member of Congress:

We represent religious, human rights and environmental organizations concerned with the Navy¹s continued use of lands and waters in Vieques against the will of local residents, putting at risk the human health and ecology of that island community.

Yesterday, the residents of Vieques, Puerto Rico expressed their clear desire in a non-binding referendum for the "immediate and permanent cessation of military training and bombing by the Navy in Vieques[, t]he departure of the Navy from Vieques, [and] the cleanup and return of Vieques lands to its citizens."

[The following sentence will be included if the vote is 60% or higher]
The victory by an overwhelming margin - XX% - for the option of stopping the bombing is a demonstration of the depth and breadth of local opposition to the Navy¹s training in Vieques.

__% of Vieques voters favored the permanent continuation of live fire training, and only __% chose the other option: training with inert munitions until May 2003 and transfer of the firing range to the Interior Department.

We believe that President Bush should heed the clearly expressed democratic wishes of Vieques residents for an immediate end to Navy training in Vieques.  The study completed by the Center for Naval Analysis in August 2000 demonstrated that the Navy can and does use other facilities on the Eastern Seaboard for the training conducted in Vieques.

At the same time, Congress needs to address the long-term concerns voiced by people in Vieques about the Navy¹s bombing range.  At the center of those concerns are the high rates of cadmium, lead, mercury, uranium, and other contaminants present in the soil, food chain, and human bodies of Vieques residents, which have lead to elevated rates of cancer and other diseases. According to the Puerto Rico Cancer Registry, Vieques residents had a 26.9% higher incidence of cancer than other Puerto Ricans for 1985-1989, the last period in which data are available.

A study last year showed that 44% out of 49 Vieques residents who were tested had toxic levels of mercury in hair samples (the same method used by the FBI in forensic investigations).

A study released in January found excessive levels of lead and cadmium in vegetables and other plants grown in the civilian area of Vieques ­ levels above critical values for human consumption as defined by the Food and Drug Administration.  The study found high levels of nickel, cobalt, magnesium and copper in edible plants grown in Vieques.  The same metals are found in the constituent elements of ordnance fired or dropped in Vieques.  No other potential source has been identified for these environmental carcinogens.

The Navy¹s violations of environmental and civil rights laws in Vieques have led to half a dozen lawsuits and nearly 2,000 administrative tort claims, in addition to more than a thousand cases of civil disobedience.  The Navy has responded by denying the links between military contamination and community health and attempting unsuccessfully to buy votes by waiting to disburse funds until days before the referendum.

The Navy must be held accountable for the contamination it has caused in Vieques.  A cleanup will be necessary for the protection of public health, whether the land is preserved as ecological refuges, developed for social use, or dedicated to a balanced mixture of uses.  Therefore, we urge the House Armed Services Committee to take the following steps:

To prevent further damage to the health and environment of Vieques residents, instruct the Navy to commence the process of cleaning up lands and waters contaminated by ordnance, heavy metals and other hazards, and fund cleanup to the fullest extent possible.  The cleanup plan should be developed after a comprehensive analysis of the extent of contamination, and cleanup priorities should be developed together with the community.

Strengthen the legal guarantees contained in current law for the Navy to end its military training in Vieques.

Thank you for your attention to these concerns.  We look forward to your response.


Tara Thornton
Executive Director
Military Toxics Project
P.O. Box 558
Lewiston, ME 04243
(207)783-5091 phone
(207783-5096 fax