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Vieques Claims Unproven
July 10, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Deseret News Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved.
The recent opinion piece ("Hansen doesn't have his facts straight on Vieques ," Deseret News July 1, 2001) by Puerto Rico 's Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo-Vila is so full of misstatements that it cannot go unchallenged.
The government of Puerto Rico refused to provide clinical records and data to Johns Hopkins University's School of Medicine, which triggered their finding that there was no medical evidence to support the claim of health problems attributable to military exercises on Vieques . The fact that there is no medical evidence to support the claim of any serious health problems was recently underscored when the American Medical Association refused to adopt an emergency resolution to support such a claim.
The best evidence to refute Acevedo-Vila's reckless claim is that Judge Kessler of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia refused to enter a temporary restraining order to stop the Navy from engaging in military exercises on Vieques . Not only is Mr. Acevedo's claim that the people of Vieques have a higher percent risk of dying from cancer or dying from diabetes unsupported by medical science, but the suggestion that these are related to bombing that goes on 9 miles away from the civilian population 90 days each year is absurd.
The statement that Puerto Rico is America's tenth-largest trading partner is absolute nonsense. Puerto Rico 's economy, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors Report on U.S. Metro Economies prepared by Standard and Poor's, is about the size of that of the greater Orlando, Fla., area. Acevedo-Vila's claim is about as relevant as saying that Salt Lake City is Utah's largest trading partner.
Finally, if Acevedo-Vila is "proud to be an American citizen," why was he conspicuously silent when Puerto Rico 's police superintendent recently stated that he could care less whether tons of drugs from South America entered the United States, as long as they did not come to Puerto Rico .
Herbert W. Brown III
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Hansen Doesn't Have His Facts Straight On Vieques
By Anibal Acevedo-Vila
July 1, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Deseret News Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved.
President Bush's recent announcement that it was time for the U.S. Navy to leave Vieques was the right decision. After careful consideration and an in-depth analysis of the issues, the president and his administration have come to agree with Puerto Rico .
Unfortunately, some members of the president's own party are using half-truths and innuendoes to attempt to continue what has been called by retired Adm. Jack Shanahan unnecessary training. In an interview on National Public Radio, Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, stated, "I come down to the idea where I don't see where Puerto Rico should get any favorable treatment over the rest of these people. Now what have they done to get it? They sit down there on welfare and very few of them paying taxes, got a sweetheart deal."
Although my colleague has since said, "No offense intended to the Puerto Rican people," I was disheartened to see that his opinion piece in the Deseret News shows that he still does not have all the facts correct.
He begins by saying that Vieques ' location and topography make it unique. Indeed they do. Vieques is the only place in the United States where friendly fire continually threatens the health and well-being of American citizens. It is the only place in America where civilian populations are subject to violent ship-to-shore bombardment from 5-inch Mark 45 guns. It receives more than its fair share of these bombs. In 1998, Vieques absorbed more than half the entire bombardment for U.S. Navy training nationwide. And in four days of recent training, 38,525 pounds of bombs rained down on the island.
Hansen continues with, "If there was evidence of real harm to the 9,400 Vieques residents because of military training, I would be among the first to call for a halt." Actually, there is plenty of evidence of serious health problems among many Viequenses.
In a brief two-week study, paid for by the Navy and without using clinical records or examining documented evidence, Johns Hopkins University's School of Medicine found there were no echocardiographic abnormalities among Vieques residents.
However, there is much more to the story. In response to a request by the prestigious Ponce School of Medicine, John Hopkins University's Medical School pursued the issue further. The two medical schools are focusing on findings that children of Vieques have a higher incidence of health problems as compared to the children on the mainland of Puerto Rico .
Other facts speak for themselves. The people of Vieques have a mortality rate 40 percent higher than that of the rest of Puerto Rico , a 27 percent higher risk of dying from cancer and a 70 percent higher risk of dying from diabetes.
The people of Vieques live less than nine miles from live bombing. The do not live nine miles from a Navy base, with all its subsequent economic and social benefits. Instead, they dodge bullets and watch half-ton bombs stray off target and land dangerously close to their town. In 1999, David Sanes was killed, and four others wounded, when a Navy jet missed its mark and dropped two 500 pound bombs on the Observation Post. His death was the last straw and solidified Puerto Rico 's opposition to the Navy's training in Vieques .
I am proud of Puerto Rico 's relationship with the United States and am proud to be an American citizen. Vieques is not being used to "pursue a nationalistic, anti-U.S., Puerto Rican agenda." Far from it. Vieques is a civil and human rights issue that transcends political and ideological lines.
Puerto Ricans are also proud to be part of the American family. For 100 years, we have shared in the benefits and responsibilities of citizenship. Puerto Ricans have paid the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefields of war precisely because we cherish our American citizenship.
Although Puerto Ricans do not pay federal income taxes, we pay federal payroll, Commonwealth and local taxes. We are hardworking people who contribute to America's coffers. The island contributed nearly $2 billion in Social Security payments in 1997. Puerto Rico is America's 10th largest trading partner and purchases more than $19 billion worth of American merchandise.
Bush recently said that it was time the Navy left Vieques because Puerto Ricans are our "friends and neighbors." It is the Navy that has not been a good neighbor. In 1983, the Navy and the government of Puerto Rico signed a memorandum of understanding stating the rules for the Navy's training and the manner in which the Navy was going to help to jump-start Vieques ' economy through jobs and job-training programs. The Navy began violating this agreement immediately. To this day, the Navy has not fulfilled its promises.
Despite Hansen's misleading and insensitive comments, I remain hopeful that the majority of my colleagues are not so disrespectful. I appreciate the attention Bush has give to the sensitive issues surrounding Vieques , and I applaud the administration's careful consideration in reaching the correct decision to pull the Navy out of Vieques .
Anibal Acevedo-Vila is the resident commissioner in Washington, D.C., in the U.S. Congress for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.