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Vieques: Paradise Lost
By Gov. Howard Dean, M.D.
August 9, 2004
This is one in a series of weekly syndicated columns written by Governor Howard Dean.
For most Americans, the issue of the U.S. Naval bombing range on the island of Vieques, off the coast of Puerto Rico, is one that was resolved a few years ago when the United States Navy closed its base there after six decades of bombing and other military operations. For the people who live there, the bombing has stopped but, the dying and disease have continued.
I went to Vieques two months ago. The protesters from around the world were gone and so were the TV cameras. Severe environmental contamination and a significant amount of unexploded ordnance and the predictable residue of more than 60 years of bombing still remain. I listened to the family stories of people like Felicita Garcia, a cancer survivor whose husband also has cancer. Ms. Garcia has seen death up close all around her. Her brother died at 14 of leukemia and her sister and her mother also died of cancers.
I listened to Carlos Ventura of the Vieques Fisherman's Association. He told of the once thriving fishing industry, with fishermen able to sell their fish, crab and lobsters on the big island of Puerto Rico and consume the remainder at home. These days, no one will buy their seafood because it has become common knowledge that it is highly contaminated with heavy metals.
I listened to Hector Melendez, a Vietnam vet who proudly served his country. Lest we forget, Puerto Ricans are American citizens by birth. They willingly serve in our Armed Services and per capita have more Medal of Honor recipients than any state. Mr. Melendez told me that the U.S. Navy claims there are no environmental hazards on Vieques, yet everywhere he goes he sees signs warning islanders to stay away from certain areas because of dangerous contamination.
These are just a few of the people and their stories. Here are some of the facts: