April 14, 2010 – Judge’s Decision Means More Children will Die in Vieques and Threatens the Safety of All Americans
September 23, 2009 – TIME Magazine Highlights Health Crisis on Vieques Following New Revelations About Weapons Testing
July 29, 2009 – American Values Network Releases White Paper: Vieques Today, A Sea of Broken Promises
July 2, 2009 – It Is Time To End The Pain On Vieques
Judge’s Decision Means More Children will Die in Vieques and Threatens the Safety of All Americans
American Citizens of Vieques, an island of the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, Live with Disease and Death as a Result of Over 60 Years of U.S. Military Weapons Testing
(ARLINGTON, VA) Yesterday, Judge Daniel Dominguez dismissed the claims of more than 7,000 Viequenses, seeking compensation from the Navy in federal district court for illnesses caused by the toxic contamination of their island following more than six decades of naval bombardment and weapons testing on their island [click here for history]. The dismissal came despite evidence that the Navy violated the Clean Water Act over 102 times, and the toxic substances which violated the CWA had traveled through the food chain and are in the bodies of the plaintiffs making them sick.
“It is sad and unfortunate that the Federal District Court in Puerto Rico has denied justice to our people of Vieques. President Barack Obama pledged that, once in office, he would work to address the health crisis on the island, and I will continue to fight for remedies to the health and environmental crisis in our Island,” said Evelyn Delerme, Mayor of Vieques.
The more than 9,000 American citizens who live in Vieques have a 30% higher rate of cancer, 381% higher hypertension, and 95% higher cirrhosis of the liver than the inhabitants of Puerto Rico’s main island. Hair testing has shown that the vast majority of Viequenses suffer from at least one form of heavy metal poisoning from toxins found in the weapons used on the island.
“I don’t believe it is the law in America that any Government agency can harm American citizens, purposefully hide its actions, and be shielded by sovereign immunity. We will appeal this decision,” said John Eaves, the lawyer representing the island in this case. “The most inalienable of our rights is to life. The court’s decision that the Government can violate its own laws and deprive its citizens of life without fear of accountability stands against the most fundamental principles upon which this nation was founded.”
Judge Dominguez found that the Navy failed to report activities that posed a health risk to the population; that Congress had passed laws saying that the Navy “shall” report those risks to the EPA; and that the Navy’s failure to follow those laws would override the Justice Department’s claim to sovereign immunity. However, the court ruled that despite the fact that the law explicitly required that the Navy “shall” report the health risks, the law left the means by which the Navy did so up to the discretion of the Secretary. In an extreme reach of legal logic, the Judge set the dangerous legal precedent that the Government’s discretion over how to report health risks allowed it to choose not to report the health risks, and that the Navy therefore did not actually violate the intent of the law and that its claim to sovereign immunity stood.
“When Justice is both blind and heartless, it has failed,” said Eric Sapp, Executive Director of the American Values Network. “Our government does not dispute its responsibility for the suffering on Vieques. Instead our Justice Department is seeking to deny justice using legal technicalities. This is a simple question of right and wrong and what America stands for. There is a fund already in place to help these people. It’s time President Obama did right by the Viequenses and directed Justice to stop fighting and give the people the help they deserve.”
Contact: Eric Sapp/American Values Networkfirstname.lastname@example.org
Arlington, VA – As Hermogenes Marrero is set to give a critical deposition this week on the Navy’s use of toxic substances on Vieques, a major story in Time magazine highlights the Navy’s contamination of the island and the ongoing health crisis there. Marrero, a former Marine sergeant stationed on Vieques in the early 1970s, says part of his job was to help the Navy test hazardous chemical and biological weapons on the island 10,000 American citizens call home, Time reports.
A recent hair sample study of inhabitants showed that 34% had toxic levels of mercury and 70% or more were contaminated with arsenic, cadmium, and antimony–all of which are found in the weapons tested up-wind and up-current from the civilian population for 62 years.
“The science and moral arguments cannot be questioned. If Americans knew the severity and scope of the problem in Vieques, they would demand immediate action,” states Eric Sapp, Executive Director of the American Values Network. In a piece written in response to the Time article, Sapp asks, “What would you do if you found out that people in your neighborhood had a 30% higher cancer rate, 25% higher infant mortality rate, and 95% higher cirrhosis of the liver rate than the surrounding area?”
Marrero’s deposition is part of a federal suit filed by Eaves Law Firm on behalf of 7,000 residents of Vieques who have been affected by toxins left behind by the Navy. A federal judge is set to rule this fall on whether to uphold the government’s claim of sovereign immunity and dismiss the suit without hearing it on its merits.
To learn more about the history of the health crisis and the studies by Yale, University of Georgia, University of Puerto Rico, etc. documenting the pollutants and health problems, visit:
American Values Network Releases White Paper: Vieques Today, A Sea of Broken Promises
Washington, DC – A new white paper by American Values Network examines the current situation in the island municipality of Vieques, Puerto Rico, USA. Vieques is a small U.S. territorial island located eight miles from the main island of Puerto Rico. The people of Vieques are American citizens who have made tremendous sacrifices for our country’s national security. For over 200 days per year from 1941-2003, the Navy used significant portions of the Island of Vieques for training exercises and munitions testing. During this period, the Navy tested nearly every kind of munitions employed by the military, dropping over 80 million pounds of ordnance on Vieques from 1984-1998 alone. The Navy has refused to disclose the complete list and amounts of all materials sprayed, dropped, tested, or disposed of on the island and surrounding ocean during the 62-years of weapons testing.
The people of Vieques have a 25% higher infant mortality rate, 30% higher rate of cancer, a 381% higher rate of hypertension, a 95% higher rate of cirrhosis of the liver, and a 41% higher rate of diabetes than those on the main island of Puerto Rico a mere 8 miles away. Despite these facts, the Navy denies any culpability and refuses to help alleviate the suffering it has caused.
The health claims of the American citizens in Vieques have been supported by a multitude of groups and faith-based organizations, including the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), and the American Values Network, among others.
The full report can be downloaded here.
IT IS TIME TO END THE PAIN ON VIEQUES, THE PUERTO RICO SENATE AND HOUSE ALONG WITH THE UNITED NATIONS AGREES
Keeping Campaign Promises Concerning Vieques is Crucial
WASHINGTON, DC – The Senate and the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico, as well as the United Nations, have given their voices and full support to the citizens of Vieques in their struggle with disease, contamination and neglect from the United States Navy.
“The people of Vieques, Puerto Rico are United States citizens. In fact, their young have provided one of the highest percentages of volunteerism for the U.S. military,” said Burns Strider, President of the American Values Network. “Yet, they struggle with disease, illness, contamination, birth defects and many other tragic problems arising from the toxic contamination caused by more than six decades of naval bombardment and other military exercises on their island.”
The people of Vieques have filed claims against the Navy in federal district court in San Juan to address the numerous health matters affecting the residents of this island municipality.
To the surprise of many, the Obama Department of Justice responded with a motion to dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. This decision means that the US government is in fact asking an American judge to deny American citizens — as it is the case of the people born in Vieques, a municipality of Puerto Rico — their day in court and the opportunity for the case to be addressed on its merits.
The U.S. government claims “sovereign immunity,” an archaic principle derived from the Middle Ages when the King would say he could do no wrong because what he does is ordained of God.
Fortunately, earlier this week, the Puerto Rico House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution urging President Barack Obama to instruct the appropriate agencies to take the necessary steps to address both the health claims of the residents of Vieques and the environmental situation of the island.
The actions taken by the Department of Justice have raised numerous concerns among activists and community leaders regarding the administration’s commitment to provide fair compensation to the Viequenses. This is particularly relevant given that many of these community leaders actively supported Obama during both the primary and the general election.
Furthermore, many of the victims feel puzzled by the way the new Administration is responding to the Vieques claims since as a candidate, President Obama made a commitment that his administration would “promote appropriate remedies to health conditions caused by military activities conducted by the U.S. Navy on Vieques” and even sent surrogates and advisors to Vieques to campaign on his behalf.
In fact, the resolution passed by the Puerto Rico House of Representatives includes a clear reminder to the Administration about the contradictions between the DOJ’s actions and Obama’s promises when it states that: “…lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice have filed motions based on the ‘Federal Tort Claims Act’ asking the judge to dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. This is contrary to the spirit of the promises made, as well as to the notion of access to justice deserved by a people that were subject to sacrifices in the interests of the national security for so long.”
This House Resolution comes on the heels of another resolution unanimously approved by the Senate of Puerto Rico, which recognizes “the contributions and sacrifices that our brothers and sisters of Vieques, have made in the interests of the national security of the United States of America, as well as the lasting effects of more than sixty years of military exercises endured by the residents of Vieques” and asks President Obama “to provide appropriate remedies for health conditions of the people of Vieques that could be related to the military activities conducted by the U.S. Navy.”
In addition, the Senate resolution notes that in the past “the United States of America has compensated both foreign nationals and U.S. citizens who have endured injuries and/or damages comparable to those suffered by the U.S. citizens of Vieques.”
According to the Senate Resolution, “it would be in the best interests of the United States of America to address the losses and ongoing medical and economic needs of the U.S. citizens on Vieques, which could be resulting from the U.S. Navy’s long bombardment and contamination of the island” and that the “the fastest, fairest, and most efficient way to correct the injustice and health crisis is for the U.S. government to resolve the claims pending in the US District Court in San Juan as well as those pending for the Municipality of Vieques before the Secretary of Navy.”
Moreover, the President of the Puerto Rico Senate, Thomas Rivera Schatz, wrote a letter to President Obama urging his “intervention and attention to the health issues affecting thousands of disenfranchised U.S. citizens in the island municipality of Vieques, Puerto Rico.”
As Puerto Rico Senator Jorge Suárez, of the Popular Democratic Party, aptly put it in his July 1st letter to President Obama, there are many people that “hope and trust that you will heed this call, that you will take the necessary steps to allow for the compensation of the affected Viequenses, and that you will thus finally take swift action to put an end to the health crisis among the U.S. citizens of Vieques, people who have borne a very heavy burden in support of our rights and freedoms.”
As a result of more than six decades of bombings, at least four generations of American citizens in Vieques have now been exposed to toxins and heavy metals with devastating medical consequences. Numerous scientific studies have revealed that the rates of serious illnesses among Viequenses, including cancer, hypertension and diabetes, far exceed those on the main island of Puerto Rico. As pointed out by the President of the Puerto Rico Senate, Thomas Rivera Schatz, “in spite of this, nothing is being done by Federal authorities to address the major health problems suffered by our fellow Americans in Vieques. They have borne a very heavy burden in defense of our national security. Even though the bombings stopped in May 2003, they continue to suffer from the toxic chemicals and heavy metal hazards that are the legacy of decades of bombing and military practices in Vieques.”
But those are not the only two allies of Vieques. A Special Committee of the United Nations recently approved a resolution urging the government of the United States to complete the return of occupied land and installations on Vieques Island and “expedite and cover the costs of the process of cleaning up and decontaminating the impact areas previously used in military exercises through means that do not continue to aggravate the serious consequences of its military activity for the health of the inhabitants of Vieques Island and the environment.”