You are hereSouth America
By John Grant
I don’t believe in the dogmatic postulates of Marxist revolution. I don’t accept that we are living in a period of proletarian revolutions. Reality is telling us that every day. But if I am told that because of that reality you can’t do anything to help the poor, then I say, “We part company.”
-Hugo Chavez, 2004
The hypocrisy of the government of the United States seems to know no limits. The current posture it’s taking toward the elected government of Venezuela is simply shameful.
Look who’s calling voting ‘divisive’ and ‘illegal’: The Blood-soaked US Has No Business Opposing Sovereignty Plebiscites
By Dave Lindorff
The rot at the core of US international relations, domestic politics and the corporate media is evident in the American approach to the Ukraine crisis.
By Medea Benjamin
Sometimes it just takes one person with a creative mind to shake up the entire legal system. In the case of Costa Rica, that person is Luis Roberto Zamorra Bolaños, who was just a law student when he challenged the legality of his government’s support for George Bush’s invasion of Iraq. He took the case all the way up to the Costa Rican Supreme Court—and won.
Today a practicing lawyer, Zamorra at 33 still looks like a wiry college student. And he continues to think outside the box and find creative ways to use the courts to fuel his passion for peace and human rights.
During my recent visit to Costa Rica, I got a chance to interview this maverick attorney about his past victories, and his brilliant new idea to seek compensation for Iraqis.
Let’s start out recalling the key moment in Costa Rica’s pacifist history.
That was 1948, when Costa Rican President Jose Figueras declared that the nation’s military would be abolished, a move that was ratified the following year by the Constituent Assembly. Figueras even took a sledgehammer and smashed one of the walls of the military headquarters, announcing that it would be turned into a national museum and that the military budget would be redirected toward healthcare and education. Since then, Costa Rica has become renowned for its peaceful and unarmed neutrality in foreign affairs.
So fast forward and here you are in law school, in 2003, and your government joined George Bush’s “Coalition of the Willing”—a group of 49 countries that gave their stamp of approval for the invasion of Iraq. On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart joked that Costa Rica contributed “bomb-sniffing toucans.” In reality, Costa Rica didn’t contribute anything; it simply added its name. But that was enough to get you so upset that you decided to take your government to court?
Yes. Bush told the world that this was going to be a war for peace, democracy and human rights. But he couldn’t get a UN mandate, so he had to create a coalition to make it look like the invasion had global support. That’s why he pushed so many countries to join. Costa Rica—precisely because it abolished its military and has a history of peace—was an important country to have on his side to show moral authority. Costa Rica is listened to when it speaks at the UN. So in this sense, Costa Rica was an important partner.
When President Pacheco announced that Costa Rica had joined this coalition, the vast majority of Costa Ricans were opposed. I was really upset about our involvement, but I was also upset that my friends didn’t think we could anything about it. When I proposed suing the president, they thought I was crazy.
But I went ahead anyway, and after I filed a lawsuit, the Costa Rica Bar Association filed a suit; the Ombudsman filed a suit—and they were all combined with mine.
When the ruling came out in our favor in September 2004, a year and a half after I filed, there was a sense of relief among the public. President Pacheco was depressed because he’s really a nice guy who loves our culture and he probably thought, “Why did I do this?” He even considered resigning over this, but he didn’t because so many people asked him not to.
On what basis did the court rule in your favor?
One of the most significant things about this ruling was that it recognized the binding character of the UN Charter. The court ruled that since Costa Rica is a member of the United Nations, we are under the obligation to follow its proceedings and since the UN never authorized the invasion, Costa Rica did not have the right to support it. I can’t think of another case in which the Supreme Court has annulled a government decision because it violates the UN charter.
The ruling was also extremely significant because the court said that the support for the invasion contradicted a fundamental principle of “the Costa Rican identity,” which is peace. This makes us the first country in the world to recognize the right to peace, something that was made even more explicit in another case that I won in 2008.
Can you tell us about that case?
In 2008 I challenged a decree by President Oscar Arias that authorized the extraction of thorium and uranium, nuclear fuel development and the manufacture of nuclear reactors “for all purposes.” In that case I again claimed a violation of the right to peace. The court annulled the president’s decree, explicitly recognizing the existence of a right to peace. This means the State must not only promote peace, but must refrain from authorizing war-related activities, like the production, export or import of items intended to be used in a war.
So this meant that companies like Raytheon, which had purchased land here and intended to set up shop, is now not operational.
What are some of the other lawsuits you’ve filed?
Oh, many of them. I filed a case against President Oscar Arias (the Nobel Peace prize winner) for authorizing the police to use military weapons against demonstrators. This case also went all the way to the Supreme Court and won.
I sued the government for signing the Central America Free Trade Agreement, CAFTA, which includes weapons forbidden in Costa Rica. I sued the government twice for allowing the U.S. military, under the pretext of the war on drugs, to play war games on our sovereign land as if they were a game of chess. Our government gives 6-month permits for up to 46 military vessels to dock in our ports, with over 12,000 troops and equipped with180 Blackhawk helicopters, 10 Harrier II airfighters, machine guns and rockets. Everything on the approved list of ships, aircraft, helicopters and troops is designed and intended to be used in a war—a clear violation of our Right to Peace. But the court has not heard this case.
A big problem for me is that now the Supreme Court is not taking any more of my cases. I have filed 10 cases with the Supreme Court that got rejected; I have filed suits against Costa Rican police training at the infamous US military School of the Americas. This case has been pending for over 2 years. When the Court finds it difficult to reject one of my cases, they delay and delay. So I have to file suit against the court for delaying, and then they reject both cases.
I realize that I can’t use my name to file anymore, or even my writing style because they know my writing.
At an international gathering in Brussels in April marking the 11th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, you came up with another brilliant idea. Can you tell us about it?
I was in town for another meeting of international lawyers, but the Iraq Commission organizers found out and asked me to speak. There was a brainstorming meeting afterwards and people were bemoaning the fact that the US does not follow international law, that it isn’t party to the International Criminal Court, that it will not hear cases related to reparations for Iraqis.
I said, “If I may, the Coalition of the Willing that invaded Iraq was not just the United States. There were 48 countries. If the US is not going to compensate Iraqis, why don’t we sue the other members of the coalition?”
If you were able to win a case on behalf of an Iraqi victim in the Costa Rican courts, what level of compensation do you think you could win? And then wouldn’t there be another case and another case?
I could imagine winning perhaps a few hundred thousand dollars. Perhaps if we could win one case in Costa Rica, we could start the lawsuits in other countries. I certainly don’t want to bankrupt Costa Rica with case after case. But we have to look at how to seek justice for Iraqis, and how to prevent this sort of coalition from forming again. It’s worth a try.
Do you think there is something that we could be doing in court to challenge drone killings?
Certainly. I think the people pressing the kill button should be held personally responsible for criminal acts because the drone is an extension of their body, used to perform actions they cannot do personally.
There is also the fact that if an innocent person gets killed or hurt by a US drone in Afghanistan, the family is entitled to compensation from the US military. But that same family in Pakistan would not be compensated because the killing is done by the CIA. Can you see some legal challenge there?
Victims of the same unlawful act should get the same treatment; I would think there would be a way to hold the government liable, but I don’t know enough about US law.
Have you had personal repercussions for taking on such sensitive issues?
I have friends in the phone company who told me I was being tapped. But I don’t really care. What can they do if I talk on the phone about filing a suit?
Yes, you have to take risks, but you can’t be afraid of the consequences. The worst thing that can happen is that you get shot. (He laughs.)
Why don’t more lawyers around the world challenge their governments in the creative ways you do?
Lack of imagination perhaps? I don’t know.
I am surprised that so many good lawyers oftentimes just don’t see the obvious. I encourage students to be creative, to use international law domestically. It’s weird because nothing I’ve done has been extraordinary. These are not really great ideas. They are just a bit different, and instead of just talking about them, I move them forward.
I also encourage students to study a second profession so they start thinking differently. I studied computer engineering as my second major; it taught me to be ordered and structured in my thinking.
I would have guessed that if you had a second major, it would have been something like political science or sociology.
No. As a computer programmer you have to be totally focused--structured, ordered and deep. That is very helpful in the legal world. At law school students would hate to debate me. They’d try to move the discussion off track, to veer into a side issue, and I would always bring them right back to the core theme. That comes from my training as a computer engineer.
I suppose another consequence of your work for peace is that you don’t make much money.
Look at me [he laughs]. I’m 33 years old and I live with my parents. That’s how wealthy I am after 9 years of practice. I live simply. The only things I have are a car and three dogs.
I prefer to work by myself--no firm, no partners, no strings. I am a trial lawyer and make some money with individual clients, including labor unions. I make about $30,000 a year. I use it to live on, to try cases pro bono at the Inter-American Commission and to pay for international trips, like going to peace forums, world forums, disarmament conferences or the trip I made to Gaza. Sometimes I get assistance from the International Association of Democratic Lawyers.
I love my job because I do what I want to do; I take on the cases I am passionate about. I am fighting for my country and for my personal freedom. I don’t think of this work as a sacrifice but as a duty. If we want peace to be a fundamental right, then we have to institutionalize it—and protect it.
Medea Benjamin is cofounder of the peace group www.codepink.org and the human rights group www.globalexchange.org. She was in Costa Rica with retired Colonel Ann Wright at the invitation of the Friends Peace Center to speak about her book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.
By Michael Uhl
They haven't killed him yet.
Paulo Malhaes, the confessed Brazilian torturer whose death I recently reported on this site may not have been murdered after all. At least that’s what police investigating the case have been loudly proclaiming for the past week.
By Michael Uhl
At approximately four o’clock this past Thursday afternoon, Paulo Malhaes, a retired officer who served in the ‘70s during the years of Brazil’s military dictatorship, was murdered at his small farm outside of Rio de Janeiro.
By Michael Uhl
“The Face of Evil,” flashed the eye catching headline in Brazil’s major daily on a morning late this March, and the accompanying photo of Army lieutenant-colonel Paulo Malhaes, retired, could not have portrayed a more convincing ogre had it been photo shopped by central casting. Malhaes, a self-described torturer and murderer operated in the early 1970′s, the most repressive period in Brazil’s harsh era of prolonged military rule,
By Michael Uhl
Humanity Versus a Corrupt State:
Coups and Cash Machines in Rio de Janeiro
By John Grant
By Alfredo Lopez
For two years, starting in 2010, the United States Agency for International Development ran a social networking service -- similar to Twitter -- for the Cuban people. Its long-term objective was to forment popular revolt against the government and de-stabilize the country.
By John Grant
Making political sense out of the events in Ukraine and Crimea has become great sport. Does it mean a new Cold War? Is Vladimir Putin a better, more “potent” man than Barack Obama? Who has bigger balls?
Not funny, but it’s still hard not to laugh: How Can the US Accuse Russia of Violating International Law?
By Dave Lindorff
If you want to make moral or legal pronouncements, or to condemn bad behavior, you have to be a moral, law-abiding person yourself. It is laughable when we see someone like Rush Limbaugh criticizing drug addicts or a corrupt politician like former Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) voting for more prisons, more cops, and tougher rules against appeals of sentences.
The same thing goes for nations.
By Bud Alcock
Panchimalco, El Salvador-- Thirty years ago, on a miserably hot and humid July day in 1983, I went to Washington DC with my wife and two-year-old son in his stroller. We were there with tens of thousands to protest US involvement in civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Last month, I became re-acquainted with the political struggle of El Salvador as a member of an international delegation to observe the first round of their presidential election on February 2nd.
Proclamation of Latin America and Caribbean as a zone of peace
(Original signed by the Heads of State and Governmenent of the Community of Latin American and Caribbeans States)
The Heads of State and Government of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) gathered in Havana, Cuba on January 28 and 29, 2014 at the Second Summit, on behalf of their peoples and faithfully interpreting their hopes and aspirations,
Reaffirming the commitment of member countries with the Purposes and Principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter and International Law, and aware of the fact that prosperity and stability in the region contribute to international peace and security,
Mindful that peace is a supreme asset and a legitimate aspiration of all peoples and that preserving peace is a substantial element of Latin America and Caribbean integration and a principle and common value of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC),
Reaffirming that integration consolidates the vision of a fair International order based on the right to peace and a culture of peace, which excludes the use of force and non-legitimate means of defense, such as weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons in particular,
Highlighting the relevance of the Tlatelolco Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean establishing the first nuclear weapon free zone in a densely populated area, this being a contribution to peace and to regional and international security,
Reiterating the urgent need of General and Complete Nuclear Disarmament, as well as the commitment with the Strategic Agenda of the Organization for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL), adopted by the 33 Member States of the Organization in the General Conference held in Buenos Aires in August, 2013.
Recalling the principles of peace, democracy, development and freedom underlying the actions of countries members of SICA,
Recalling the decision of UNASUR Heads of State of consolidating South America as a Zone of Peace and Cooperation,
Recalling the establishment, in 1986, of the Zone of Peace and Cooperation of the South Atlantic,
Recalling also our commitment, agreed in the Declaration of the Summit of Unity of Latin America and the Caribbean, on 23 February 2010, to promote the implementation of our own mechanisms for the for peaceful conflict resolution,
Reiterating our commitment to consolidate Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, in which differences between nations are peacefully settled through dialogue and negotiations or other means, fully consistent with International Law,
Cognizant also of the catastrophic global and long-term humanitarian impact of the use of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, and the ongoing discussions on this issue,
1. Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace based on respect for the principles and rules of International Law, including the international instruments to which Member States are a party to, the Principles and Purposes of the United Nations Charter;
2. Our permanent commitment to solve disputes through peaceful means with the aim of uprooting forever threat or use of force in our region;
3. The commitment of the States of the region with their strict obligation not to intervene, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of any other State and observe the principles of national sovereignty, equal rights and self-determination of peoples;
4. The commitment of the peoples of Latin American and Caribbean to foster cooperation and friendly relations among themselves and with other nations irrespective of differences in their political, economic, and social systems or development levels; to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors;
5. The commitment of the Latin American and Caribbean States to fully respect for the inalienable right of every State to choose its political, economic, social, and cultural system, as an essential conditions to ensure peaceful coexistence among nations;
6. The promotion in the region of a culture of peace based, inter alia, on the principles of the United Nations Declaration on a Culture of Peace;
7. The commitment of the States in the region to guide themselves by this Declaration in their International behavior;
8. The commitment of the States of the region to continue promoting nuclear disarmament as a priority objective and to contribute with general and complete disarmament, to foster the strengthening of confidence among nations;
We urge all Member States of the International Community to fully respect this Declaration in their relations with CELAC Member States.
In witness of the undersigned having duly signed this Proclamation in Havana, on the 29th day of the month of January of 2014, in a copy written in the Spanish, English, French and Portuguese languages.
Looking for clues, not 'sacred' relics: NY Times admits Exhumation Proves Ex-Brazilian President Murdered
By Dave Lindorff
A few weeks ago, WhoWhatWhy ran a piece of mine criticizing a subtly deceptive article in the New York Times that made light of a wave of exhumations of popular leftist figures in Latin America. Quoting unnamed “scholars,” the paper’s Latin American correspondent Simon Romero suggested the forensic digs may be the secularized continuation of customs from the time of early Christianity, when a vibrant trade involved the body parts of saints.
That, in fact, is nonsense. The purportedly “natural”, “accidental”, or “suicide-related” deaths of such important left-leaning figures as Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda, Brazil’s President Joao Goulart and Chile’s President Salvador Allende all occurred during the rule of various rightist dictators.
The re-examination of evidence in these cases is based therefore on strong skepticism about the “official” narratives of their deaths. This skepticism, in turn, is based on a well-documented history of thousands of cases of political murder in the region.
Far from looking for relics to sell, investigators are looking for evidence that these deaths were actually assassinations, the work of fearful tyrants anxious to prevent the victims’ return to power. Now one result is in, and it’s explosive.
Truth Commission: Juscelino Kubitschek Assassinated
Investigators from Brazil’s Truth Commission, looking into the 1976 car crash of former leftist Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitschek and his limo driver, have discovered a bullet fragment lodged in the driver’s skull. This finding, the Commission ruled, along with other evidence, suggests that Kubitschek was murdered—most likely at the behest of the leaders of the CIA-backed military coup that also ousted his successor Joao Goulart.
A Pre-Conspiracy Theory: What If Our Premature Nobel Laureate President’s Having a ’63-Style Kennedy Moment?
By Dave Lindorff
I’m going to engage here in a thought experiment which may make some readers a little queasy, but bear with me.
It’s been half a century since the wrenching experience of having a charismatic young president cut down by bullets in what most Americans apparently still believe was a dark conspiracy by elements of the US government unhappy with the direction he was taking the country in international affairs.
By Dave Lindorff
Like an obnoxious drunk harassing everyone and spilling drinks at a party, the US has continued to make itself both loathed and laughed at in the wake of the revelations about the National Security Agency’s global spying program as revealed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
By Dave Lindorff
Ah, the rule of law. How often we hear our government leaders angrily demand that the rest of the world adhere to this sacred stricture, most recently as it demands that countries -- even countries with which the US has signed no extradition treaty like Russia or China -- honor the US charges leveled against National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and send him to the US for trial.
His 'Crime' is Patriotism, not Betrayal Like Hale's Philip Nolan, Snowden has Become a 'Man Without a Country'
By Dave Lindorff
In Edward Everett Hale's short story "The Man Without a Country," US Army Lt. Philip Nolan, following a court-martial, is exiled from his country, his citizenship snatched away, leaving him doomed to sail the seven seas confined to a Navy vessel, unable to make any country his home. His crime: being seduced by a treacherous leader to betray the US of A, the country of his birth.
By Dave Lindorff
It’s little wonder that despite his disclosure of an unprecedented KBG-like or Stasi-like spying program targeting all Americans, fully half of all Americans polled are saying that National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden is a “spy” or “traitor” who should be brought to justice.
Why would this be, when a solid majority also say they oppose the spying program?
This column imagines a simple switching of roles in the recent forced landing of Bolivian president Evo Morales's plane, orchestrated by the U.S. in an attempt to lay hands on whistleblower Edward Snowden. The connection described between the U.S. and deposed Bolivian president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, unfortunately, is historically accurate.
Vienna, July 2 ~
In Obamaland, ‘Rule of Law’ is for the Other Suckers: US (and French) Courts Have Ruled Head-of-State Immunity is Absolute
By Dave Lindorff
It is clear that the entrapment and forced landing in Austria of the official airplane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was the work of the US, which was obviously behind the decision by France and Portugal to deny air rights to the flight, and which also was obviously behind the Austrian government’s demand to be allowed to search the jet after it landed. After all, those countries have no interest themselves in capturing US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, who is only Obama’s and the NSA’s quarry.
Biden/Obama full-court press on Snowden is a bad joke: The Real Traitors to America are in Washington and New York
By Dave Lindorff
It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry as the US goes all out to get its hands on National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
By Dave Lindorff
The spectacle of the US threatening Hong Kong, China, Russia and now little Ecuador with all manner of reprisals if they don’t respect the “rule of law” and hand over whistleblower Edward Snowden to the US, is delicious to watch.
By Linn Washington, Jr.
Federal authorities publicly plot encouraging bounty hunters to kidnap a fugitive black radical from a foreign country for return to prison in the U.S. to achieve long-delayed justice.
This sounds like the FBI action on May 2, 2013 in placing former Black Panther and Black Liberation Army member Assata Shakur on its “Most Wanted Terrorists” list – the first female to have that dubious distinction.
By John Grant
I saw the masked men
throwing truth into a well.
When I began to weep for it
I found it everywhere.
- Claudia Lars (El Salvador)
By Dave Lindorff
An article by TCBH! journalist Dave Lindorff in the May issue of American Banker magazine details how the mission of microlending has gotten off track, and why helping impoverished women is getting harder to do.
Tom Loudon is the co-director of the Friendship Office of the Americas and former executive secretary of the Commission of Truth in Honduras. He says that following the 2009 coup Honduras has spiraled into becoming the most dangerous country on earth, with much of the violence funded by the U.S. State Department, and with that Department clearly being less than forthcoming with the U.S. Congress or the public.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Embed on your own site with this code:
<object autostart="false" data="http://davidswanson.org/sites/davidswanson.org/files/talknationradio/talknationradio_20130417.mp3" height="100px" width="400px"></object>
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at http://davidswanson.org/talknationradio
By Helen Jaccard and David Swanson, http://warisacrime.org/vieques
Ten years ago May 1, the people of Vieques, Puerto Rico and their supporters from around the world defeated the most powerful military machine ever, through mass civil disobedience and without firing a single shot. On May 1, 2003 the bombing stopped and the bases were officially closed. People from all over the world supported the struggle on Vieques, and the activists and residents have an incredible victory to celebrate.
There were decades of resistance, civil disobedience and arrests. But those hoping and laying the groundwork for greater resistance were given an opportunity on April 19, 1999, when a U.S. Marines pilot missed his target and killed civilian security guard David Sanes Rodriguez. That spark lit a fire of nonviolent resistance that brought together Viequenses, Puerto Ricans, and supporters from the United States and around the world. A campaign of non-violent civil resistance that began in 1999 lasted four years, including a year-long occupation of the bombing range, and saw over 1,500 people arrested. The Navy was forced to close the bombing range on May 1, 2003. Peace loving people had won most of the first of their demands for the island: demilitarization.
A huge commemoration is planned in Vieques for the anniversary from May 1 – 4, 2013.
Beautiful Vieques island is only 21 miles across and 5 miles wide, and 7 miles from the main island of Puerto Rico. It is home to about 9,300 people, as well as endangered turtle species, rare Caribbean plants and animals, bio-luminescent bays, and miles of what look like unspoiled beaches.
But crabs with three claws, grossly deformed fish laden with heavy metals, once-beautiful coral reefs, and beaches and seas that have been decimated by military activity tell a story of environmental disaster with huge health impacts on people, plants, and animals.
An incredible three-quarters of the island was appropriated in the 1940s and used by the U.S. Navy for bombing practice, war games, and dumping or burning old munitions. This was a terrible attack on an island municipality, one the United States was not at war with.
Now, Vieques Island, a paradise in trouble, is one of the largest superfund sites in the United States, together with its little sister island of Culebra, which took the brunt of the bombing until 1973, when the Culebra bombing range closed (also due to protests) and the bombing practice was transferred to Vieques.
In 2003, the Navy did not return the land to the people, but transferred its Vieques land to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates beaches that were never used for military activities.
Viequenses fear that keeping the U.S. Government in control of their lands could result in future re-militarization of the island. Residents aren't happy that their land has not been returned to them and that they are fined for staying on their land past sunset or collecting crabs -- a mainstay of their historic diet. There are also two military occupations of lands -- a ROTHR radar system and a communications area, and the people want these closed as well. You can add your name to Viequenses' demand for peace here.
For over 2,000 years people known as Taino inhabited Vieques, which they called Bieque. The Taino found and left behind them a paradise of fertile soil, fresh water, and trees. In 1493, the conquistadors arrived. In 1524, the Spanish killed every remaining resident. Vieques was then left uninhabited by humanity for 300 years, interrupted by a few British, French, and Spanish attempts to set up forts or destroy each other's efforts.
From 1823 into the 1900s, Vieques was used by the Spanish and French to grow sugar. English-speaking people of African origin, from nearby islands, were kept in slavery or the nearest thing to it, and forced to grow the sugar cane. They revolted in 1864 and 1874, and in the 1915 Sugar Strike. The United States took Puerto Rico from the Spanish in 1898 and made residents U.S. citizens in 1917. The depression of the 1930s, together with two hurricanes in 1932, brought on harder times than ever.
In 1939 the United States bought 26,000 of the 30,000 acres of land on Vieques from big sugar plantation owners. Living on that land were 10,000 to 12,000 workers who also raised crops to feed themselves. The U.S. Navy gave families $30 and one day's notice before bulldozing houses. Most people were left without means of subsistence, but many stubbornly refused to leave the island.
Carlos Prieta Ventura, a 51-year-old Viequense fisherman, says his father was 8-years-old in 1941 when the Navy told his family their house would be bulldozed whether or not they accepted the $30. Ventura says he has always resisted the Navy's efforts to force people off the island.
From 1941 to 2003, the U.S. military flew planes from aircraft carriers based on the main island of Puerto Rico dropping bombs over Vieques. Bombs "rained down," and you could feel the ground shake within the base, as one U.S. veteran told CNN. Bombs fell at all hours, all day, all week, all year, amounting to approximately a trillion tons of ordnance, much of which (some 100,000 items) lies unexploded on land and in the sea. Vieques was systematically poisoned by heavy metals, napalm, Agent Orange, depleted uranium, and who knows what all else that the Navy has not announced publicly -- having falsely denied using depleted uranium before finally admitting to it, and having dumped barrels of unknown toxic substances into the clear blue Caribbean.
The arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, and aluminum in the bombs are also found in hair samples of 80% of the people living on Vieques, who suffer at far higher rates than on the main island (and possibly anywhere else on earth) from cancer (30% higher than Puerto Rico), cirrhosis of the liver, kidney failure, hypertension (381%), diabetes (41%), birth defects, stillbirths, and miscarriages.
The impact of the U.S. occupation that began in 1941 was felt far more swiftly than cancer. According to Ventura, some 15,000 troops were routinely set loose on Vieques looking for booze and women. Women were dragged out of their homes and gang raped. A boy was killed by gang rape. Ventura says people had only a machete and a hole in the wall by the door where they could try to stab the Marines who would come to take women. A dozen people were killed over the years directly by the U.S. weapons testing. And the Navy banned fishermen from various areas, advising them to try food stamps instead. Fishermen attempted civil resistance actions, and many were arrested during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.
Lydia Ortiz, a Viequense who grew up in the small town of Esperanza, recalls the bombing: "A lot of houses had their roofs falling in and everything as a result of the vibrations from the bombs for many years. It was pretty nerve wracking because you never knew what was going to crash down in your house. We lived quite close to where the bombing was happening. When I was a child they were dropping bombs near me. In the school, you could hear the bombing. You couldn't even hear the teacher because of the noise. People were afraid to go anywhere near the base or the beach so it was very difficult for many years. It seems like just yesterday or only 5 or 6 years ago that the bombing stopped, even though it is really almost 10 years ago."
A celebration of the 10-year anniversary is indeed in order. We must remember victories as they have remarkable power to motivate others around the world.
But the Navy's presence and the environmental disaster it created continue to afflict Vieques today. The U.S. government has not cleaned up the poisons and bombs and continues to use practices that further endanger the people. There is no bomb explosion chamber on the island. The United States has disposed of what unexploded bombs it has disposed of by blowing them up, further spreading the contaminants that are killing the people of the island.
There is also no hospital on the island, few ferries to the island, few and overpriced airplanes, a handful of taxis and public vans, and very limited tourist facilities. There is no college or university, and very few jobs of any kind. Business licenses are issued in San Juan and require bribes. Viequenses' families are ravaged by cancer, but also by illiteracy, unemployment, violent crime, and teen pregnancy. All of the water -- like all electricity -- comes in a pipe from the main island. Two of the residents said that the one resort on Vieques sometimes uses all the water. Seven thousand Viequenses sued the U.S. government over their health problems, but the U.S. Supreme court refused to hear the case.
With very little land available for farming, Vieques, like all of Puerto Rico, imports almost all of its food. Some people have become so desperate that they gather old munitions to sell for a little money to someone who will melt the metal for aluminum cans. But heavy metals and depleted uranium endanger the metal gatherers and whoever later drinks from the cans.
Presidential candidate Obama wrote to the Governor of Puerto Rico in 2008: "We will closely monitor the health of the people of Vieques and promote appropriate remedies to health conditions caused by military activities conducted by the U.S. Navy on Vieques." But that promise remains unfulfilled.
Robert Rabin Siegal of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques writes in a letter to President Barack Obama,
"Although I cannot claim the Navy and military toxics caused my cancer, you don't have to be a quantum physicist to understand how decades of exposure to heavy metals in the food chain, air, water and land, combined with the socio-economic pressures from the loss of two thirds of the island’s lands, would clearly contribute to high cancer rates. The Navy dropped radioactive uranium projectiles here, we believe, in large quantities, in preparation for military actions in the Balkans and the Middle East. The list of dangerous chemical components from munitions dropped on Vieques is extensive, as is the number of illnesses they cause.
"Mr. President: you received the Nobel Peace Prize; we demand peace for Vieques. An island and people used to protect U.S. interests since WWII, forced to sacrifice its land, economic prosperity, tranquility and health, deserves at least the hope of peace for this and future generations."
". . . A handful of powerful US based corporations have pocketed most of the more than 200 million dollars spent on clean-up over the past decade. We urge you to order technology transference to promote the creation of Puerto Rican and Viequense companies to carry out the clean-up of Vieques, thereby transforming that process into part of the economic reconstruction of the island as well as assuring community confidence in this crucial element in the healing of Vieques."
People anywhere in the world can take one minute to sign a petition to the Pentagon, Congress, and the White House in support of justice, at long last, for Vieques:
"I join the people of Vieques in demanding:
"Health Care -- Provide a modern hospital with cancer treatment facilities, early screening and timely treatment for all diseases. Create a research facility to determine the relationship between military toxins and health. Provide just compensation to people suffering poor health as a result of the Navy's activities.
"Cleanup -- Fund a complete, rapid cleanup of the land and surrounding waters, still littered by thousands of bombs, grenades, napalm, Agent Orange, depleted uranium and other explosives left by the Navy. Cease the ongoing open detonation of unexploded ordnance. Guarantee community participation in the cleanup; train Viequenses as managers, administrators, and scientists, and foster Viequense companies to do the work.
"Sustainable Development -- Support the Master Plan for Sustainable Development of Vieques which promotes agriculture, fishing, eco-tourism, small guest houses, housing, collective transportation, archaeology, and historic and environmental research, among other things.
"Demilitarization and Return of the Land -- Close the remaining military installations still occupying 200 acres of Vieques. Return to the people of Vieques all land still under the control of the U.S. Navy and the federal government."
For extensive documentation, see the attachments below and others at this link.
Helen Jaccard is Chair of the Veterans For Peace -- Environmental Cost of War and Militarism Working Group. She spent October, 2012 in Vieques doing research about the environmental and health effects of the military activities. Her previous article about Sardinia, Italy can be found at http://www.warisacrime.org/sardinia .