artículo sobre tóxicos militares en Vieques
Bombs Away, Vieques Unearths Toxic Navy Trash
Inter Press Service News Agency
Now that the U.S. Navy is gone, residents of the Puerto Rican island-
town of Vieques must deal with the daunting question of what to do
about the toxic mess caused by decades of military activity. Weapons
tested in the firing range included highly polluting depleted uranium
SAN JUAN, Dec 30 (IPS) - Now that the U.S. Navy is gone, residents of
the Puerto Rican island-town of Vieques face pressing environmental
In the last four years the island's 10,000 residents, together with
Puerto Ricans from the main island and peace activists from around
the world, carried out a relentless civil disobedience campaign
against the Navy, which for decades used the island as a munitions
depot and firing range.
The military left officially May 1. But now Vieques must deal with
the daunting question of what to do about the toxic mess caused by
decades of military activity. Weapons tested in the firing range
included highly polluting depleted uranium ammunition.
Most of the former military lands -- which include about 80 percent
of the island -- are now the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge,
administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
Measuring 7,527 ha (of the island's total 13,355 ha), it is the
largest wilderness refuge in all of Puerto Rico, which is a
commonwealth of the United States whose residents have U.S.
Many who opposed the Navy presence find it particularly galling that
the lands they struggled for have been transferred to another U.S.
government agency, instead of being returned to the people of
Vieques. Local fishermen complain that FWS will not allow them to
fish in the refuge, because of the danger posed by unexploded
"This is the same agency that stood by while the Navy bombed the
flora, fauna and wilderness, without raising a finger in protest, and
now they're fining people for fishing crabs. This is insulting and
completely unacceptable," declared Robert Rabin, spokesperson of the
Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques.
But Vieques FWS employees interviewed by IPS, most of whom are Puerto
Ricans, stressed that they are committed to protecting the natural
resources of the lands they administer.
Refuge Manager Oscar Díaz said he does not want to see the lands
destroyed by the uncontrolled construction of beachside mansions and
tourist resorts now occurring on the main island.
"This refuge has a dry forest. That's a treasure that must be
preserved because 94 percent of all dry forest in Puerto Rico has
been destroyed," added Díaz.
In what many observers consider a bizarre twist, this wilderness
refuge is simultaneously a toxic disaster area. Earlier this month
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended that the
lands and marine areas polluted by the Navy be declared a Superfund
Superfund is a U.S. government programme for the identification and
cleanup of areas contaminated with hazardous waste. Once an area is
declared a Superfund site, the polluting party -- in this case the
Navy -- is obligated to pay for its decontamination and restoration.
Puerto Rico has a dozen Superfund sites.
After the EPA recommends that an area be designated for the
Superfund, the agency solicits comments and input from the public,
the polluting party and other government bodies before making its
Although many who took part in the Vieques struggle consider the
Superfund designation a great victory, University of Puerto Rico
biology professor Arturo Massol warns that the process is a
bureaucratic litany and that 20 years can pass before any cleanup
"Superfund status is no guarantee that the cleanup will be done
thoroughly and efficiently," says Massol, who directed the only on-
site studies of military pollution in Vieques to be published in peer-
reviewed scientific literature.
"Most of the money will spend years stuck in litigation or slowed
down by administrative matters," he added.
Massol said that if the history of Superfund in Puerto Rico is any
guide, then not much can be expected from the Vieques recommendation.
According to the professor, a Superfund site was designated in the
abandoned Sabana Seca Navy base in the town of Toa Baja. In response,
a parking lot was built over the toxic wastes, and then the EPA
declared the problem solved and removed the site from the Superfund
The idea that the former Navy lands should be returned to the people
of Puerto Rico also has allies in the U.S. Congress. Congressman
Joseph Crowley, who visited Vieques last month, told IPS that
transferring the lands from the Department of Defence to the
Department of the Interior is not adequate.
"I think the lands should be transferred to the government of Puerto
Rico. Only that will assure the people that these lands will never
again be used for military purposes," said Crowley, who added that if
Congress could assign billions of dollars to the reconstruction of
Iraq, then the decontamination of Vieques is no less than a moral