Vieques and the Cancer of Imperialism

From 1941 to 2003, the US Navy used the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a staging ground for many of its exercises. In the island of Vieques, depleted uranium was used; the same depleted uranium that was used by US forces in Fallujah, Iraq. Cancer rates in Vieques are almost a third higher than on mainland Puerto Rico. Though the US continuously denies that the use of depleted uranium contributed to miscarriages, deformities, and early death in the population of Fallujah, the Environmental Protection Agency's own studies in Vieques prove the dangers of uninhibited use of munitions; "There is no more dangerous place to be young in Puerto Rico." In 2008, the vast majority of emergency room visits in Vieques were for respiratory problems.
Today, much of Vieques is contaminated in a manner not to dissimilar to large swaths of Iraq. Though the US navy fired only a few hundred rounds of depleted uranium in Vieques, unexploded DU litters the island, and a laundry list of other compounds and elements were also dropped: arsenic, lead, mercury, and even napalm were among the many contaminants. Although the FBI -- our once domestic agency -- currently operates in Somalia and Lybia, the EPA would never conduct a study in Iraq or Vietnam. Without an EPA study to prove the dangers of wanton firing of munitions, the US always has plausible deniability as to the real damage that it does over a period of time. Though the EPA found high rates of contamination, the Center for Disease Control found: "No link between the islanders’ illnesses and the Navy’s activities on the island. That report, however was very controversial, and strongly criticized by many scientists."

In Vieques, we are confronted long term with the real destruction that our munitions cause to civilian populations; not only the living generation, but also the unborn. War is a nasty business, and in Vieques the concentration of cadmium in crabs (a local food source) is 1,000 times higher than recommended by the World Health Organization. The island was a crucial site for Project 112: "Project 112, a top-secret Cold War U.S. military program conducted between 1962 and 1973 that involved experiments with chemical and biological weapons...  [the military] sprayed trioctyl phosphate, a chemical compound known to cause cancer in animals, as a simulant for nerve agents."

Now, many loyal Americans would say that in the name of national security, we have to sacrifice small parts of our expansive territory, that a few square miles of land need to be subjected to chemical and nerve agents. And perhaps that is true, but Vieques is part of Puerto Rico, not of the mainland United States. It is not a state, but a commonwealth -- a colony by a better name, essentially.

The island of Okinawa in Japan is still getting the Vieques treatment, so it only makes sense that the local population does not want US bases on its territory. The island of Okinawa was also a victim of Project 112. Our media generally portrays those who do not want live artillery in their territory as being members of the "fringe," but in reality they are sensible in recognizing the long-term health effects of war. 75% of the residents of Vieques are named as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the US government, which conveniently enjoys "sovereign immunity." 1,000 years from now, our descendants will look back in awe at our willingness to contaminate not only ourselves, but also those who become our subjects through the use of military force.