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#1906: This Week in Haiti 17:44 1/19/00 (fwd)
"This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI PROGRES
newsweekly. For information on other news in French and Creole,
please contact the paper at (tel) 718-434-8100, (fax)
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"Le journal qui offre une alternative"
* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
January 19-25, 2000
Vol. 17, No. 44
WILL THE VIEQUES BOMBING RANGE RELOCATE TO HAITI?
The island of Vieques, about eight miles from San Juan, Puerto
Rico, has all the ingredients of the perfect Caribbean tourist
paradise: picturesque villages, white sand beaches, swaying palm
trees, and warm seas of azure blue.
But for the past 60 years, the citizens and wildlife of this
paradise have been under attack from U.S. bombs and bullets. The
U.S. Navy occupies 75% of Vieques's 33,000 acres, which it uses
to practice aerial and naval bombings, amphibious invasions, and
other acts of war.
Last April 19, a stray bomb from a practicing U.S. warplane
killed David Sanes, a civilian. Since then, the people of Puerto
Rico have united like a single fist to demand the immediate and
permanent departure of the U.S. military from the island. Massive
demonstrations forced Washington to announce on Dec. 3 that it
was suspending all military activity on Vieques. But Clinton is
threatening to resume war exercises with inert bombs in March.
That will be very difficult, however, because progressive Puerto
Rican organizations have occupied the Navy's 28,000 acre
"restricted areas" with 13 different protest encampments and vow
that they will not be moved.
Now the U.S. government is looking to move its Vieques bombing
ranges to Haiti or Nicaragua, according to Miriam Ramirez de
Ferrer, a right-wing Senatorial candidate of the New Progressive
Party (PNP), who is very close to Congressional Republicans in
"I know that they are negotiating with Haiti and with Nicaragua
to move these military operations there and this is very reliable
information given to me by a source I cannot identify," she told
El Nuevo Dia, the largest Puerto Rican daily, in its Jan. 9
She added that "possibly these exercises are being received very
well by these countries."
However, Edmond Frédérique, a Haitian unionist who lives and
works in Puerto Rico, reports that the government of Nicaragua
has already rejected the possibility of receiving the Vieques
range, but the same cannot be said of Haiti. "The Nicaraguan
government made a declaration saying that the constitution did
not allow it to establish a foreign base in Nicaragua,"
Frédérique said. "But the Haitian ambassador to Washington said
he didn't know about it. He remained mute. He didn't say
anything. The Haitian consul here never responded to the press
which called him. This created confusion. With a rumor like this,
the Haitian government should issue a press statement to say
whether or not what the woman said is true."
Haïti Progrès succeeded in speaking to Jean Rameau York, the
Haitian Consul in Puerto Rico. "I did my duty," Mr. York
declared. "I contacted my embassy [in Washington]. I contacted
who I had to contact in Haiti. I sent them all the articles, and
I told them what people here were saying. If they have a
directive to give me, I am waiting for it... In the meantime, for
all those newspapers [asking for an official response], I refer
them to the government in Port-au-Prince."
But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Haiti claimed to know
nothing about the matter. The secretary who answered the phone at
the foreign minister's secretariat claimed that they had received
no information from the Consulate in Puerto Rico. Even after
Haïti Progrès faxed a copy of the article from El Nuevo Dia to
the Foreign Ministry, neither Foreign Minister Fritz Longchamp
nor his chief of staff came to the phone or returned Haïti
Progrès' phone calls.
The experience was repeated with Harold Joseph, the Haitian
Ambassador in Washington. His secretary also claimed that the
Embassy knew nothing of the matter. M. Joseph too was faxed a
copy of the El Nuevo Dia story but did not come to the phone or
Meanwhile, spokesmen from both the White House and U.S. National
Security Council had heard the reports of negotiations for a
possible base relocation but could neither confirm or deny their
validity. Navy spokesman Lt. Commander Herman Phillips was almost
as mum but did offer that the "Center for Naval Analyses is
conducting a six-month study into alternate sites and methods of
the training. I am sure they are looking at a wide range of
things, and the study is on-going." Personnel at the Center for
Naval Analyses, an independent contractor based in Arlington,
Virginia, would not comment on the content or status of their
Mr. Frédérique said that he and many Puerto Rican organizations
are disappointed by the lack of a clear and rapid denial of Mme.
de Ferrer's assertions from the Haitian government. "This thing
has created a sort of disarray in the progressive community here,
because there were many organizations here which supported the
Lavalas," Frédérique explained. "Everybody comes to me and says:
Listen, [President] René Préval was the prime minister of
Aristide. How can something like this happen? Just like the U.S.
military intervention in 1994, this thing has hurt the morale of
Frédérique questioned whether the Haitian government was
practicing "an ostrich policy." In any case, he warned the
Haitian government that "it better take a good look at what is
going on in Puerto Rico before they go and sell the country to a
foreign power to make a base for something like that... If they
put something like Vieques in Haiti, it will be fifteen times
worse than the problem of the toxic wastes which were dumped in
Gonaïves [in 1988]."
A few statistics vouch for the justice of his warnings. Vieques,
with about 8,000 people, accounts for 46% of all the cancer cases
in Puerto Rico, with a population of 3.9 million. There is a very
high concentration of contaminants like TNT, NO3, NO2, RDX and
Tetryl in the sources of drinking water for towns on Vieques.
There is a very high rate of asthma among children on the island
and of several rare diseases like Scleroderma, lupus, and thyroid
Furthermore, military operations have destroyed mangroves,
lagoons, beaches, coconut groves and other natural resources. In
fact the eastern end of the island, where most of the bombing is
done, has more craters per kilometer than the moon.
The waters around the island, once teeming fishing-grounds, are
now almost devoid of fish. In addition to napalm and other
poisonous bombs, the Navy now admits to using shell casings made
of depleted uranium (DU), an armor-piercing radioactive metal.
For instance, on Feb. 19, 1999, the Navy fired 263 of these
shells. According to an article by Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo for
the Hispanic Link News Service, a particle of DU that is one-
quarter the diameter of a human hair -- small enough to enter the
lungs -- emits 800 times the amount of radiation that can be
tolerated during an entire year. Each of the 25mm shells fired by
the Navy over Vieques contained a third of a pound of depleted
uranium. Thus almost 90 pounds of the material were detonated.
"They fired enough to poison every man, women and child on the
island 420 times over," said Tara Thornton of the Military Toxic
Project, a public advocate agency.
The rape of Vieques by the U.S. military has enraged the Puerto
Rican people, who are already chafing under a century of U.S.
colonial rule. On Jan. 16, thousands marched on the island to
show solidarity with the encampments and to demand that the Navy
leave Vieques and take with it all the debris, garbage, and
undetonated bombs it has left there. Although the U.S. is hoping
to carry on "negotiations" to remain in Vieques, the movement has
reached such a pitch that even Puerto Rico's pro-annexation
Governor Pedro Rosselló has rejected the Clinton administration's
proposal of continuing to use the island for military exercises.
In another example of the movement's breadth, popular singer
Ricky Martin declared "Vieques, I am with you" when he accepted
the 1999 Billboard Music Award for "Male Artist of the Year" on
Is the Haitian government seriously considering an offer from
Washington, which surely would come with a handsome bribe? "A
country like Haiti might be tempted to accept the establishment
of such a training ground because the U.S. government would offer
to pay it a lot of money," said Col. Dan Smith of the Center for
Defense Information, an independent military research
organization based in Washington, DC.
Ironically, the week that this controversy has flared is the last
week that U.S. troops will be permanently based at Camp Fairwinds
at the Port-au-Prince airport. The base is scheduled to close on
Friday, Jan. 21. This doesn't mean, however, that U.S. troops are
leaving Haiti yet. About 200 U.S. soldiers are now being deployed
in the northern city of Cap Haïtien as part of the Pentagon's
"new configuration" in Haiti (see Haïti Progrès, Vol. 17, No. 24,
9/1/99). Under Operation "New Horizons," U.S. troops will be
constantly rotated throughout different regions of the country,
creating a less visible but more widely spread presence. The
Pentagon also believes this will create a better "training
experience" for the soldiers.
The reluctance of the Haitian government to show U.S. troops the
door suggests that they might also accept the Navy's alleged
request for a training ground. The absence of any denial by the
government is certainly some cause for alarm. Nonetheless, it is
unlikely that the Haitian people would ever allow such an affront
to their sovereignty and such a danger to their health and
ecology. Just like the millions of Puerto Ricans now demanding
that the U.S. Navy get out of their island, the Haitian people
would undoubtedly rise up against the prospect of any part of
their territory being ceded for a new Vieques.
All articles copyrighted Haiti Progres, Inc. REPRINTS ENCOURAGED.
Please credit Haiti Progres.