Visit to a Small Island

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by Elliot Blass (posted 1/22/00)

I have just returned from a week long visit to a tropical island, the possession of a great power. What I observed and learned was frankly astonishing. Here I report, leaving out the names of the places involved so that you can consider objectively - the behavior of the great power.

Some citizens of this great power live defenseless and without resources on a small island. In 1941 the mighty nation purchased about 70% of the island from landowners, leaving the middle portion flanked by the purchased land. Included in this purchase was a city and the homes of one half of the island's rural population.

Shortly after completion of the sale, the nine thousand families living on the purchased land were told that they had 24 hours in which to gather their possessions because they were going to be evicted from their homes and deported to the mainland of their country or to another country altogether. Navy trucks came, the homes were bulldozed in front of the owners and the deportation completed.

Since then, the mighty nation has used the evacuated area as a bombing range to prepare some of their naval fleets for war in distant places. This activity has featured standard military preparation such as bombing practice and improving target location. Some bombs have missed their designated targets. These incidents of 'friendly fire' have taken lives and destroyed property. The armed forces of the mighty nation have not confined their activities to practice with conventional weapons.

They have also used the little island to develop military exotica such as CHAFF, a highly toxic aerosol of fiberglass-coated aluminum particles that is supposed to confuse enemy radar systems. That CHAFF was sprayed upwind from the island's remaining population centers was not of military concern. Neither was the use of the infamous white phosphorus incendiary and smoke bombs. These too were dropped upwind of the civilian population.

These substances are far more toxic and damaging than the NAPALM which the mighty nation also uses in this target range. It has also tested bombs with 'depleted uranium', some of which remain unexploded in quantities sufficient to kill the island's citizens three or four hundred times over. Moreover, the mighty nation sells 'bombing time' to its allies so that they can better develop their own weapons. The inhabitants of the island have not been consulted about these invitations.

There have been additional untoward consequences for the residents of the small island. The cancer rate is 27% above that of the mainland in their area. The water can not be drunk. In fact drinking water for the entire island must be imported from the mainland.

That portion of the island that has been used as a bombing range will likely not be used again for agriculture. The fishing tradition of 250 years has been decimated because of the destruction of hundreds of acres of coral reef and the inability to fish for 70% of the year when the bombing range is being used. Tourism has never developed its potential. Would you visit an island that is used for target practice?

The citizens of the island have united in protest,[in answer] to which the President of the mighty nation stopped the bombing runs. They will resume in April. He recommended a five year transition period during which the Navy would continue bombing, but would use shells that would not explode. He did not comment, however, on stopping experimental weapons, such as CHAFF. The recommended stoppage is small solace to the citizens of this small island, who have witnessed the effects of 'missed' bombs. The proposed fiscal remuneration is a pittance relative to the financial hardships that have been suffered. The Secretary of Defense said that the mighty nation would fund a study to review the health concerns of the small island. Nothing was mentioned about treatment. Anyway, it is only a recommendation. Previous Presidential recommendations have gone unheeded by the Navy. There is little reason to believe that this will be different.

The small island is called Vieques. It is part of Puerto Rico, a short ferry ride from the Puerto Rican mainland. The mighty nation, of course is the United States. No one disputes the facts as presented above. More information can be obtained at: www.vivavieques.org or www.viequeslivre.org . This is one outrage that we may be able to do something about. Write your Senator or Representative.

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Elliott M. Blass is Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and Behavior at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a Professor of Pediatrics at the Boston Medical Center, Boston University School of Medicine. His research focuses on alleviating pain in human newborn.

This report has been submitted to but as of tonight not published by the Boston Globe. Commenting on his report, Prof. Blass said:

  • "There have been so many terrible things that governments have done but what got me about this, what was simply amazing, was the selling of the bombing time. The cynicism of it."

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