The Poisoning of Puerto Rico

by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

Mississippi attorney John Arthur Eaves filed a lawsuit in 2007 against the US Government on behalf of more than 7,000 residents of the heavily polluted, Puerto Rican island of Vieques. From 1941 until 2003 the U.S. Navy operated a base here, conducting bombing runs and testing chemical weapons for use in foreign wars, from Vietnam to Yugoslavia to Iraq.

The three-quarters of Vieques’ population listed as plaintiffs in the suit blame the billions of tons of bombs dropped by the Navy on Vieques’ eastern half, and the toxic chemicals released into the water, air and soil during that period, for their physical and psychological illnesses. Viequenses today suffer 30-percent higher cancer rates than other Puerto Ricans, 381-percent higher rates of hypertension, 95-percent higher rates of cirrhosis of the liver and 41-percent higher rates of diabetes. Twenty-five percent more children die during infancy in Vieques than in the rest of Puerto Rico.

Before lawsuit can be heard, however, it must first be approved by the First Circuit Court in Boston after the suit was rejected on April 13, 2010 by federal judge Daniel R. Dominguez, who sits on the U.S. District Court in San Juan. Eaves will officially appeal the case to the First Circuit Court during the summer. But the U.S. Navy has invoked sovereign immunity, a strategy that comes from the monarchic period when kings were immune from being sued. Unless a federal judge in Boston rejects sovereign immunity, no scientific evidence will ever reach the courtroom. In February 2005, the EPA identified Vieques as a Superfund site, which placed the cleanup of hazardous sites in federal hands.

Title:  The Poisoning of Puerto Rico

Author: Jacob Wheeler

Source: In These Times, 5/5/10

Faculty Evaluator:  Peter Phillips, Sonoma State University