NPRC Sends Letter to President Obama on Situation in Vieques
The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Dear President Obama:
As the premier non-profit non-partisan Hispanic organization representing the voice of the Puerto Rican community, the National Puerto Rican Coalition, Inc. (NPRC) is gravely concerned with the lack of meaningful progress of the Administration in addressing key concerns among the people of Vieques,Puerto Rico.
We understand that you and others in the Administration are aware of the toxic legacy left by the U.S. Navy in Vieques and the alarmingly high rates of cancer and other serious illnesses suffered by Viequenses as a result of the Navy’s military activities with toxins and chemicals ranging from depleted uranium and napalm. As a presidential candidate you wrote to then Governor of Puerto Rico Aníbal Acevedo Vilá on February 12, 2008 that “We will closely monitor the health of the people of Vieques and promote appropriate remedies to health conditions caused by military activities conducted by the U.S. Navy on Vieques.”
That pledge was made five years ago. As you enter your second term and as we are about to celebrate the tenth year anniversary of the U.S. Navy’s departure from Vieques, that pledge remains unfulfilled. The people of Vieques can no longer wait for those appropriate remedies.
Congressional hearings and scientific studies have shed light on the health crisis in Vieques and the neglect the federal government has so far shown with regard to this crisis. Your Administration needs to act now so that the situation that affects the lives and health of thousands of Viequenses is not further exacerbated. And in so doing, the concomitant situation of environmental and ecological damage left by the military in Vieques must also be addressed fully and adequately now. We hope that we move beyond task forces recommending the creation of other task forces to recommend consideration of possible recommendations, etc. The time for action is now and the solutions are clear.
The harm to the health and well-being of the people of Vieques as a result of over six decades of military exercises and bombings by the U.S. Navy with everything from depleted uranium to napalm is well documented. Numerous tests and studies show the disproportionately high rates of serious illnesses such as cancer, lupus, diabetes, and heart diseases among the people of Vieques. Little has been done to address this health crisis in one ofPuerto Rico’s poorest municipalities. Many Viequenses live in abject poverty, with 73 percent of the residents living below the Federal poverty level. The median household income is $5,900, and Vieques has an unemployment rate of 22 percent. The people of Vieques have a 30% higher rate of cancer, a 95% higher rate of cirrhosis of the liver, a 381% higher rate of hypertension, and a 41% higher rate of diabetes than those living on the mainislandofPuerto Rico.
The disparity between the serious and widespread medical situation among Viequenses and the deficiencies in their health care system and health care facilities is simply staggering. Viequenses have to travel to the mainIslandfor treatment for serious and expensive conditions such as cancer. Many simply cannot afford their treatment or give up due to the onerous obstacles they face. The federal government in general -and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in particular- should assist in remedying this situation. One of many steps HHS should consider is having the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) get actively involved in Vieques, particularly since its mandate is to act as the primary federal agency for improving access to health care services for people who are uninsured, isolated or medically vulnerable.
We are aware that the Administration has convened a “Vieques Sustainability Task Force”, a collaboration of federal, Commonwealth, and local government recommended in a March 2011 report by the “President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico”. We are glad that there are federal government officials discussing Vieques. However, many Viequenses and their allies, including the NPRC, remain concerned about the slow progress made by the task force concerning the health situation among Viequenses and the clean-up and remediation of the island, among others. For instance, the stated task force objectives of assisting Puerto Rico’s Department of Health in exploring options and exploring the feasibility of a “section 330” health center application, do not suffice and are not the kind of direct and comprehensive solution that the people of Vieques deserve. Medical facilities remain inadequate and serious health problems remain untreated. The task force recommendations fall way short of the “appropriate remedies” you promised five years ago.
Aside from helping improve the existing facilities and help build new ones, your Administration should provide resources in Vieques as soon as possible to help with diagnosis, prevention, and treatment. In addressing the health crisis among Viequenses and providing the necessary resources for full and prompt clean up and decontamination of the island, your Administration would finally be not just fulfilling a long overdue pledge, but would finally provide relief to the U.S. citizens of Vieques, who have borne too heavy a burden for too long.
Rafael A. Fantauzzi
President & CEO
National Puerto Rican Coalition
Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
Department of Health Human Services
Honorable Lisa Jackson
Environmental Protection Agency
Ms. Judith A. Enck
Regional Administrator – Region 2
Environmental Protection Agency
Honorable Alejandro Garcia Padilla
Governor ofPuerto Rico
Honorable Eduardo Bhatia
President, Senate ofPuerto Rico
Honorable Jaime Perelló
President, House of Representatives forPuerto Rico
Honorable Pedro Pierluisi
Resident Commisioner, Puerto Rico
Mr. Juan Eugenio Hernández Mayoral
Director, Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA)
Director, The White House Domestic Policy Council
Mr. Hector Sanchez
Chair, National Hispanic Leadership Agenda