El Comite Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques v. U.S. Navy – International Human Rights and Solidarity – CCR Docket Fall 1999

On July 23. 1999, a civic organization from Vieques filed a petition for Precautionary Measures and other remedies with Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States. The petition aims to stop human rights violations being carried out by the United States Navy. The U.S. Mission to the OAS received the transmission of the Petitioner’s Request and the Commission’s inquiry on July 26, 1999.

Comité Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques – CPRDV (Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques) charges that the U.S. Navy’s use of Vieques, an island municipality of Puerto Rico, as a firing range and weapons storage site endangers the lives and health of its 9,333 residents. Since 1941, the Navy has occupied the land of Vieques, forcing the citizens to live between the two huge military zones. It carries out aerial bombings, amphibious landings and target practice with all sorts of weapons, including anti-tank missles doused in depleted uranium and napalm.

According to the Petition, the death of civilian David Rodriguez Sanes on April 19, 1999 was merely the last in a chain of events which repeatedly placed the lives and security of the people of Vieques in danger.  Rodriguez Sanes was killed when a Navy F-18 warplane dropped a 500-pound bomb on the observation tower in the navy area, where he worked as a civilian security guard,. Four other civilians, all residents of Vieques, were injured. This fatal incident follows a near miss in which two 500-pound bombs landed one mile from the most populous area of Vieques and 10 miles from the designated target. The navy has since suspended practices with live weapons, but these could be renewed at any moment, according to the Petition. El Comité Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques v. U.S. Navy, also asks the Commission to go to Vieques to see the danger for itself, to declare that the use of the tiny populated island for target practice violates the rights of its residents to life, liberty, safety and health, and the use of the plethora of weapons over the last sixty years has created a serious threat to health and safety, wreaked environmental disaster, and crippled the economy of the municipality. The Navy’s documented use of napalm, depleted uranium and other toxic weapons has created a continual health crisis on the Island of Vieques, accounting for a cancer rate that is 28% higher than anywhere else in Puerto Rico.

The Petition alleges that the Inter-American Commission must act because the people of Puerto Rico are powerless to obligate the navy to do anything. The Governor of Puerto Rico, adopting the unanimous recommendation of an official Commission appointed to study the impact of the Navy on the lives of the people of Vieques, has asked President Clinton to order the Navy out of Vieques after it has cleaned up the environmental damages. President Clinton has appointed a four-person Commission to investigate and generate its own policy position. The Navy insists the Vieques is essential to its mission because it has nowhere else to practice with live weapons.

Nancy Chang, Jennifer M. Green, William Goodman, William Harrell, Linda Backiel, and Michael Ratner