Hi! I'm Robert Rabin, a 40-year resident of a small Puerto Rican island called Vieques. Since World War II, the U.S. Navy and NATO troops trained for war and dropped hundreds of thousands of pounds of bombs here – some of which never exploded and that they still haven’t cleaned up. Today there's higher rates of cancer here than on the main island. I have gastro-intestinal cancer, which I believe is a result of all the contaminants on the island.

I moved to Vieques from the states as a graduate student and got heavily involved in the anti-occupation movement. I was arrested several times for protesting the Navy. My wife was arrested too. Now I host a community radio show and I'm the director of the island’s historical archives, housed inside what was a political prison during the Spanish occupation.

Nowadays, I'm witnessing even more struggles: The rapid gentrification of Vieques by wealthy developers from the U.S. mainland, along with the Navy's cleaning up of unexploded munitions from the island – by blowing them up.

AJ+ spoke to me and featured these issues in the latest episode of "Direct From With Dena Takruri.”. Ask me anything!

For more stories like this, check out Direct From.

Proof: https://twitter.com/ajplus/status/1138513370863112192

EDIT: Thanks for your questions everyone! Signing off now. Take care.

Comments: 99 • Responses: 6  • Date: 

jwhennig31 karma

I’m a Navy Vet but never utilized target zones like this. What kind of ordnance was dropped? What dangerous by products (other than the aforementioned unexploded munition) are there and which ones cause them? This is fascinating. I support the Navy but I’ve never believed we couldn’t accomplish our missions if we didn’t also take care of the environment.

ajplus50 karma

The Navy bombed Vieques from ships, jets, helicopters, tanks, mortars and vessels. They used everything in the U.S. arsenal from WW2 until 2003, including large amounts of napalm and depleted uranium weapons. Puerto Rican and US scientists have described a long list of heavy metals and other toxic materials related to the bombing practices found in the food chain, the water, and the soil.

nap928329 karma

This is heartbreaking. We just visited PR from the states a few months ago. Vieques is a magical place.. like if Maui and Cancun had a baby.

Is there anything we can do from the north to help with this?

ajplus26 karma

I would say investigate Vieques. Read about it. There are many websites, there are dozens of documentaries, and there are several local community based organizations that work on health issues, environmental issues, economic development issues, and if people want more information, they can email me and we’ll send information on who you might be able to contact to support.
[email protected]
It’s always helpful to contact Congresspeople, as well as the White House. Let them know you are conscious about the need to do an appropriate complete cleanup of Vieques and provide medical assistance. The federal government, the Navy in particular, made the mess, and so the federal government needs to clean it up, period.

OpenWaterRescue11 karma

Are the developers unaware of the contamination? Ignoring it? Avoiding those areas?

ajplus22 karma

Developers, realtors are only interested in money and profit. They won’t discuss issues of contamination, they prefer to black out the history of the military, of the people’s struggle here.
The contaminated areas are not usable still. They are still controlled by the military generally. Nobody is unaware of the contamination. Again, developers and realtors don’t discuss the issue of the Navy and its impact on the island with potential customers. And they generally downplay the contamination and the impact on the local community.

SolzGuy2 karma

As far as activity of that bomb site goes, is there any difference between the Obama administration and Trump administration? Also have the citizens who contracted cancer filed a class action lawsuit against the Navy?

ajplus12 karma

Obama promised he would take action as a candidate for the president, and we received his campaign team here on Vieques, and we were excited about that. But he proved to be like all the other presidents. None of the presidents have taken the necessary action to do an appropriate cleanup that would alleviate the suffering of the people of Vieques.

And about the class action suit, a Mississippi lawyer had a case representing somewhere around 6,000 Viequenses that went through the entire federal court process for a period of almost 10 years. It went through every step of the federal court system, including the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston and the Supreme Court, and the judges supported the Navy’s position of sovereign immunity.
The Navy, like a King, is sovereign here, and the people have no right to make claims against him. The people of Vieques don’t have the right to have a say in court on this issue.

The lawyer’s name is John Arthur Eaves. People who Google him might come up with a German documentary about this case. He’s actually still trying to get some Congressional action in favor of Vieques. He is hopeful that a Congressional resolution might be passed soon that would offer indemnisation (some kind of compensation) for the people of Vieques that have been affected by military activity, and approve funds for a hospital, which Vieques doesn’t have.

maltesecitizen0 karma

  1. Do you support Puerto Rico becoming the 51st US State?

  2. What are your views on Trump?

  3. What’s it like on Vieques?

  4. Get well soon!

ajplus-10 karma

No. Statehood would represent the culmination of colonialism - an exaggerated phase of colonialism.

Trump is a very honest manifestation of the economic powers that control the government of the U.S.

Vieques is the beauty and the beast. It’s exquisitely beautiful, wonderful people, very interesting people, and exquisite beaches. It’s relatively quiet, no traffic lights, no fast-food and no shopping malls. So it’s very tranquil, which is wonderful. But at the same time it has all the beastly characteristics of colonialism. There is racism, political corruption, lack of attention to the basic needs of a community like health and education. The economy is not controlled by the local population by and large. And half a century of military control has placed Vieques in a very vulnerable condition, particularly in the post-Maria period vis-à-vis gentrification, population displacement and population substitution. Some describe that process as the Hawaiianisation of Puerto Rico, where the original local population is displaced and the economy is controlled by others.
And thank you for the get well soon wishes.

Radial_Velocity-1 karma

Well, I hate to say this, but I've been wondering lately:

it sounds like being part of the United States of America hasn't, overall, been a very good experience for the people of Puerto Rico unfortunately?

Do you think historically, Puerto Rico might have been better off being an independent nation, rather than being a part of the USA?

I mean right now, it's a whole geographic region, with something like 3 to 4 million people, who have little to zero proper representation in Washington.

You could probably add up the populations of 4 states like Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and North Dakota ALL together, and arrive at about the same population as Puerto Rico!

ajplus-12 karma

The basic answer is yes. All peoples are better off being free and independent instead of being colonized by another country. Puerto Rico was as Spanish colony for 400 years, and it developed a unique culture with Spanish as its principal language. Since 1898, Puerto Rico has been a U.S. colony. Colonialism is internationally illegal. And it hurts. And some of the things that can happen in a colonial situation are the military of the colonizer can do what it pleases in the colony, and that’s exactly what happened here. The issue of U.S. militarism in Vieques, and all of its implications for the people and the environment must be understood in the context of U.S.-Puerto Rico colonial relationship.