February 1, 2010
Posted: 05:14 PM ET
Vieques is a tropical paradise. Most people there speak Spanish. It’s a fishing community, and they typically eat what they catch. There are wild horses roaming all throughout the island. Many of the roads are unmarked and most do not have street lights.
It really feels nothing like America. But Vieques is part of America – and its people are Americans. So, why do these U.S. citizens feel their own government is ignoring them?
Most of the people on the island are suing the U.S. government for contaminating the island, which they claim made them sick. (So far, the Centers for Disease Control say it has not been able to find a link, though it plans to launch a new investigation.)
For six decades, the U.S. military used parts of Vieques and its surrounding waters as a weapons testing site. After years of protests, the military was ultimately forced off the island, which, by the way, was later designated a Superfund Toxic site. But what kind of mess did it leave behind? Islanders want answers – and most of all, they say they want the government to step up and help them with their illnesses.
The U.S. government claims “sovereign immunity” as its primary defense in the islander’s lawsuit. That argument means the government asserts that the residents on this island do not have the right to sue the government for training soldiers and testing weapons.
Obviously, the islanders do not share the same sentiment – more than 7,000 people are named in the lawsuit, which is more than 75% of the residents who live on the island.
The government also points to a 2003 CDC report which found no link between the islanders’ illnesses and the Navy’s activities on the island. That report, however was very controversial, and strongly criticized by many scientists. Now the CDC says it is taking a fresh look to see if there is a possible link.
Even though these islanders are Americans, many say they do not feel like they are being treated like Americans. They say they feel they have been forgotten about.
One young girl I interviewed told me she was proud to be an American, and she will fight for her rights just like any other American. She is 16 years old, and she is one of many, many young people on this island who battle cancer. She blames the contamination on the island for making her sick.
Do you think these Americans are being forgotten about?
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