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Vol.64/No.7      February 21, 2000 
Vieques fisherman speaks in Boston  
BOSTON--"We have lived in a prison in our own land for 60 years," said Ismael Guadalupe, a leader of the Vieques fishermen and spokesperson for the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques. Guadalupe spoke at Harvard University January 30. He explained to a group of 20 people the history of Vieques and the current stage of the fight to get the U.S. Navy out of the Puerto Rican island.

In the name of training pilots to bomb Germany at the beginning of WWII, the first U.S. government expropriations of land belonging to the people of Vieques took place. "The Second World War never ended in Vieques, because the U.S. is still there," Guadalupe said. Over the next decades the "people were taken out of their homes and put onto reservations." Today, "out of the 36,000 acres of land in Vieques the U.S. Navy occupies 24,000 acres," he said.

The U.S. military also controls the ocean around the island. This has had a severe impact on the fishermen. "The natural places are no longer available for us to fish," he said. "The U.S. Navy controls the hours we can fish. The military might say we will be in the area from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and tells us 'you can fish after that.'"

The naval exercises result in the destruction of the coral reef and the underwater vegetation, all part of the food chain for the fish. Also, as a result of bombs exploding in the water, tortoises, whales, and manatees are killed, some of which are near to extinction.

The Vieques fishermen set traps on the bottom of the ocean that are tied to buoys on top so they can be located. Many are destroyed by U.S. Navy ships when they go over the top of them during their maneuvers.

"That is why," Guadalupe said, "the fishermen are the most affected by and the most adamantly opposed to the U.S. Navy incursions." Guadalupe also pointed out that the people of Vieques have the highest cancer rate in all of Puerto Rico, a rate that is projected to rise. There are high levels of lead, mercury, and copper in the surrounding areas. He said a recent survey "found 80 percent of the people in Vieques have had a family member with cancer."

Guadalupe said the residents of Vieques are a people "who refuse to leave our land, and who want to live in peace. We want to develop the island, not destroy it."

Ted Leonard is a member of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.  
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