Letters of Support
- To President Obama from the Hon. Jorge Suárez
- To President Obama from the Hon. Thomas Rivera Schatz
- From Padre Nelson Lopez
To President Obama from the Hon. Jorge Suárez
July 1st, 2009
The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Obama:
As a Senator in the Puerto Rico Senate, as a member of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) and as a Democrat, I write to you today to ask that you make good on your promise to the people of Puerto Rico to adequately address the health crisis suffered by the people of Vieques, Puerto Rico.
I know that you are very much 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. You have recognized this dire situation when, as a presidential candidate, you stated in your February 12, 2008 letter to then Governor of Puerto Rico Anibal Acevedo Vilá 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.”
The time to provide those appropriate remedies to the people of Vieques, Mr. President, is now.
The U.S. Congress -in particular, the House Science and Technology Committee- has shed light on the health crisis in Vieques and the neglect the federal government has so far shown with regard to this crisis. While this congressional interest is to be commended, your Administration needs to act now so that the situation that affects the lives and health of thousands of Viequenses is not further exacerbated.
The Puerto Rico Senate and the Puerto Rico House of Representatives recently approved respective resolutions -in bipartisan fashion- calling on you to keep your campaign pledge to the people of Puerto Rico and to resolve the health claims of thousands of Vieques against the U.S. Navy. I hope and trust that you will heed this call, that you will take the necessary steps to allow for the compensation of the affected Viequenses, and that you will thus finally take swift action to put an end to the health crisis among the U.S. citizens of Vieques, people who have borne a very heavy burden in support of our rights and freedoms.
Senate of Puerto Rico
To President Obama from the Hon.Thomas Rivera Schatz
June 11, 2009
The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
As President of the Senate of Puerto Rico, I write to you to respectfully ask your intervention and attention to the health issues affecting thousands of disenfranchised U.S. citizens in the island municipality of Vieques, Puerto Rico. As you may know, our fellow Americans in Vieques have been exposed to toxins as a result of more than six decades of bombings. Rates of serious illnesses among Viequenses, including cancer, hypertension and diabetes, far exceed those on the main island of Puerto Rico.
In spite of this, nothing is being done by Federal authorities to address the major health problems suffered by our fellow Americans in Vieques. They have borne a very heavy burden in defense of our national security. Even though the bombings stopped in May 2003, they continue to suffer from the toxic chemicals and heavy metal hazards that are the legacy of decades of bombing and military practices in Vieques.
This is not right and I applaud you for publically pleading that, as President, you would promote appropriate remedies to the health conditions caused by military activities conducted by the U.S. Navy on Vieques. Given the urgent nature of this matter, I respectfully understand that the time to promote and provide those remedies is now.
Since thousands of Viequenses still have pending health claims against the Navy in which they seek compensation for illness arising from the alleged toxic contamination of the island, the Department of Justice should address this issue in a matter according to your campaign commitment to promote appropriate remedies to health conditions caused by military activities conducted by the U.S. Navy on Vieques.
Sadly, I just learned that the U.S. Department of Justice submitted a motion using the
discretionary function exception of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) asking the court to dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. If successful, this will deny more than 7,000 Americans their day in court.
As a devoted student of American history, I can say that the people of Vieques and the people of Puerto Rico have endured great sacrifices in defense of our nation. In fact, since World War I more than 100,000 Puerto Ricans have proudly served in the U.S. Armed Forces. So, how could it be that the most democratic country in the history of the world is going to deny our fellow Americans in Vieques their day in court? Isn’t it enough that after more than one hundred years under the U.S. flag we still lack a vote in the U.S. Congress? Will this happen anywhere else in the United States? How could it be that other jurisdictions and even non-U.S. citizens have received compensation in similar cases, but no effort has taken place to compensate the people of Vieques?
Given that reality, I respectfully call upon you, Mr. President, to fulfill your pledge to or fellow Americans in Vieques, who deserve compensation in order to adequately address their health issues. I am available to meet with you or your staff in order to further discuss this matter.
Thomas Rivera Schatz
President of the Senate of Puerto Rico
From Padre Nelson Lopez
Parroquia Inmaculada Concepcion
Calle Lebrun #442
Vieques, Puerto Rico 00765
May 4, 2009
My Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
I write to you in the spirit of the ties that bind us to one another and to all God’s children, asking you to join me in speaking out for fellow American citizens who are suffering and dying on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. The book of Jeremiah states, “For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” (Jer:,8:21-22). Separated from Jeremiah by thousands of years and just as many miles, the same question echoes from Vieques’ shores.
The people of Vieques, a small island 8 miles from the main island of Puerto Rico, are U.S. citizens who have been exposed to deadly heavy metal toxins left behind by the Navy after more than six decades of weapons testing on the island. As a result of this contamination, children on Vieques are 25% more likely to die in infancy than those on Puerto Rico’s main island. With every breath of air, drink of water, and bite of food the people of Vieques are exposed to harmful toxins directly linked to the diseases plaguing the island. The people of Vieques have a 30% higher rate of cancer, a 381% higher rate of hypertension, a 95% higher rate of cirrhosis of the liver and a 41% higher rate of diabetes than those on the main island of Puerto Rico. And recent hair-sample tests showed that 34% of the population has toxic levels of mercury, 55% are contaminated with lead, 69% with arsenic, and 93% with antimony. Nursing mothers pass on this poison to their babies, and parents watch helplessly as their children fall sick.
I came to the island of Vieques to minister to the people here. As I visited their homes and sick-beds, entered into their joys and sorrows, shared the Gospel and prayed with them, I came face to face with the suffering caused by the poisoning of the island. Part of Jesus’ ministry was to heal the sick and the infirm. As the body of Christ on earth, the Christian Church is called to continue in his work. And so I came to understand that part of my ministry to the people of Vieques was to speak out on their behalf and raise awareness about the toxins that are killing them.
The Gospel of St. Luke tells the parable of a widow repeatedly denied justice. Day after day she came to the town square demanding a favorable judgment from the goveming official. Day after day she was rebuked, but she persisted in her demands until the cause of justice prevailed. So too, Jesus tells us, will justice be granted to those who persist in its pursuit. For more than 200 days per year, for over 60 years, the people of Vieques endured the Navy’s bombing. They are faithful citizens whose sacrifice for their country continues to be paid with their very lives as children, mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers die one by one from illnesses caused by toxic exposure. The Psalmist writes, “I cry out by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest” (Ps.22:2).
The people of Vieques have persisted long enough; the time for justice is now. I entreat you to write your representatives, asking that Congress finally provide the people of Vieques with the medical assistance they need and the minimal resources required for a family to get food from the mainland. The people of Vieques need your prayers, but they also need your voice. Tell your representatives to support them as they seek medical treatment for themselves and their families. For more information on the health crisis in Vieques and the Navy’s history there, please visit www.americanvaluesnetwork.org.
In God’s Peace
Padre Nelson Lopez