DEVELOPMENT OF A FREE VIEQUES

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By Robert Rabin (CPRDV-Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques)

Dear Friends. Since 1993, the Comité Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques (CPRDV-Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques) has coordinated efforts here to 1) get the Navy out of Vieques and 2) stimulate serious discussion, investigation and community participation in issues related to the future social and economic development of a Free Vieques.

Our efforts in the struggle for demilitarization have included a vast array of strategies and actions - visits to Congress, to the Pentagon, to the White House, talks at Universities, labor, religious, environmental, peace and other groups in the US and in PR, petitions, letters, post cards, pickets, protests and civil disobedience. Since 19 April, 1999, many other groups and individuals have become active in this struggle. The incredible solidarity and consensus in support of the historic struggle to end the US Navy presence on Vieques needs little description.

The CPRDV´s work related to promoting scientific and community discussion of the development process for a Vieques freed from the Navy presence is less known.

In 1994, we began a relationship with the organization, Economists Allied for Arms Reduction (ECAAR), based at the UN with consultative status and dedicated to assisting communities struggling for peace and confronted by problems caused by militarization. ECAAR´s board of directors includes several Nobel laureates in economy (John Kenneth Galbraith, Oscar Arias - ex Pres. de Costa Rica,...) The president and founder of the group is Dr. Robert Schwartz, who happens to be uncle to Vieques´ bee keeper, Mike Díaz. Thus, our original connection to ECAAR.

ECAAR helped link the CPRDV to Columbia University´s (NY) Urban Technical Assistance Program (UTAP). Under the direction of Professor Lionel MacIntyre, UTAP came to Vieques on several ocassions in 95 and 96 to meet with the CPRDV. In a series of meetings, with the participation of leaders from diverse sectors of Vieques´ society, the Columbia-ECAAR team got a clear sense of the current social and econmic situation and the concerns, hopes and possibilities related to future development. A team of graduate students from Columbia, in coordination with CPRDV members, visited governmental offices in Vieques and PR related to natural resources, environment, health, education, housing, infrastructure and government to gather as much info. as possible on the island´s social and economic problems.

In a complementary effort and also through ECAAR, Puerto Rican planners-economists Leticia Rivera and Antonio Torres, from MIT and Boston Housing Authority, respectively, began working with the CPRDV on the articulation of a community vision for a Free Vieques.

The main concerns of the community - according to discussions with CPRDV members, a series of community meetings and from documents available at the Vieques Historic Archives and government office - have to do with speculation and guaranteeing Vieques´ community control over the land once the Navy is forced to leave. The example of Culebra is an important lesson on what we don´t want to happen here.

The two mechanisms that were discussed, and that currently form the basis of the CPRDV´s proposals for future development, are

What do we visualize as possible economic activities and land use directions for a Free Vieques? Eco tourism and a tourism based upon Vieques´ important archaeologic resources and other cultural values, as well as projects related to marine biology could be the basis of a progrma of educational tourism. Fishing, agriculture and local artesanry could be tied into tourism development, providing important job possibilities. Light industry could easily function here in a Free Vieques with access to the natural and shortest route between Vieques and the main island - the 6 mile route from the West end of Vieques (now controlled by the Navy) and the area of Ceiba, Naguabo, Humacao - making the travel time only 20 minutes instead of over an hour.

Areas must be designated for housing and others for conservation and preservation. However, Vieques must not be turned into some type of National Park for the benefit of tourists, ignoring the needs of the people of Vieques who must have access to land for farming, and other economic development projects.

We promote sustainable, community controlled economic development. No high rise hotels, no construction on the beaches and general sensitivity to the special natural beauty that makes Vieques unique. Solar and wind power and architecture that does not offend the culture or the environment also make up part of our vision.

The basic idea is to keep the land in the hands of the people of Vieques, leasing out sections for tourism, housing, other projects, thereby creating an economic base for further development. The extension program is designed to make sure the people of Vieques are the managers, directors and owners of future economic entities - and not, as is the case today, the lowest paid employees in the local tourist economy.

The decontamination issue is another chapter - here are a few thoughts from our work in this area. Cleanup will take a long time. The Navy must pay for a thorough clean up under the direction of Puerto Rican and other support technicians. The people of Vieques must be given priority for employment in all areas of the cleanup process. This also means training and technology transfer so we are not dependent forever on specialized knowledge related to making Vieques safe. We are quite aware that some areas may never be safe for human use and that decontamination in the bombing area will take decades. We also know that areas in the Western end of Vieques (Naval Ammunitions Facility), have been contaminated by Navy dumping of toxics for decades, and will also need very serious attention. The costs for decontamination in Vieques will be discussed in billions, not millions, and the Navy and the Federal Government must be held responsable for funding the clean up.

These fundamental ideas are being developed together with the CPRDV, the Vieques Women´s Alliance and the Vieques Conservation Trust, with the help of the Multidisciplinary Technical Support Team for the Sustainable Development of a Free Vieques (Technical Support Team - TST). The TST was formally organized on 9 July, 1999, as an initiative of the CPRDV with a group of planners, economists and other professionals from Puerto Rican universities and private practice.

Leading economists, architects, environmental scientists, geographers, planners and sociologists from the Univ. of Puerto Rico; the School of Environmental Affairs of the Metropolitan Univ. of PR; the Special Commission on Vieques of the PR Bar Association; and several other Puerto Rican professionals make up the TST that has been meeting regularly in San Juan since July and recently held meetings with community representatives in Vieques. Dra. Liliana Cotto, Urban Sociologist from the UPR and a founding member of the TST, offered a workshop on Community Participation in Planning during the Vieques Women´s Alliance simposium this past weekend. A serie of workshops on this topic will be held in different sector of Vieques in December - January. Lawyers from the Bar Association are currently working on the Land Trust issue.

This is a quick summary of some of our thoughts about social and economic developmet in a Vieques freed from the Navy. We energetically suggest people participate in this process with ideas and constructive criticism. Please feel free to contact us for documentation or other information related to the work of the CPRDV, ECAAR, Columbia, TST.

R.Rabin
CPRDV