Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Day trip to Vieques Island, Puerto Rico

I arrived in Puerto Rico yesterday after a very long ride from LAX through Philly.  Puerto Rico is a beautiful island, with patches of civilization that abruptly end at the edge of a square or river, into farm or forest land.
When I got to the Intercontinental Hotel, Terry Long, the organizer was talking with John Eaves, Jr, who is an attorney representing both the families of the Costa Concordia and the people of Vieques.  I found out that there will be 5 FBI agents attending the conference.

I met Michael, who works for John Eaves - he is originally from Germany and has spent the past 30 years in Italy.  He's helping with lawsuits in European countries against tobacco companies, and to establish health care funds like was done in the U.S.

Michael and John are going to Sardinia and meeting with a journalist, Stephania Divertito, who has a big interest in Sardinia.  Apparently she speaks both Italian and English, so I should get to know her.

Terry, Michael, John, and I went to Vieques together, taking Vieques Air Link.  It's a quick taxi ride to the airport and a short 1/2 hour flight.

More pictures...
Charlie Conneley, a Veteran who lives in Vieques was also on the flight, and we met his wife, Myrna Pagan, at the airport.  She's coordinating to get 5 Viequenses to the mainland for the Oct 1-3 conference.  She said that the Vieques clinic is better now - they can have childbirth and dialysis there now.  Myra is now being treated for cancer.

Just as in Sardinia, there were questions about the increased cancer rate and what was causing it.  They ended up taking samples of horse hair and found heavy metals.

We met with former teacher and mayor, Radames Tirach, a Korean War Veteran, who noticed the increased cancer.  There were problems with secrecy and unknown cause, not trust of studies, the military, and big PR campaigns.  The government/military encouraged people to graze their animals at contaminated sites, trying to prove that there was nothing wrong.  He has 13 members of his family with cancer and is the one who convinced John Eaves to take on the case against the Navy.  When he had been the mayor, most Viequenses favored the Navy - now they do not.

Robert (Bob) Rabin, who has been part of the struggle from the beginning, greeted us at the Vieques Fort and Historical Museum.  He will be joining us Oct 1 & 2.  He has cancer and so this year was the first year that he registered as a cancer survivor in the American Cancer Society "Relay for Life".  This year, 180 of the participants have cancer.

Bob told us about two recent developments.  Last night the Municipal Assembly unanimously rejected the EPA/Navy plan to just fence off the most contaminated and dangerous sub-munitions (cluster bombs) area.  And the San Juan hospital opened a new cancer center last week, which is now where Bob is receiving his cancer treatment.

We learned from John Eaves that even though it was not obvious from people's symptoms that they had been exposed to heavy metals, after hair samples were taken from 1000 people and analyzed, 2000 heavy metal diseases were found - an average of 2 per person.  John has a copy of each hair sample in case more testing is needed.

I got to ride in the co-pilot seat on the way back from Vieques!  It allowed me to take lots of great pictures.

There was an early evening welcome party near the beach for those attending the workshops that start tomorrow.  I met lots of interesting people, which I may detail later.  Most importantly, I am not alone in caring about Sardinia or the mess that the military is making all over the world!  I am a valued guest here and that feels GREAT!  I also feel like I'm getting somewhere in my quest to help Sardinia.  Before my article was published, many of these people didn't really know what was going ton in Sardinia, so they are anxious to speak with me and hear my presentation.

The workshops will feed into a meeting with the UN Secretary General in 2013.