Friday, September 27, 2013

Groups Accuse US of Human Rights Abuses in Vieques

Groups Accuse US of Human Rights Abuses in Vieques
Article by Danica Coto

Simulations and drills perfect performance for the military and they are vital and crucial to the success of real-time operations.  I know this because not only because I have partaken in various war-time drills, but also because I have organized and directed a few of them myself.

However, there are strict guidelines and protocols that must be followed during these exercises; above all others is that no civilians will be wounded or negatively affected in anyway by the activities performed by the military during simulations. This is considering the short-term as well as the long-term as all military personnel are well-aware of the long-term impacts to the environment some weapons cause. The American live firing exercises, that included over 300,000 bombs and rockets, on the island of Vieques violates this fundamental rule. The residue of the munitions used has seemingly affected the lives of the Puerto Ricans living on the island in an appalling manner.

Generally, I would assume this was an oversight (albeit a large one) and that reparations should be made without any party harbouring ill feeling. However, it is a terrible thing to see how vigorously the US military denies the damage they have done to the lives of the people living on the island. It is even more disturbing to see how Puerto Rico’s own government also neglects their own people, not assisting them in any regard. I cannot even imagine the sense of abandonment these innocent people must feel. They are forced to struggle through the misfortune that befell them not only without help, but also without acknowledgement. It is as if they are non-existent; that their lives are inconsequential.

We sometimes forget the human face of tragedies. The 10 Puerto Ricans afflicted by cancer, likely due to the weapons detonated in Vieques, have not only had their lives cut short, but their impending deaths will cause misery and heartache in their families and communities. There was a beautiful book I read a few years ago – “A Song for Nagasaki” – which looks through the eyes of a man after he survives the nuclear blasts in Nagasaki and how he must deal with the ailments and afflictions the bombing caused him. When horrible events happen, particularly regarding human rights abuses, we generally place a number on it. While this is necessary, it removes the human element from the disaster and makes us forget the true scale of the tragedy. Every one of those ‘numbers’ had a family, dreams and aspirations, and hopes for the future. It is someone ironic that this was once pointed out by one of the most ruthless tyrants of the 20th century saying ‘One death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic’ -- Joseph Stalin. This awful story reminds me to not only to look at the large picture, but also to remember the unnamed individuals, so much like ourselves, who are forced to endure the suffering.   

By Akshay Shukla

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