September 1, 2023
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer
United States Senate
Hart Senate Office Building, 322
Washington, DC 20510
We are writing on behalf of the residents of Vieques and Culebra, the millions of Puerto Ricans on the rest of the archipelago, and the millions more in New York and throughout the United States to urge you to defend and support the Amendment to Rules Committee Print 118-10 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), offered by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, requiring a Comptroller General report on the federal cleanup and decontamination of Vieques and Culebra.
Vieques and Culebra are often called “the colony’s colonies.” The neglect and oppression experienced by Puerto Rico as a colony of the United States is magnified tenfold in these island municipalities, which were used for decades as bombing ranges by the U.S. Navy. More than two decades after the military operations ceased, the eastern portion of Vieques remains a Superfund site. Studies have found higher levels of toxic metals in the bloodstream of Vieques residents and rates of some cancers up to 200% higher than in the rest of Puerto Rico.
The historical mistreatment of Vieques and Culebra residents is compounded by current crises and neglect from both the federal and local governments. Six years after Hurricane Maria, Vieques still has no working hospital, and its people are beset by American tax evaders buying land, raising property values, and displacing them from their homeland.
A March 2021 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office acknowledged that thousands of unexploded munitions remain in Vieques and Culebra, and that the cleanup would continue for more than a decade. Puerto Ricans deserve an update on the status of these critical efforts and other measures required by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s amendment related to the potential acceleration of the cleanup and potential economic compensation for Vieques residents.
We are concerned that, without your attention and leadership on this issue, the amendment will not survive the conference process and become the latest in a long line of moments in which Congress has neglected and failed the Puerto Rican people. Already Senate Amendment 637 to the NDAA, introduced by Sen. Menéndez to compensate Vieques residents who have been burdened by disease and displacement, was not made in order to receive a vote. That follows other legislation on issues like Medicare funding parity, extending SSI to Puerto Ricans, and addressing Puerto Rico’s status that has failed to pass or even be considered in Congress.
The millions-strong Puerto Rican community in the archipelago, New York, and throughout the United States has followed these developments and we are paying close attention now. We are ready to organize and to call upon our allies across the country to vote in the fast-approaching 2024 midterm elections based on whether the needs and concerns of our people are met.
The NDAA amendment calling for a report on the Vieques and Culebra cleanup is a small but important measure, not just for the people of these islands, but as a signal of whether the U.S. Congress is listening to and taking action on behalf of Puerto Ricans. We urge you to ensure its passage and we stand ready to partner with you on any efforts for the benefit of the Puerto Rican people.
Boricuas Unidos en la Diáspora (BUDPR)
Center for Popular Democracy Action
Construyamos Otro Acuerdo
Latino Justice PRLDEF
Sala de Pepe in Loisaida
Sen. Jack Reed, Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee
Sen. Roger Wicker, Ranking Member, Senate Armed Services Committee
Rep. Mike Rogers, Chairman, House Armed Services Committee
Rep. Adam Smith, Ranking Member, House Armed Services Committee
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez