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Indiana, United States
Debt free empty nesters...ready to stretch our wings. Life is good and we plan on making it even better. This blog is mostly about our trips to Vieques Puerto Rico, with a few odds and ends thrown in about our life after the mortgage.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Evening Rant #3....


Just can't help it......sorry.

All over the web tonight it's Bank of America and debit card fee's. Everyone is pissed about the $5 monthly fee (unless of course you have a mortgage or 20k in checking or combination of accounts). "Hello U.S. sheeple", Bank of America is broke and unless you've been living under a rock for the last year the $5 charge should come as no surprise to anyone. Also, they're not the only bank to adopt new fees since our gubberment decided to step in a limit transaction fee's.  So much for a free market. But that is material for another rant, for another evening.

More to the point...why would anyone still be using debit cards when you can get a no fee credit card? Granted you have to pay the sucker off every month, but really, is it that much of a inconvenience? I mean jeez, c'mon people. You could even go one step further and get a rewards card like an American Express and if your diligent about using it you can get enough points to pay the annual fee's plus enjoy the perks. We use an American Express Gold Rewards card. I've had an American Express since I just out of college, many, many  moons ago. Making the monthly payment forces you to analyze just where the heck you spent all that money each month. Ah...but I forgot, this is America, where we citizens are nothing but a bunch of comatose piles of ever consuming flesh unable to engage enough cerebral tissue to make even the most fundamental financial decisions.

Always the victim.... you know...that story just wears me out. It's not the banktsers fault people, it's your fault. Your the ones that decided to spend the next 20 years of earnings TODAY. Without your greed the boyz would have never been able to gin up the mess we now find ourselves in. Cry'n about a $5 fee, when all the tools are readily available for you to avoid ANY FEES, does nothing but prove how easily the boyz can spook the herd. Wake up and stop playing the games they've created for you.

I feel so much better now.

One last note regarding American Express. They had a nasty habit of sending TONS of mail to me. This offer, that offer. I finally called them a number of years ago and said that IF they didn't stop sending me any and all mail I would cancel the card. Amex is one of few companies that actually listens to their customers. I haven't received one single piece of mail. If your using Amex and they're sending you tons of junk, give them a call and you can stop it. I did and it works.

:-)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

6.25 weeks and counting....

Little over 6 weeks now till we're back on the island. We've ordered new rash guards and some new suits. I ordered more Piranha rash guards. I like the feel and fit of these, although they're not as heavy as the Oneil's that Lorrie has

 I would luv to find another pair of Nevados sandals like the ones I bought for our second trip, but you can't buy them anymore. Best darn footwear I've ever owned. I've ordered another pair but these are a darker color. Other than that we're set on most everything. We've made enough trips now that it easy to pack. We've got one suitcase that is nothing but our snorkeling gear. I've not really decided on the spear-fishing idea yet.



Found out via TripAdvisor that the gas stations on the island are no longer accepting credit cards, cash only. Good thing to know.

:-)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Paradise Lost.....

Well not yet..but it sounds like it might be coming. Vieques might yet end up another victim of the "carpetbaggers". It saddens me to think that this wonderful island with all it's idiosyncrasies will be dumbed down for the masses, replete with casinos and terraced swimming pools. A Caribbean Disneyland...it's enough to make you vomit.

No need to sugar-coat it huh? Should this come to pass our love affair with Vieques will more than likely end.

Anyway....here's the article I ran across this eve:

3 new hotels, 1st casino in pipeline for Vieques
Written by mkantrow  //  June 13, 2011


Three new hotels — including the first to incorporate a casino — are in the works for the island municipality of Vieques, representing a total investment of $55.1 million and the possibility of adding some 200 new rooms, News is my Business has learned.


José Juan Terrasa, the Tourism Company’s director of development and planning, confirmed that the Vista Linda Casitas, the Island Grove and the Le Grand Cofi Paradise — with associated investments of $600,000, $16.5 million and $38 million, respectively — have secured construction permits and are working on financing.

The biggest of the three proposed hotels, the $38 million, 150-room Le Grand Cofi Paradise, would be located on a five-acre plot on the island’s Florida sector, and would include the casino. Once operational, the hotel would be the island’s second-largest property behind the W Resort and would create 150 jobs, Tourism Company data shows.

“That hotel already has the approval from the Planning Board and it is now before the consideration of the Tourism Company’s gaming division, which needs to approve the casino,” Terrasa said. “The Tourism Company is open to having a hotel with a casino in Vieques, although it’s not what we would prefer.”

This is so because the development plans for Vieques call for including eco-friendly elements to preserve the pristine conditions of most of the island’s natural resources, including white-sand beaches and dry forests.

“Visitor activity in Vieques has been focused on ecotourism and nature tourism, and what the Tourism Company wants to achieve is the approval of hotels that offer superior service while taking advantage of the island’s natural resources,” he said.

The two other properties, while not identified as “eco-friendly,” also promise to generate economic activity for the island municipality that as of March had an unemployment rate of 16.4 percent.

The proposed $16.5 million Island Grove project is a condo-hotel complex planned for a 12-acre parcel at the Puerto Real sector, that calls for developing 18 buildings comprising 50 rooms. Ten of those buildings would be residential villas, while the rest would be dedicated to a restaurant and lounge, administrative offices, and other services. A pool and parking facilities are also part of the blueprint, according to Tourism Company data.

Rounding out the trio of proposed projects, and the one likely to be erected first, is the Vista Linda Casitas property. The 12-room hotel to be located at Vieques’ Pilón sector also includes several terraces, a pool and parking.

“That facility has already been approved by the Permits and Regulations Administration and is awating to secure financing, which could come through the Economic Development Bank,” said Terrasa.

Priming Vieques for cruise ships

The Tourism Company, in conjunction with the Economic Development and Commerce Department, are working on an economic development plan for Puerto Rico’s two island municipalities, Vieques and Culebra, begun in 2004.
“Just as it was under the previous administration, this one is also foreseeing that the economic development of both islands should be sustainable and preferably, eco-friendly,” said Terrasa. “That doesn’t mean that every development must necessarily fit into that definition of ecotourism, but they should all incorporate sustainable trends.”

Along with approving new hotel facilities, the central government agencies are working with Vieques authorities to develop the necessary infrastructure to welcome and provide service to a greater volume of tourists. That includes establishing taxi and tourist guide facilities at several key points over the next year.

“One of the initiatives that we’re exploring is the possibility of attracting small cruise ships to Vieques, and for that we have identified the Mosquito Pier as the site where ships carrying 200 to 300 passengers could anchor,” he said. “It would require a relatively low investment to get that facility ready for that.”

Vieques and Culebra are part of the administration’s so-called ‘green triangle,” which spans Puerto Rico’s east coast. The conservation project includes several natural gems in Fajardo, Humacao and Ceiba.

Here's a link to the article

:-)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

9 weeks and counting....

9 weeks and we'll be back on the island.  Thought I would load another video to mark the occasion. (Actually I'm a bachelor this weekend because Lorrie is on the east coast right now. You can see how I spend my free time.) Anyway..here's the video. Mostly old shots, just a couple that I haven't posted before.



:-)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Clearing out without Cleaning up....

I was doing some web surfing this evening and came across this report. Here is part of the report,  I added the images. There's a link to the full article at the end of this post as well as some other things I found.


This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Josue Melendez .....May 19, 2011



U.S. Navy and Vieques

In his book Vieques, the Navy and Puerto Rican Politics, Amilcar Antonio Barreto describes how, in order to make this dream of a Caribbean naval base into a reality, the U.S. military “amassed large land holdings in Puerto Rico, dispossessing thousands of landless peasants in Vieques. Vieques was a perfect spot to practice war, and, with Puerto Rican residents not allowed to vote in national elections, political fallout would be minimal.”3 Not only did U.S. military planning displace thousands of people from their homes, but they also left them without a way of supporting themselves. The majority of the families on the island earned their living by harvesting sugar cane, a struggling industry in Puerto Rico at the time. The U.S. Navy’s expropriation of thousands of acres of land from large farm holdings left many of the poorer workers with no choice but to move to the main island. “Families that resettled on other parts of Vieques found they were prevented from claiming legal title to their new homes. Without titles, the military could readily relocate them again.”4 These relocations and massive land grabs resulted in the U.S. military ultimately owning about two-thirds of the island, while the local inhabitants were forced onto the remaining one-third.

Opposition to the base had existed for many years, and in many forms, including attempts by local fishermen to disrupt the movement of Navy ships with their wooden fishing boats. However, following the accidental bombing death of a Vieques native, David Sanes Rodríguez, protests became more intense and gained international attention. Demonstrators infiltrated the base and staged mass sit-ins as a way of drawing attention to their cause and pressuring the U.S. to withdraw. In May 2003, after years of protests by both Viequenses and Puerto Rican mainlanders, along with prominent political figures such as Al Sharpton and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the U.S. finally decided it was time to abandon its naval station in Vieques. After the Navy’s withdrawal from Vieques, much of the land was turned into the Vieques Wildlife Refuge.



Health and the Environment

Artillery shelling and weapons testing are not usually involved in assessments of environmental damage. However “[v]irtually every conventional and non-conventional weapon used by the U.S. between 1940 and 2003, has been used in Vieques.”5 These weapons containing chemicals and heavy metals have been found to be seriously detrimental to public health. For example, soldiers training on Vieques have reported firing depleted uranium shells, despite being a violation of federal law. Depleted uranium shells give off extremely toxic tiny radioactive particles once they begin to oxidize. These same particles can travel great distances, propelled by wind and water, and once ingested by humans, can expose the host to large doses of radiation. Not surprisingly, according to Dr. Katherine T. McCaffrey, a professor of Anthropology at Montclair State University, cancer rate in Vieques is 27 percent higher than in the rest of Puerto Rico.6

As previously mentioned, the Navy occupied about two-thirds of the island and the residents were left with what remained. The Navy’s munitions depot bordered them to the west, while the actual bombing and the gunnery training range lay to the east, effectively surrounding the locals and subjecting them to any waste produced from the naval base. Today, each one of these particular sites presents their own unique challenges. In a North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) report on the Vieques cleanup, Katherine McCaffrey described the condition in which the west end of the island was treated:

In the west, where the navy maintained an ammunition depot and a small operational base, cleanup is connected to the storage and disposal of munitions. Almost 2 million pounds of military and industrial waste-oil, solvents, lubricants, lead paint, acid, and other refuse–were disposed of in different sites in mangrove swamps and sensitive wetland areas. A portion of this waste contained extremely hazardous chemicals. One 200-acre site was used to detonate and burn excess and defective munitions.7

The contamination on Vieques was caused by the munitions that were dropped on the east end of the island, the unexploded ordnances that continue to leak into the environment, and the U.S. Navy’s general disregard for the disposal of chemicals. This reveals the Navy’s lack of concern for the health of the residents of Vieques and their disregard for the well-being of the island as a whole.

Interestingly, the Navy considers the western side of the island to be the clean side of the island, yet their clean-up efforts have hardly scratched the surface of the waste problem, and they have done even less on the more heavily contaminated eastern end of the island. Due to years of bombing, the eastern side has also suffered significant topographical damage, a problem that the western end fortunately does not face.

The Navy illegally fired depleted uranium shells while the base was still occupied; naturally, officials at the time claim that such incidents were entirely accidental. However, the millions of pounds of ammunition and bombs that were dropped could not have been unintended. These various categories of ordnances are just as hazardous as depleted uranium shells, and in many ways even more dangerous, simply because of the large quantity of hazardous materials that were dropped. Although they may not contain uranium, “[h]azardous substances associated with ordnance use may include mercury, lead, copper, magnesium, lithium, perchlorate, TNT, [and] napalm.”8 Mercury is extremely poisonous to humans, and, due to biomagnification, it is a substance that increases in concentration as it moves higher up the food chain. A small amount in the environment can become absorbed by fish, which in turn can affect those who consume the fish. For an island such as Vieques, where fishing is a way of life, the effects of contaminated fish can be far-reaching. In fact, there is research that indicates that poisonous metals have already entered the Vieques food supply. The NACLA report mentioned above possessed information from two studies conducted in Vieques, the first of which showed high levels of lead, cobalt, nickel, and manganese in violin crabs and plants. The second study reported high levels of contaminants including lead, copper in plants near civilian areas of Vieques.9 Not only is the local food supply being contaminated by heavy metals, but “nitrates and explosives” have also contaminated their ground water.10 Human samples have proven the high levels of toxicity to which the islanders are exposed. “About 80 percent of the hair samples tested positive for heavy metals. Many of the results show levels of toxic elements in people that are literally off the charts — the lines representing substances like lead, mercury, arsenic, aluminum and cadmium extend beyond the ‘dangerous’ area and out of the grid entirely.”11

The Navy in Vieques did not limit itself to testing naval ordnance. Sherrie Baver, a professor of Political Science at The City University of New York, in an article about the U.S. government’s use of various chemical weapons on the island, specifically addressed the release of triocyl phosphate. This chemical is associated with several medical issues involving the skin and respiratory tract and has been shown to cause cancer in animals.12 During the Vietnam War, the Navy also tested Agent Orange, a dangerous herbicide used in Vieques. Agent Orange has been shown to cause debilitating birth defects in children whose mothers had been exposed to the noxious chemical. In addition, veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the war faced higher rates of cancer, nervous system disorders and respiratory problems. Studies have also found that Vieques has “high rates of asthma, skin problems, kidney failure and heart abnormalities.”13 The residents of Vieques were exposed to decades of harmful chemicals, which were routinely distributed by the U.S. Navy. Now that the effects are beginning to appear, the U.S. government refuses to take responsibility for the Navy’s actions. Katherine McCaffrey notes in her report that the Navy claims the toxic contamination of Vieques was not necessarily the result of their activities, but of natural geologic occurrences, excusing them from any obligation to clean up.14 John Eaves Jr., a lawyer representing several Viequenses in a lawsuit against the U.S. Government, sums up the situation in this way, “You cannot walk down the street on this island without counting every house and knowing two or three people on the street that have cancer, or have had cancer, or have died from cancer.”15

Dodging Clean Up Duty

The island should have been decontaminated and all unexploded ordnances should have been removed, but the exact opposite has taken place. To say that U.S. authorities and the Navy have dragged their feet on the cleanup effort on Vieques is an understatement. Even though the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, or “Superfund,” established that sites deemed hazardous due to dumping must be cleaned up, and that the responsible parties should be forced to clean up the site, the Navy has yet to respond. In 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally placed Vieques and its surrounding waters and islands on the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites. This move allows the EPA to determine who is responsible for the contamination as well as hold that party accountable for cleaning up the site.

When the Navy left Vieques in 2003, most of the land that it occupied was transformed into a wildlife refuge under the control of the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. This move complicated the cleanup effort because citizens are not allowed to disturb land that has been designated as a wildlife preserve. Katherine McCaffrey writes:

The base land’s designation as a wildlife refuge was a decision based more on politics than environmental concerns. Legally, cleanup of unexploded ordnance and other military waste is determined by projected land use. Land designated for “conservation use” requires only a superficial cleanup, since presumably no humans will inhabit it. The wilderness designation to the live-impact range, bombed 60 years, has less to do with maintaining the quality of the ecosystem than with evading responsibility for environmental remediation. Land inhabited by pelicans and sea turtles, simply put, is not a national priority for cleanup.16

With much of the island deemed a wildlife refuge, the Navy found a convenient loophole by which it could avoid all responsibility for cleanup.

Leaving the used and unexploded ordnances under an environmental protection label is not an adequate solution. Sherrie Baver notes that because of Vieques’ shifting climate and its singular geography, coupled with its exposure to hurricanes and a naturally porous soil, any leftover ordnance materials that might be strewn across the island have the potential to release even more chemicals and other dangerous substances into the environment, further harming the local population and the local ecosystem.17

The sad reality is that the contamination that has occurred on Vieques will continue to remain unaddressed so long as the land is listed as a wildlife preserve. Even more astonishing is that there have been over 50 identified sites where cleanup was deemed necessary, particularly around the Live Impact Area, where explosives and other kinds of ordnances were detonated in the open. These sites could potentially release more dangerous chemicals and metals into the environment and will likely continue to exacerbate the already grave pollution problems that the island is presently facing. Recently, Congressman Rothman introduced the Vieques Recovery and Development Act of 2011 in the House of Representatives. The bill called for the construction of a state of the art hospital and for compensation for the residents of Vieques.18 However, despite the Congressman’s actions and good intentions, there is little sign that things are going to change.

Conclusion

The Navy acted irresponsibly by bombarding the beaches for hours with artillery shells and dropping chemical weapons onto the forested areas of the island to evaluate their potential. More shocking is their behavior following their departure in 2003. Despite evidence that the high levels of cancer and other deadly illnesses on the island have been linked to actions by the U.S. Navy, it still refuses to accept any responsibility or take an active part in the clean-up process. It is difficult not to conclude that this could only happen in a place such as Vieques, Puerto Rico, a remnant of the United States’ imperialist past, with a population under 10,000 people, who are still trying to figure out their rights as U.S. citizens. However, since the Balzac v. Porto Rico Supreme Court case established that parts of the U.S. Constitution do not apply to Puerto Rico, the commonwealth remains, in some important respects, scarcely more than an imperial colony of the U.S.



References for this article can be found here
Full article can be found here

Some other similar articles can be found here and here and here