Today is the 20th anniversary of the death of David Sanes, a civilian guard on duty in the Vieques U.S. Navy base who was killed by an errant bomb. This anniversary brings Puerto Rico the opportunity to rethink how successive administrations have cruelly abandoned our Isla Nena and our beloved Culebra.
This year, the anniversary of the killing of Sanes coincides with Good Friday, the day Christians commemorate the sacrifice Jesus made out of love to save humanity.
In this day of reflection, we call on public institutions to take the right steps to ensure the welfare of these communities.
On the evening of April 19, 1999, while Sanes was ending his shift at the observation post, a U.S. Navy pilot launched two 500-pound bombs at a target on the Vieques Navy bombing range. The bombs missed their target and destroyed the observation post and killed David Sanes, a 35-year old security employee.
Sanes killing awakened Puerto Rico to the six-decade-long horror that Viequenses had been experiencing with that Navy bombing range and triggered a campaign that ended four years later with the Navy closing the bombing range. That campaign brought Vieques to the spotlight and gained the support of every Puerto Rican in their demand for peace.
Twenty years after Sanes´ death, we sadly see that Vieques faces the same problems, most of them resulting from the indolence of the central government, they suffered the day Sanes was killed.
Life in Vieques has certainly experienced a significant qualitative leap since the Navy left the island, such as a remarkable reduction in the poverty level, from 60 percent in 2000 to 36.8 percent today and dozens of hotels opened there. Some sectors of the population show concerns about whether progress in Vieques has benefited its residents, or population displacement problems.
But even considering those concerns, no one can deny that, in general, after the Navy left the island, the situation has been more positive than negative for Isla Nena residents.
However, many other problems, which don´t seem to have complicated solutions, have persisted over the years, almost as a punishment. For example, the problem of maritime transportation, that successive administrations have failed to solve, and difficulties for Viequenses and Culebrenses to access healthcare services, to the point that, since Hurricane María, Vieques doesn´t even have a hospital.
These difficulties, repeated year after year, brought a feeling of abandonment to the residents on both islands.
We will insist on saying that Vieques and Culebra need special treatment since they are separated from the rest of Puerto Rico. To do this, we must comply with Law 154, 2004. Although never implemented, it provides a series of measures for both islands to be equated with the rest of Puerto Rico and to help them overcome that terrible legacy of decades under military practices.
Today we should also think about the long-suffering people of Vieques and Culebra. The government must ensure that these islands receive justice and reparation.