When questions of environment and natural resources come up, Dr. Neftalí García is most likely to be called upon. With a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Ohio State University and a minor in philosophy at UPR, he is well equipped as director of Missión Industrial. He has held this post since the mid-1970s.
The Industrial Mission was founded in 1969 to give ecumenical support to workers, and to provide a shock absorber between workers and industrialists. Funded by the World Council of Churches and seven or eight religious denominations, it provides support for the health and safety of workers. Such abuses as permitting sanitation workers to ride on the side of the truck and subjecting workers to dangerous pollution demanded immediate attention. The Mission acts also in the vanguard of all environmental problems, regardless of their magnitude.
The disaster of the Vietnam War, the Black movement against racism, the assassination of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. aroused Dr. García's thinking in terms of social reform. Such books as Fanon's The Colonizer and the Colonized gave him a perspective on the importance of decolonizing Puerto Rico.
Though the board of the Industrial Mission is church-oriented, García broke away from traditional Protestant beliefs. Nonetheless, he considers himself basically religious in his concern for ethical values.
Dr. García's job is to teach communities to broaden their understanding so as to solve their own problems. This is an important step towards achieving political as well as economic independence. He gathers information necessary for the solution of a problem, gives talks, holds press conferences on current problems, serves as a consultant in cases relative to pollution and natural resources. He invites participation, encouraging self-confidence and power, in an effort to offset the psychological effects of colonization. He has testified before the United Nations Decolonization Committee as to the relationship between colonial status and environmental problems.
Dr. García sees the danger of Puerto Rico losing the beauty of its green mountains and valleys through the contamination perpetuated by United States-controlled industries. He sees the threat of United States exploitation of copper, cobalt, nickel, and other minerals, though he does not see the immediate threat of the "2020" plan.
He is concerned about the anti-environmental practices of the Israeli farms in Santa Isabel, southern Puerto Rico. Their excessive use of insecticides affects the health of the whole area. Though financed with a $36 million loan from the Puerto Rican government, it seems less interested in providing for the agricultural needs of Puerto Rico than in selling its brand of irrigation system, and defending U.S. political interests in Puerto Rico. We entered a warehouse near the farms where onions were being loaded onto trucks for export, and obviously not for Puerto Rican use. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico imports 90% of its food.
The sixty or more pharmaceutical plants in northern Puerto Rico, and the petrochemical plants in the southern area are not closely controlled in their dumping of pollutants. This is one of the incentives for U.S. industries to locate in Puerto Rico. In 1983, for instance, eighteen wells were found contaminated, affecting 10,000 people. Tetrachloride of carbon, mercury, and other dangerous chemicals were found. The Puerto Rican Bar Association reported that the air in Puerto Rico contained seven times more sulphur dioxide than that of the United States. "Puerto Rico, like all oceanic islands, is a fragile ecosystem that cannot carry the burden of industrial models built on a continental scale," it warns.
In a December, 1986 article in Pensamiento Crítico, García drew a clear cut connection between the colonial status of Puerto Rico and its natural resources and environment. With United States investments in industry, banking, and speculation calculated around $30 billion, environmental issues must accommodate to these interests. The Environmental Protection Agency, Administration of Health and Occupational Safety, and Geological Survey are federal bureaucracies protecting corporate interests rather than the economic and health welfare of Puerto Ricans.
He pointed out that the experimentation with Agent Orange and other herbicides in the rain forest of Puerto Rico affected not only the flora and fauna but the very health of the people living in the area. The Navy has destroyed lagoons, agricultural activity and social life of the people of Vieques. Plants designed to treat wastes from chemical and pharmaceutical industries at Barceloneta were never constructed as promised. Transnational companies have contaminated subterranean waters and soils. The city of Cristiana was constructed with no regard for the presence there of lead, zinc and other toxic substances in the sediments and water. Mercury has been found in the blood, urine and skin of residents there.
Colonial ideology, García maintains, is taught in the schools and through the media that Puerto Rico has few natural resources and little inventive scientific-technological ability, and that Puerto Ricans are genetically inferior to the white inhabitants. With this in view, it is easy to take advantage of the native population.
In testifying before the Decolonization Committee García reported unemployment at 25% along with multiplying social problems as a result of the colonial situation. As Puerto Ricans organize in support of independence, the United States responds with further subjugation: economic repression and designation of those struggling for independence as "terrorists". Among repressive actions was the vandalizing of the offices of Pensamiento Crítico, of which García is a staff member. Members of the editorial board were arrested, another attempt to eliminate a free voice in political, economic, and social matters. "The FBI had no idea what was going on in the independence movement, so they took everything they could get their hands on to gather that information," he declared. "But their error is that the reaction will serve to enhance something they want to crush. The arrests and the invasion of homes prove to people that, no matter what they say, colonialism has no legal basis and respects no laws."