Vieques: The Struggle Continues
Vieques and Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a Caribbean archipelago: the smallest of the Greater
Antilles. Invaded by the United States in 1898 during the Spanish American
War, Puerto Rico was put under US rule as war booty. Today, Puerto Rico is
still a militarily occupied colony. In 1917 US citizenship was imposed upon
Puerto Ricans without the right to vote for president or be represented in
the US Congress. However, Puerto Ricans were and are subject to obligatory
U.S, military service.
Vieques is an island municipality of Puerto Rico. Just 21 miles long and 4
miles wide, it is located 8 miles from the southeast coast of the main
island. During the1940s the U. S. Navy occupied three-fourths of the
territory of Vieques. For sixty years the Navy utilized Vieques as a base
for its military operations in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean. The
Navy transformed Vieques into one of the world's most active bases to train
pilots and test new armament systems. The Navy also rented the facilities
to arms manufacturers and allied armed forces for practice and testing.
The military exercises provoked grave ecological, economic and social
damage, which contributed to extreme poverty and forced migration of many
Viequenses to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the United States. For
decades those who remained lived in terror of the physical and physiological
impacts of live, high explosive bombs. They also suffered from hostile and
abusive behavior by US Navy personnel, many of whom sexually assaulted women
and attacked and even murdered civilians.
The bombardments contaminated the waters, soil and air with alarming levels
of heavy metals and toxins such as mercury, lead, cadmium, aluminum and
uranium, which has provoked a health crisis among Viequenses. For example,
Vieques' cancer rate is at least 30% higher than that for the rest of Puerto
Rico. In addition there are high incidences of lung disease, respiratory
aliments and skin problems, all of which are associated with the
high levels of environmental contamination.
For over six decades the people of Vieques have used different forms of
struggle against the military presence. In April of 1999, a bomb
accidentally hit an observation post, killing a local security guard named
David Sanes. This incident triggered the best-known and most dramatic phase
of Vieques resistance, which included massive civil disobedience.
The Vieques campaign against the US Navy received help and solidarity from
nearly all sectors of Puerto Rican society, as well as from the
international community. People from Vieques appeared several times before
of the United Nations Decolonization Committee and addressed multiple forums
in the United States and other countries, such as Brazil, Cuba, India,
Philippines, Japan, Korea, Guam, Guatemala and Geneva, Switzerland. Nearly
1,500 persons were arrested for peaceful civil disobedience in Vieques.
Hundreds of these people served time in federal prison for misdemeanor
trespassing. As consequence of this Puerto Rican struggle with international
help, military operations ceased on May 1, 2003, and the US Navy left
What does peace really involve?
The people of Vieques have a vision for the development of a new Vieques,
free from the US Navy, living in peace with a quality of life that responds
to the people's historic demands, which are summarized as follows:
· Recognition by the United States government of the right of the people of
Vieques to their lands.
· The departure of The Fish and Wildlife Service of the United States
Department of Interior from Vieques
· Creation of an organization of Viequenses to conserve, preserve and
protect the demilitarized lands, not to restrict the people but to help
teach them how to love, manage, conserve and protect their resources.
· The Master Plan for Sustainable Development should include mechanisms of
land control, conservation and management to guarantee proper use in
accordance with the interests and necessities of the community.
· Community control of the lands rescued from the US Navy through a
Community Land Trust or Cooperative to avoid speculation by large foreign
Recognition and realization of the above will fulfill the historic demands
of the people of Vieques, also known as the "Four D's":
Demilitarization, Decontamination, Devolution and Development.
For complete demilitarization the people of Vieques demand withdrawal of all
military personnel and all war related artifacts in Vieques. This includes
the Relocatable Over The Horizon Radar (ROTHR).
For complete decontamination, the US Navy must clean all contamination
caused by sixty years of bombings and other war related practices. They must
leave our house as clean as they found it when they first arrived. This
process requires that the corresponding governmental agencies give priority
attention to the most serious health problems in Vieques caused by the
contamination - because without good health there is no peace.
For complete devolution every inch of Vieques land must be returned to its
people. We need land to build homes, schools and hospitals, to develop
agricultural, tourist and fishing projects, and to leave to our future
generations. The rescue of this land is absolutely indispensable for the
future development of Vieques.
For sustainable development the people of Vieques must be allowed to put
into practice their vision of a Vieques not only without the US Navy, but
truly at peace. Community-controlled projects centered on eco-tourism,
agriculture and fishing, studies in marine biology and archeology - among
other economic sectors - will provide employment for our population and will
generate momentum to end the socioeconomic crisis of the past sixty years.
What can you do for Vieques?
· Start discussions of this new phase of the Vieques struggle in your
workplaces, schools, universities, and communities, as well as in meetings
with religious and governmental leaders. Call us and ask for a speaker to
come and give a presentation on Vieques.
· Write articles and letters to the editor in local and national newspapers
· Participate in activities of mobilization and protest
· Keep informed about activities through our electronic newsgroup: