Navy-Vieques protests

Navy-Vieques protests

The Navy-Vieques protests is the name given by the English-speaking media to a series of protests starting in 1999 on the Puerto Rican island-municipality of Vieques, against the use of the island by the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps for bombing target practice. The protests led to the U.S. military ending the use of its facilities on the island.


During the 1940s the U.S. Navy purchased about 4/5 parts of Vieques grounds by compensated land expropriation. Later, the U.S. military started using them as target practice for bombs and missiles, and for other ground practices — like the USMC beach and helicopter infiltration exercises.

There have been some allegations that these practices are the cause of Vieques high cancer rate. The "World Socialist Web Site" (WSWS), published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) —an opponent of U.S. military and foreign policy— reports that “over a third of the island's population of 9,000 are now suffering from a range of cancers and other serious illnesses”. [] WSWS links these cases of illness to the Navy's target practice on Vieques. A recent study reported that Vieques has a 27% higher rate of cancer than the main portion of Puerto Rico. []

In 1999, the death of David Sanes triggered one of the best-known acts of civil disobedience, the Navy-Vieques protests, also called the 'Cause of Vieques': a series of protests which began following the death in Puerto Rico against the U.S. military use of Vieques. That same year, the then Governor of Puerto Rico, Pedro Rosselló, began talks with the U.S. government to try to look for a solution to the problem.

In 2001, Governor Sila María Calderón reached an agreement with the U.S. President George W. Bush that guaranteed the military leave of the island in May 2003.

On November 17, 2002 Milivi Adams, a little girl native of Vieques, died as a consequence of her cancer diagnosis. Her death acquired symbolic meaning for the protesters.


The death of David Sanes, protests begin

"See also: David Sanes."

On April 19, 1999 Vieques native David Sanes was killed by a bomb dropped by a USMC jet during bombing target practices. A civilian employee of the Navy, Sanes was on duty at a military observation point when two bombs fell 1.5 miles (2.5 km) away from their designated target. One of them fell 30 feet (10 m) away from Sanes, killing him instantly.

After the tragic event, Puerto Ricans from all over the world started protesting against the target practices. Their most common protest act was practicing civil disobedience by illegally introducing themselves to the practice grounds; some of them camped there.

Encampments are set, the protests gain an international renown

A few months later, small wood structures were erected inside the practice grounds, and encampments from all over the island-municipality started to gain renown.

By that time, the protests started to gain international renown too, and people from all over the world joined the struggle. Many celebrities, including the political leader Ruben Berrios, singers Danny Rivera, Robi "Draco" Rosa and Ricky Martin, boxer Félix 'Tito' Trinidad, American actor Edward James Olmos and Guatemala's Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú supported the cause, as did Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Al Sharpton, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Pope John Paul II once said that he wanted peace for Vieques. The Archbishop of San Juan, Roberto González Nieves, was heavily involved in the protests that took place in the municipality. He managed to put together a coalition of different Puerto Rican church leaders that gathered international attention. Olmos, Sharpton and Kennedy also served jail time; while serving his prison term in Puerto Rico, Kennedy's wife Mary gave birth to the couple's sixth child, a son they named Aidan Caohman Vieques Kennedy.

The Movimiento Socialista de Trabajadores (MST) held a series of incursions into the bombing ranges to halt the bombing without being arrested, and a few of them were successful in that second objective.

Massive entrance to practice grounds

On May 4, 2000 civil disobedience encampments inside the practice grounds were evacuated by U.S. Marshals and Marines.

Five days later, in an internationally covered event, hundreds of protesters and supporters from all over the world and with different ideologies, penetrated into the military practice grounds.

Natives of Vieques, many Puerto Ricans, Hollywood celebrities, priests, reverends, friars, athletes, and politicians (including U.S. Representatives) were among them.

The incursion had been well publicized and resulted in the arrest of the protesters by Marshals, as both sides of the struggle wanted to avoid brushes with the military.

With peace as main cause of the protests, all civil disobedients behaved in a peaceful manner upon their arrest; most of them shouting "Paz para Vieques" (or "Peace for Vieques" in English). Others simply sang themes related to peace or religion. Only a very few had to be carried by U.S. officials, as they sat or lied down, and didn't move after being ordered to leave the practice grounds; although they didn't offer physical resistance or insult the officials. As recorded televisely, most of the disobedients were handcuffed loosely to not pressure their wrists, but allegedly their handcuffs were later tightened when escorted to jail.

Many disobedients were set free a few hours after being put in jail, others were released a few days later, and only a few of them were imposed to sentences that lasted between one to six months. The official charge was trespassing on U.S. military territory.

Permanent Nature of the PIP's Civil Disobedience Protest

Ruben BerriosLeader of the protests
President of the Puerto Rican Independence Party
Former candidate for Governor
After 361 days of continuous, permanent civil disobedience protest startThree terms of imprisonment adding up to more than six months combined with Navy-Culebra protests months

Incursions continue, protests come to an end

With the continuation of bombing practices by the U.S. Navy, incursions to the practice grounds continued, until an official announcement by the U.S. government stating that the military would be leaving the island in May 2003.

On March 31, 2004, the United States closed its Roosevelt Roads Naval Station on mainland Puerto Rico. A skeleton staff of 200, down from approximately 1200 civilian and 700 military personnel, stayed on at the facility until the transfer of the property was completed. The closure of the base at Roosevelt Roads resulted in a substantial financial loss to the economy of Puerto Rico that the Navy estimates at $250 million a year. Admiral Robert J. Natter, commander of the Atlantic Fleet, is on record as saying: "Without Vieques there is no way I need the Navy facilities at Roosevelt Roads — none. It's a drain on Defense Department and taxpayer dollars."

Nevertheless, the government of Puerto Rico is seizing the opportunity and has announced the airport at the base will be reopened, and will become a major Caribbean air cargo hub, relieving Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport and extending its useful life indefinitely without the need for property expansion. It will also be used to centralize general aviation activities now dispersed over several municipal airports, saving the Puerto Rico Ports Authority significant sums of money on maintenance and other costs. Other plans are in motion to make use of other sections of the former base to benefit the local economy. A large portion of the undeveloped land in the property is being set aside for ecological preservation.

Results / Consequences / Achievements

In 2003 the U.S. military began their moving out of Vieques. On May 1, 2003 at 12:01 AM EST of that day, the official military leave took effect. Part of the past bombing practice grounds became now property of the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), some to the Department of the Interior, and the remaining part was given to the government of Vieques.

During the protests a newspaper article in the The San Juan Star was entitled "Welcome to our cozy tropical apartheid" arguing the violations of the civil rights of Puerto Ricans in Vieques - who are US citizens - by the US Navy constituted a form of apartheid. [ [ Articles from Puerto Rico Herald ] ] .


On April 30, 2003 many supporters of the Cause of Vieques traveled to the island-municipality to hold a celebration inside the past bombing practice grounds. The event was recorded by national TV news. On May 1, 2003 at 12:01 AM EDT of that day, the crowd entered en masse to the former bombing range. Their celebration turned aggressive, in contrast to the peaceful protests held by some of them a few months earlier.

The Police Task force of Puerto Rico was mobilized from the main island, as was the Police of Vieques, and other previously mobilized law enforcement officials, who were unprepared for the now-violent celebration.

The President of the Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico and a leader of the cause was recorded by TV cameras engaging in violent and destructive behavior. The crowd destroyed a former Navy guard-house and military trucks with drop hammers.

The TV footage was used as evidence to criminally indict the vandals, as the property destroyed was now owned by the NRCS.

Those indicted said that their behavior was caused by the resentment and bitterness that had accumulated from the decades of suffering due to the Navy's bombing practices on the island. Norma Burgos, a Senator of Puerto Rico, who had formerly been imprisoned for trespassing on the bombing range several months earlier, justified the behavior by comparing it to the fall of Saddam Hussein's statue in the recent invasion of Iraq — in which U.S. soldiers used an Army tank (a property of the U.S. government) to tear it down. Their defense failed, and more than a dozen of those charged were imprisoned for "“damages and destruction of public property”".

As a result of the military leaving, the island lost over $1 Billion.Fact|date=February 2008

Famous protesters / supporters

See also

*Navy-Culebra protests

External links

Official sites

* [ Vieques, Puerto Rico: ATSDR Documents Dealing with the Isla de Vieques Bombing Range]
* [] - former official site of the U.S. Navy regarding the Navy-Vieques conflict (website was set offline). The site had a controvertible "Fact vs. Allegations" link.
** The Internet Archive stored a copy of the website at:*/

Vieques in the News Media

* [ The Harvard Crimson Clinton, Harvard University's daily newspaper since 1873, Clinton Disappoints Vieques]


# Román, Iván. [ Study: Vieques' Cancer Rates Higher Than Puerto Rico's] . San Juan, Puerto Rico: "San Juan Bureau". May 10, 2003.
# Thompson, Harvey. [ U.S. Navy to be sued for depleted uranium use on Caribbean island] . "The World Socialist Web Site". February 21, 2001.

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