Vieques, Puerto Rico.
Efforts to evict the US Navy from this island, located to the east of
the big island of Puerto Rico and presently home to 9,400 people, have
been occurring for decades. Recently, large demonstrations and organizing
work in the United States and in Puerto Rico have again spotlighted the
US military’s involvement in Vieques and brought public attention to the
But the US military
presence in Vieques is not unique. The struggle over this island highlights
the larger issue of the relationship between the US military and Puerto
Rico (technically a US "commonwealth" and recognized as a colony by the
United Nations). Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans have been highly impacted
by US militarism. Young people are heavily recruited by the US military
and Puerto Rican land and resources are expropriated and damaged.
Many people, including
students and other young people, are outraged by these practices. They
have been working hard to get the US military out of Puerto Rico. For
instance, in May, students at the University of Puerto Rico went on strike
to protest recent events in Vieques. In the United States, many groups
of young people are putting pressure on professors and community leaders
to denounce military practices in Puerto Rico, especially in Vieques.
Such activities will hopefully help to put an end to the destructive practices
of the US military in Puerto Rico.
Here’s a glimpse of
the impact of the US military on Puerto Ricans and Puerto Rico:
Ricans in the US Military and Military Programs
- Puerto Ricans have
served in the US military for 100 years.
- Under the Jones
Act of 1917, Puerto Ricans became eligible for the US draft.
During major conflicts
(World War I, World War II, Korean, Vietnam, and the Gulf), the percentage
of US armed services members who were Puerto Ricans from the island
was among the highest when compared with the 50 US states.
of Active Duty Enlisted Members of Puerto Rican Ethnicity
All figures for FY 1998.
The data detailing the number of Puerto Ricans who serve as officers
- Puerto Ricans
comprised 1.57% of the active duty enlisted service members in 1998.
Of identified ethnic groups, only Mexicans, Filipinos, and "other Hispanics"
have higher percentages. The Army has particularly high rates of enlisted
Puerto Ricans: 2.37%. (These figures include both people from Puerto
Rico and people of Puerto Rican heritage who are from the 50 states
or Washington DC. They are based on self-identification.)
- Puerto Rico has
9 JROTC programs which enroll well over 1000 students. Several of these
are in military academies.
Military in Puerto Rico
- In 1998, the Department
of Defense reported that there were 25 military installations in Puerto
Rico. An AFSC report states
that these installations occupy about 13% of the land in Puerto Rico.
- The US military
views Puerto Rico as important for several reasons: its strategic location,
its use as a center for US military training, and as a replacement due
to the closure of US military installations in Panama.
- Nuclear weapons
have been stationed in Puerto Rico (despite treaties which ban them
in Latin America), related weaponry has been tested there, and the US
has prepared a nuclear weapons communications network there.
- US military operations
which have been launched from Puerto Rico include Guatemala (1954),
the Dominican Republic (1965), Grenada (1983), Panama (1989), and preparations
for wars in Iraq (early 1990s) and the former Yugoslavia (1999).
- The Navy has used
the island of Vieques for combined land, air, and sea operations and
practice and for munitions storage and practice. It controls approximately
two-thirds to three-fourths of the land. The US also rents out the use
of Vieques to NATO and foreign militaries for training.
- Weapons training
and practice has had devastating and dangerous effects for the people,
land, and environment of Vieques. For instance, the Navy dropped five
bombs a mile from the main town in Vieques (four detonated) in 1993,
used napalm in 1992, and fired 263 depleted uranium shells in 1999.
- On May 4, 2000,
US federal authorities removed a group of protestors from the island.
The diverse group of nonviolent protestors included elected officials
from Puerto Rico and the US, grassroots community leaders, students,
religious leaders, union members, and community people. Some of these
people had been camped out in Vieques for over a year, ever since two
500-pound bombs (being used for practice for the war in Kosovo) went
miles off target and killed a civilian and wounded four others.
- According to the
Puerto Rico Department of Health, the cancer rate in Vieques is 26%
higher than the Puerto Rican average.
- Explosive and
toxic materials have been found in the drinking water.
- Bombings and other
testing have caused destruction to the ecosystems of Vieques, including
the coastline, coral reefs, lagoons, and forests.
- Asbestos, lead,
mercury, and nitrates are among the environmental pollutants found in
American Friends Service
Committee, Latin America/Caribbean Program report: "Colonial
Legacy and Military Strategy: The U.S. Military in Puerto Rico"
Latinas & Latinos
for Social Change: http://hometown.aol.com/lfsc1999/index.htm
Vieques Libre: http://www.viequeslibre.org
Legacy and Military Strategy a 1999 AFSC report on the US Military
and Puerto Rico
Department of Defense
Meléndez, Edwin and
Edgardo Meléndez. Colonial Dilemma. Boston: South End Press, 1993.