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Vieques Navy Military Pollution, Puerto Rico


Since 1938, the United States Navy occupied up to 70% of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a training ground for live-fire practice and as a bomb testing site. Thousands of the island's 10,000 inhabitants had been forcibly removed from their homes and relocated to the center portion of the island.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Vieques Navy Military Pollution, Puerto Rico
Country:Puerto Rico
State or province:Puerto Rico
Location of conflict:Vieques (the entire island and waters)
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Military installations
Specific commodities:Asbestos
Chemical products
Tourism services
Industrial waste
Project Details and Actors
Project details

For sixty years a large part of the island of Vieques was closed off by the US Navy as a bombing range. The island has about 130 square km, population about 10 000. It is now developing for tourism after the US Navy left.

Project area:9,300
Level of Investment for the conflictive project350,000,000 (estimated clean-up cost)
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:9000
Start of the conflict:01/01/1941
Relevant government actors:US Navy, Government of Puerto Rico
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Misión Industrial (environmental organization in Puerto Rico), Comité pro-Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques, Alianza de Mujeres Viequenses (Vieques Women's Alliance, AMV, Catholic church
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
The movement had the support of figures including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Edward James Olmos, Robert Kennedy Jr. and the Rev. Al Sharpton. All were arrested protesting the Navy bombing. Sharpton spent 90 days in jail.
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Land occupation
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Refusal of compensation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Genetic contamination, Oil spills
Other Environmental impactsSea and water littered with unexploded ordnance
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Potential: Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Other Health impactsTremendous cancer rates and other health problems linked to organ failure, etc. There is no hospital to help treat local community members. They have to take a ferry to Puerto Rico's Big Island for specialized care.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Land demarcation
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Fostering a culture of peace
Project cancelled
Proposal and development of alternatives:The US Navy was forced to retreat and to stop bombing, thanks to local resistance in Puerto Rico and also support from sympathizers in the United States, However, the clean-up process has been largely ineffective. Vieques has not be cleaned up. It is a highly toxic place to live.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:On the whole "yes" becase the bombing by the US Navy was stopped. However, consequences remain.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

McCaffrey, K. (2002). Military power and popular protest: The U.S. Navy in Vieques, Puerto Rico. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Carruthers (Ed.), Environmental justice in Latin America: Problems, promise, and practice (263-286). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Amilcar Antonio Barreto. Vieques, the Navy, and Puerto Rican Politics. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002

Carlos R. Alicea, Vieques (Puerto Rico) contra la marina de guerra de EEUU: lucha anticolonialista y lucha ambiental, Ecologia Politica 19, 2000

Carmen Concepcion, The origins of modern environmental activism in Puerto Rico in the 1960s, Int. J. of Urban and Regional Rsearch, 19(1), 1995.

[1] New York Daily News
[click to view]

[2] NVDA Database, Puerto Ricans force United States Navy out of Vieques Islands
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Kathleen de Onis, Indiana University, [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:1504
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