Vieques, A Photographically Illustrated Guide to the Island, Its History and Its Culture
The following true story is an excerpt from our book, “Vieques, A Photographically Illustrated Guide to the Island, Its History and Its Culture,” by Gerald Singer
As far as I know, this is the only written documentation of this wonderful story in existence.
The story was obtained by interviews with Maria Velásquez, the wife of Carmelo Felix and Charlie Connelly and Myrna Pagán, the editors of the “Vieques Times.”
The Bees of Monte Carmelo
During the 1940s and 1950s, the US Navy expropriated three quarters of the privately held lands on Vieques. They fenced off this land and used it for an ammunition dump on the west side of the island and for a bombing range on the east. In addition, they claimed ownership to large tracts of land adjacent to these fences that were unused and unmarked. The exact limits and boundaries of these parcels, which the Navy called buffer zones, were ambiguous.
People living in crowded resettlement camps began to build homes, unopposed by the Navy or anyone else, on these spacious empty fields. Such was the case of a tract of land today known as Monte Carmelo.
Carmelo Felix, his wife Maria Velásquez and their family decided to build a home on top of a hill just to the west of the Navy range.
They cut a mile-long rugged road up the steep hill, brought in construction materials as best they could and made do without normal government supplied facilities such as water or electricity. They raised their family, planted trees and a garden, kept animals and cultivated honeybees.
There the family lived for several years undisturbed, until one day four Federal Marshals arrived from San Juan. They had come to Vieques to evict the Carmelos, claiming that they were trespassing on what was claimed to be Navy land.
Now in San Juan an eviction goes like this: The Marshals arrive, serve the evictees with papers from the court, and if they don’t leave on their own accord, the Marshals will remove all their personal effects from the residence and deposit them at the nearest public area, usually the street in front of the house. The residents will then be forced from the premises and they will have to scramble to take care of their belongings.
But the Marshals found a different situation when they came to the home of Carmelo and Maria.
The family refused to move out of their home, claiming that the Navy had no right to the land, hadn’t identified it and that there were no signs, fences or other indications that the land upon which their humble house sat belonged to the United States Navy.
As was mentioned before, the Felix home was at the end of a very rough mile-long dirt road beginning at the public highway below. The Navy was claiming that all land east of the highway was theirs, so that would make the nearest public area some distance from the house. It would be impossible for the four Marshals, without a proper vehicle, to effect the eviction in the usual way, that is, they couldn’t carry all the stuff on foot, down the hill by themselves.
So the Marshals served the papers, got into their vehicle and went down the road to the Navy headquarters to explain the situation.
Meanwhile, the community at large became aware of the Felix family’s problem and friends, family and supporters began to arrive at the Felix home by the carload.
Back at Navy headquarters, Navy brass recruited a group of five enlisted men, who apparently were in the middle of a basketball game, to help the Marshals with the eviction. They also put at the disposal of the Marshals a flatbed truck with side panels and a smaller panel truck. In addition, telephone calls were made to Roosevelt Roads Navy Base in Ceiba, to the US Marshals’ headquarters in San Juan and to the Vieques Police Department.
When all the pieces were in place, the four original federal Marshals, armed and in uniform, joined by a higher up from the Marshals’ Office and the Judge Advocate General (JAG) from Roosevelt Roads in San Juan both wearing suits and ties and the five unarmed enlisted men wearing their basketball shorts and T-shirts, made their way up to the top of Monte Carmelo with the two vehicles.
They were jeered by the crowd that had gathered and was continuing to gather around the Felix home.
The Vieques Police Department, to their great relief, citing lack of jurisdiction on what was now said to be federal property, refused to participate in the eviction.
The Marshals came to the door once again, read their papers demanding that the Felixes leave the premises, and upon receiving a negative response from Carmelo, entered the home. Inside were four generations of the Felix family, from great grandmothers to kids to babes in arms.
The Marshals and Navy men started loading up the family’s belongings bringing them to the truck parked outside, where they were booed and insulted by the crowd. After the heavy stuff like the furniture that Maria had just bought and hadn’t paid for yet was loaded, the Navy team loaded smaller items onto bed sheets and carried them to the truck all the while trying to ignore the tears of the women and children and the consternation of the grandparents and the family.
The panel truck could be seen filling up with chairs and tables, baby cribs and beds, lamps and kitchen stuff, Bibles, books and the new set of encyclopedias that Maria had also just bought and hadn’t yet paid for.
At some point, someone, no one knows who or at least no one is telling, possibly one of the children, brought two boxes of bees into the house. A box of bees contains one total beehive with approximately 35,000 bees. The boxes are meant to be handled gently so as not to upset the bees.
Through signals, through communications in Spanish, a language that the Marshals did not readily understand and through just a general cultural knowledge of bees and boxes of bees, the Viequenses quietly and without a fuss left the house and went outdoors.
One of the Navy enlisted men in his shorts and T-shirt hefted up one of the boxes and threw it to the next man in line who passed it to the third man. Then the second box was picked up and unceremoniously thrown. The bees did not react for the first 30 or so seconds, but then they did. Seventy thousand angry bees swarmed the Navy men who ran for the door and the road swatting at the bees that were stinging them as they ran. The Viequenses remained calm and stayed still knowing that bees rarely sting you if you remain motionless.
At this juncture, the Chief Marshal in the suit decided it was time to call it a day and bring the trucks and the accumulated stuff down the hill. The flatbed was parked nose to nose with the panel truck and needed to be backed up before being able to access the driveway. As he ordered his men to get into the truck and take it away, Carmelo jumped under the rear wheels of the truck and started screaming that they would have to run him over and kill him before he would allow them to drive away carrying his family’s belongings.
In the midst of all this confusion, jeering crowds, swarming bees chasing Navy sailors, and Carmelo screaming like a madman, someone noticed that smoke was coming out of the panel truck. It was on fire. (How the fire started or who started it is not known. A video tape taken by one of the bystanders, however, shows one of the men in suits lighting a cigarette and then entering the panel truck just minutes before the fire started.)
Carmelo came out from under the wheels and shouted to the Marshals to move the flatbed away from the panel truck before it too caught fire. “No one touches that truck,” was the response and within minutes it too went up in a blaze of fire and smoke that could be seen from almost all over the island.
More people came to see what was happening. The Navy officer radioed for help and soon a Navy SWAT team armed with automatic weapons came up to Monte Carmelo to escort the Marshals and Navy men back to the base.
The Marshals declared the eviction to be completed and order restored.
The Felixes returned to their home, and with the help of friends, family and neighbors they were able to get back on their feet. Carmelo and Maria, their kids and their grandkids live to this day, where the huge Puerto Rican flag flies, on the summit of what is now called Monte Carmelo.