Archive for the “vieques” Category

December 9, 2011
CONTACT: Todd Jurkowski
407.451.9857 (cell)

(ORLANDO, Fla.) – Former congressman and current congressional candidate Alan Grayson (D-Orlando) expressed outrage at the report on Vieques issued by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The federal agency announced Thursday that its investigation concluded that there is no evidence linking decades of U.S. Navy bombing exercises on the tiny island to an increase in health problems for the people who live there.

“This is a disgrace. It’s arrogant and dangerous for the ATSDR to dismiss the scientific evidence on the effects of more than sixty years of bombing. Instead, these bureaucrats are trying to shift the blame to utterly implausible reasons,” said Grayson.

A study by the Puerto Rico Health Department concluded the cancer rate among people on Vieques is 27 percent higher than for those on the main island, despite no significant differences in lifestyle. (The island of Vieques is separated from the main island by only ten miles of water). People on Vieques also show evidence of elevated risks for high blood pressure, diabetes and epilepsy.

The ATSDR report suggests that the health problems are caused by eating fish with high levels of mercury, but denies that those elevated mercury levels are the result of contamination from uranium, Agent Orange and other toxins used in the bombing exercises that ended in 2003. The ATSDR suggests that people on Vieques eat fish low in mercury to reduce the potential health effects.

“That’s the best advice of the ATSDR? Really? Maybe the ATSDR should invest in Chick-Fil-A and put up billboards that read, `Eat Mor Chikin,’ quipped Grayson.

The ATSDR report did acknowledge that some areas of the Vieques bombing range still present a health risk.

The ATSDR will accept public comment for 90 days before releasing its final?report. People can submit a comment via email to

Grayson is running for a new U.S. House of Representatives district that is expected to be created in Orlando.

Todd Jurkowski
Communications Director Committee to Elect Alan Grayson
(407) 451-9857 (cell)

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Obama Facing Voter Backlash Over Vieques Island Deadly Contamination Class Action Lawsuit, Appealed In U.S.

President Barack H. Obama’s claimed that the federal government can’t be held accountable for the unlawful use of Vieques Island as a testing ground for deadly toxins and weapons by the U.S. Department of the Navy for 63 years. Read More

U.S. Finds No Link Between Vieques Bombings and Health Risks
Published: New York Times December 8, 2011

A federal agency announced Thursday that it had found no evidence that decades of live fire and bombing exercises by the Navy on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques had caused health problems documented among its residents.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, released the results of a review that confirmed a conclusion reached by the agency in 2003 that heavy metals and explosive compounds in the island’s soil, groundwater, air and fish posed no health hazards. Read More

Congressman Steve Rothman: More Questions Than Answers in ATSDR Report

December 8, 2011
CONTACT: Aaron Keyak
office: (202) 225-5061
cell: (202) 905-6361

Washington, DC – Today, Congressman Steve Rothman (D-NJ) released the following statement on the new health assessment by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico:

The new Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) report should have addressed the concerns of the residents of Vieques and the alarmingly high rates of serious and disabling health care problems on the island. I am disappointed that the ATSDR report provided more questions than answers. It is astonishing that the ATSDR seems to still hold that decades of bombing on the island by the US Navy with military ordnance pose no harmful health effects to the people of Vieques.

The report, in acknowledging many still unanswered questions concerning the health of the people of Vieques, made a number of recommendations on which additional efforts should be undertaken. As the author of the Vieques Recovery and Development Act – which would set up a toxic research center and hospital, among other measures on the island – my bill’s and this report’s recommendations for additional action should now be fully supported and financed by the Congress and the Executive Branch. I will continue to work with the Obama Administration to ensure that the current recommendations from both the ATSDR and the White House Taskforce on Puerto Rico on Vieques are carried out as soon as possible.

We must deliver justice to the people of Vieques, Puerto Rico. It is unacceptable that the ATSDR report still leaves the residents of Vieques without a clear explanation of the health risks associated with decades of US Navy activity on their island. The time for the US government to address the serious health care concerns of the people of Vieques is long overdue.


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ViequesThe 2011 “Vieques revision is now in stores on Vieques and available online. The book has been well received and sales have been brisk.

Good t’ing!

While there I did have the opportunity to get some cool photos, some of which will undoubtedly wind up in the next revision.

Vieques Puerto Rico

Limestone Cliffs, Puerto Ferro, Vieques Puerto Rico


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Between Ceramic and Glass: Artwork by Sara Cook and érica Boulogne
Saturday, 19 November, 2011 7.30 PM

Live ‘bomba’ musica/dance, refreshments

Entrance Free

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Bridge to Vieques
The Senate approved by acclamation Tuesday a measure for a referendum to ask Vieques and Culebra residents whether they approve of a proposal to build a bridge between the two municipalities and the Puerto Rico mainland.
Read the “Bridge to Vieques” article in the Puerto Rican Daily Sun

Rum Diary Review
“Depp as Thompson is captivated by a tiny island called Vieques  in 1960. He was moonlighting for a rich, corrupt developer played flawlessly by Aaron Eckhart. In his novel The Rum Diary. Thompson writes, ‘I was being paid $25 a day to ruin the only place I’d seen in ten years where I felt a sense of peace.’ ”
Read Rum Diary review from

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This article from the Dana Point Times illustrates something about the Navy years on Vieques that’s not always realized by newly arrived residents to the island. That is, that Vieques did not benefit from the Navy occupation. It was merely a target. The ship in this article, typical of all the ships that came to Vieques, sailed from Roosevelt Roads, fired at Vieques, leaving only the residue of its munitions. It then sailed away to “one of the Caribbean islands” or returned to Roosevelt Roads on the Big Island where they spent their money.

“…Chris signed up to be on a destroyer after his training, but ended up on an attack cargo ship, Achernar, named for the ninth brightest star in the sky. The purpose of this ship was to provide training for assaults with landing craft. They practiced on the island of Vieques, part of the Puerto Rico islands. Achernar carried supplies, tanks and landing craft for these practice assaults, and it became known among the troops as the Vieques ferry. After the exercises, the sailors would get leave on one of the Caribbean islands. At one point, Chris missed getting back to the ship before it sailed….” Read article

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The Huffington Post
Brendan DeMelle
Freelance writer and researcher
Posted: September 29, 2009 03:20 PM

New Justice Department Policy Signals Hope for Justice in Vieques

The Justice Department announced a much-needed new policy last week that will impose strict limits on government agencies’ use of the state secrets privilege in order to block lawsuits for national security reasons. Under the new rules, any military or espionage agency wishing to assert the privilege in order to dismiss a lawsuit or restrict evidence in court must meet a higher standard of proof that it would pose “significant harm” to national security. The new policy also requires the approval of Attorney General Eric Holder for any attempt to use the privilege in court.

“This policy is an important step toward rebuilding the public’s trust in the government’s use of this privilege while recognizing the imperative need to protect national security. It sets out clear procedures that will provide greater accountability and ensure the state secrets privilege is invoked only when necessary and in the narrowest way possible,” Holder said in a statement announcing the policy.

Reining in the use of this privilege, which was abused heavily during the Bush administration, is a step in the right direction. For far too long, the government has hidden behind disingenuous claims of national security threats in order to deny justice for those injured or wronged by our own military. The new DOJ policy indicates that the Obama Justice Department understands this problem and is working to correct it.

This policy shift may also provide a ray of hope for the residents of Vieques, who are suing the federal government over the U.S. Navy’s 60-year bombardment of their island for training purposes. The Navy bombing left behind a toxic legacy of contamination and disease that hampers the island’s economy and continuously threatens the health of its residents.

Attorneys representing more than 7,000 citizens and the municipality of Vieques have presented extensive scientific evidence of the harmful impacts on the environment and on the food supply of the fish-loving islanders. They have presented ample evidence of the health crisis caused by the contamination left behind by the Navy, including astronomical rates of cancer, birth defects and other pollution-related illnesses which plague residents. The damage done to the island’s tourism-driven economy is also readily apparent.

Public outrage over the government’s neglect of the plight of Vieques residents has compelled both houses of the Puerto Rican legislature and a special committee of the United Nations to pass resolutions demanding justice for the people of Vieques and a thorough clean-up of their island.

Despite all of this evidence and public pressure, there is one major obstacle standing in the way of justice for the people of Vieques – the government’s use of an archaic  “sovereign immunity” defense – which would block the lawsuit on national security grounds if accepted by the trial judge currently deliberating the case. This outlandish use of the national security defense was initiated by the Bush administration and, so far, upheld by the Obama Justice Department.

While the new DOJ policy implementing more rigorous review of the government’s use of national security claims will cut down on such abuse going forward, Attorney General Holder must intervene in the Vieques case to make sure that his legacy is not tarnished by a prime example of such abuse happening right now. Dropping the sovereign immunity defense in the Vieques case would demonstrate this administration’s commitment to ending the overzealous use of national defense claims.

The government should immediately retract its foolish sovereign immunity defense in the Vieques case and allow the people of Vieques a fair shake with justice. Better yet, the Justice Department could settle the matter now, allowing the expedited cleanup of the island to commence and the economic and physical impacts endured by the islanders to begin to be remedied.

There is no acceptable excuse for the government’s delay in providing relief for Vieques. President Obama promised such remedies in a letter to the people of Puerto Rico in February 2008. The Puerto Rican House and Senate have both recognized that the U.S. v. Sanchez lawsuit – in which the government is claiming sovereign immunity – provides an excellent mechanism for the government to settle and provide remedies to the people of Vieques.

Six decades of bombing trashed this once-pristine paradise, and it is up to the Obama Justice Department to make amends with the victims who have sacrificed greatly for this nation by enduring the Navy’s bombardment and ongoing contamination.

Attorney General Holder must act now to correct this injustice.

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I write to formally request what I have asked in meetings and conversations over past months: the Environmental Quality Board (PR) not authorize the open burning of vegetation in Vieques proposed by the US Navy. This would provoke irreparable damage to the health and well being of Vieques residents, since it is widely known that the vegetation in question, located in the Live Impact Area, is contaminated with toxic chemical substances and materials that represent a threat to human health.

It is worth emphasizing that the Navy plans are contrary to the laws and regulations that protect the environment and health in Puerto Rico. For this reason the only way the Navy can carry out these acts is if the EQB approves an exemption to 105 regulations that prohibit this type of open burning. The EPA will only enter into this issue to evaluate the Navy burn if approved by the EQB.

As Mayor of Vieques, I request this exemption and exception to the regulations not be authorized. I ask for total fulfillment of the laws and regulations that protect our environment and our people, to not allow the Navy to continue to effect the health of Vieques people, especially considering the serious health problems resulting from decades of Navy bombing with all types of toxic and chemical arms, including Napalm and depleted uranium.

The damage to Viequenses health as a result of military practices by the US Navy has been documented by several Puerto Ricana and US scientists and by medical testing on a large number of Viequenses who show presence of heavy metals in abnormally high levels. As examples we cite recent declarations by Dr. John Wargo, Dr. James Poner, Dr. Arturo Massol-Deya y la Dra. Carmen Ortiz Roque, summarizing the relationship between Navy use of heavy metals, toxics and chemical agents in Vieques and the negative effects on the health of its  inhabitants. We include copy of these sworn affidavits.

As you are aware, several Representatives fro the US Congress have expressed concern about the health crisis here that resulted from UN Navy practices and have ordered the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease  Registry (ATSDR) to reexamine their Vieques studies done more than six years ago that minimized Navy’s impact on Viequenses’ health and that given the overwhelming evidence about causal relationships between military toxics and the health crisis, the case should be reopened for a new look, action currently ongoing.

Lastly, the present petition for the EQB not to authorize proposed open burning in Vieques is not just the position of the Mayor of Vieques. The same position has been expressed by the Vieques Municipal Legislature as well as several civic and community organizations in Vieques and elsewhere. Therefore, I am confident the agency you direct will adhere to the laws and regulations that protect our environment and people and deny the US Navy’s petition to burn lands and vegetation on Vieques.


Evelyn Delerme Camacho


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Fish, Wildlife, and Bombs: The Struggle to Clean Up Vieques
by Katherine T. McCaffrey

In May 2003, after hundreds of arrests, marches, and constant pickets, mass protest forced the U.S. Navy off Vieques, Puerto Rico.1

Since World War II, the navy had maintained one of its key military installations in the Western Hemisphere on this 51-square-mile island, located six miles off the southeast coast of Puerto Rico. Yet Vieques was also home to 10,000 U.S. citizens who lived sandwiched between an ammunition depot and a military training area. The navy test-fired both land-based and naval artillery, as well as small arms. It rehearsed amphibious landing exercises, parachute drops, and submarine maneuvers. The navy bombed Vieques from air, land, and sea. In the 1980s and 1990s, the navy trained an average of 180 days per year and dropped or fired an average of 1,464 tons of bombs and explosives annually on Vieques.2 In 1998, the last year before protest interrupted maneuvers, the navy dropped 23,000 bombs on the island, most of
which contained live explosives.3

After six decades of intensive military training, residents are preoccupied with cleaning up the island. Dangerous levels of cadmium and lead appear in the island’s crabs. Lead is concentrated in pasture grass grazed by horses and cattle. Ordnance occasionally washes ashore. Such contamination from heavy metals, and other toxins poses major environmental and health concerns. For example, the island’s cancer rate is 27% higher than the rest of Puerto Rico, raising troubling questions about the military’s toxic legacy and its short- and long-term impact on islanders’ health.

Cleanup, however, has been stymied. When the navy left Vieques, the majority of its 18,000-acre landholding was transferred to the U.S. Department of Interior, designated a wildlife refuge, and put under control of the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. Fish and Wildlife’s stewardship of this vast expanse of former base land has created a paradoxical situation in which the same terrain that was bombed 180 days a year, that is littered with both spent shells and live bombs, that is pockmarked with bomb craters and toxic-waste sites, is now officially a “wildlife refuge.” The most devastated terrain, the 980-acre live impact area, is officially designated as a “wilderness preserve” and blocked from public access.

The base land’s designation as a wildlife refuge was a decision based more on politics than environmental concerns. Legally, cleanup of unexploded ordnance and other military waste is determined by projected land use. Land designated for “conservation use” requires only a superficial cleanup, since presumably no humans will inhabit it. The wilderness designation to the live-impact range, bombed 60 years, has less to do with maintaining the quality of the ecosystem than with evading responsibility for environmental remediation. Land inhabited by pelicans and sea turtles, simply put, is not a national priority for cleanup.

Historically, many National Wildlife Refuges in U.S. and its territories—for example, Cabeza Prieta in Arizona and the Johnston Atoll and Midway Islands in the Pacific—were once military ranges, sites for military production or weapons testing, or bases. While the media often celebrate the creation of new parkland and the return of land to nature, the politics of these land transfers demands scrutiny.

By the terms of the 1964 Wilderness Act, which Congress invoked to reserve the Vieques bombing range as a refuge, a wilderness area should appear “to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable” and have “outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.” No part of the Wilderness Act describes the contemporary Vieques landscape.

Not surprisingly, the Department of Fish and Wildlife has become the lightning rod for local resentment. Residents see the department as acting as the navy’s handmaiden, blocking access to land for which residents have struggled for decades and cleanup of contamination. Rather than appreciating Fish and Wildlife’s “protection” of the environment, many residents resent the agency as the island’s most recent usurper. They see the mandate to protect former base land as an extension of restrictions and absolute control over the land established by the navy.

“Fish and Wildlife has everything in Vieques,” declared Pito Delarme, a 39-year-old construction worker. “Now you can’t collect coconuts and crabs, you can’t fish, you can’t collect anything!” Delarme bristled at Fish and Wildlife’s efforts to protect Vieques from everyday human activity, after 60 years of unimpeded destruction. “When the navy was here, where were these laws? The navy destroyed the coral, they killed the turtles, the fish, the crabs, contaminated the land—all of this destruction and [Fish and Wildlife] never stopped them for 68 years. And now we want to develop this part of Vieques well, and we’re not permitted.”

Fish and Wildlife officials have protested that the Department of Interior never wanted Vieques land, and that it was imposed on them by Congress. Nevertheless, Fish and Wildlife’s custodianship of the land prevents the cleanup that residents desire. Military contamination behind the barbed-wire fences of the refuge will remain unaddressed as long as its land use is designated for endangered birds and turtles, rather than for humans.

The military used the western and eastern sides of Vieques very differently, and their contrasting contamination and cleanup issues today reflect this. In the west, where the navy maintained an ammunition depot and a small operational base, cleanup is connected to the storage and disposal of munitions. Almost 2 million pounds of military and industrial waste—oil, solvents, lubricants, lead paint, acid, and other refuse—were disposed of in different sites in mangrove swamps and sensitive wetland areas. A portion of this waste contained extremely hazardous chemicals. One 200-acre site was used to detonate and burn excess and defective munitions.4

The navy initially identified 17 different sites where it would investigate contamination and remove munitions lying on the surface (without cleaning up solvents or toxins leaching into the soil or buried ordnance). By March 2005, however, the military committed itself to further assessing and exploding ordnance on the surface of only three out of the 17 sites. Nine of them required “no further action,” the navy argued, and five supposedly contained only minimal contamination, posing no significant risk.5 In a controversial move, the navy also argued that much of the toxic contamination in Vieques did not, in fact, originate from military activity, but rather from naturally occurring geological processes.6

The military’s resistance to cleaning up the relatively limited amount of contamination on the western “clean” side of Vieques indicates how contentious the cleanup process in the east may become. Cleaning up the 14,573-acre eastern side of the island, used for naval firing exercises and maneuvers since the 1940s, is much more dramatic in scope. The point of the most intense destruction is the live-impact range, about the size of New York City’s Central Park, on the island’s eastern tip. Most unexploded ordnance in Vieques is concentrated in this easternmost former target area, yet some ordnance is likely to have strayed off target and into adjacent land, beaches, and water. In addition, land-based maneuvers involving live-fire exercises took place in different locations in the east, making it unclear how extensive the spread of munitions is outside the live-impact area.7

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, extensive unexploded ordnance and remnants of exploded ordnance remain in this range and its surrounding waters. “Hazardous substances associated with ordnance use may include mercury, lead, copper, magnesium, lithium, perchlorate, TNT, napalm, and depleted uranium among others,” an EPA report notes. In addition, at both the former marine base, Camp Garcia, and the small naval base in western Vieques, “hazardous substances present may also include a range of chemicals such as PCBs, solvents, and pesticides.”8

A 2000 EPA report found that most former firing ranges have significant contamination. The survey discusses widespread health dangers at 206 closed, transferred, transferring, and inactive military ranges. It concludes that “contamination resulting from used or fired munitions including UXO [unexploded ordnance] is found on almost all ranges. . . . UXO has been found on 85 percent of the ranges and chemical or biological weapons are known to exist or are suspected at over 50 percent of the ranges. The risks from contamination resulting from ordnance use are widespread. Ranges in this report potentially pose significant risks to human health and safety because of their proximity to growing surrounding populations.”9

On February 11, 2005, the EPA responded to then Puerto Rican governor Sila Calderón’s request to identify Vieques as a Superfund site, which places cleanup of hazardous sites under federal authority. Under the Superfund law, the EPA is responsible for identifying parties responsible for waste sites and compelling them to clean up hazards. Priority is established by the threat that the toxic waste in question poses to human health and the environment. This caveat is crucial for Vieques because the extent to which island residents are barred access to the former base land reduces their contact with hazardous sites and lets the military off the hook.

However, establishing that people have been exposed to contamination, even without having stepped foot in the former naval areas, could legally compel the military to clean up its waste. Such exposure would most likely come from drinking contaminated groundwater or eating contaminated fish or shellfish.10 In fact, an international tribunal found in 2000 that the groundwater in Vieques has been contaminated by nitrates and explosives.11 Moreover, two studies suggest that toxic heavy metals have entered the Vieques food chain.12 The first study documented high levels of lead, cobalt, nickel, and manganese in violin crabs and in plants near the Vieques impact area. The second study found that vegetables and plants growing in some civilian areas of Vieques are highly contaminated with lead, cadmium, copper, and other metals.

In a major setback to community groups, however, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), the lead federal public health agency responsible for determining human health effects associated with toxic exposure, announced that it found no toxic contamination in Vieques.13

The agency’s findings of no significant contamination—after more than 60 years of live-fire exercises and given the fact of drastically increased cancer rates—outraged community members, who found this conclusion at odds with common sense. Indeed, research data suggests a correlation between the onset of live bombing exercises in the 1970s and the escalation of cancer rates in Vieques.14 In this context, ATSDR’s findings stood out as remarkably convenient for the navy.

In May, however, a congressional investigative report on formaldehyde-contaminated Katrina trailers lambasted ATSDR’s pronounced tendency to “deny, delay, minimize, trivialize or ignore legitimate health concerns.” The report found that ATSDR colluded with FEMA to declare the trailers safe. In the course of the hearings, the Vieques case was introduced as another example of ATSDR’s misconduct and bias in favor of polluters. In response, the EPA has pledged to reopen its investigation on Vieques.

If and when Vieques is adequately cleaned up, it will be an extremely dangerous, expensive, and challenging task.15 Over time live ordnance sinks, requiring cleanup crews to remove both surface and subsurface soil to remove it. Munitions with depleted uranium—fired on the range in violation of federal law—can sink hundreds of feet because of their mass and the force of the large guns that fire them. Enormous amounts of soil must be removed to recover lost depleted-uranium rounds.16

Cleaning groundwater is also difficult and expensive. Subterranean water must first be located under thousands of acres of land, which is in itself a difficult process, then pumped to the surface, cleaned with scrubbing devices, and returned to the ground.17 Coral reefs and sea grass beds have been significantly damaged by bombing, sedimentation, and chemical contamination.18 And even though numerous bombs lie off the shores of Vieques, cleaning the water is outside the purview of military requirements.

While residents struggle for access to land and cleanup of contamination, they contend with another battle related to the federal wildlife designation: gentrification. Although little has changed in the material conditions of the municipality since the navy’s departure, its exit has removed the principal obstacle to development and triggered wild speculation. Investors seeking out homes and land that can be developed and resold for substantial profit have driven up housing prices, and sales in beachfront neighborhoods have soared. By cordoning off former base land, the wildlife refuge has effectively attracted off-shore capital that is displacing working-class residents from the island. Thus residents are doubly excluded, both by the refuge and the real estate frenzy that it stimulated.

Although Vieques had changed very little, local brokers and outside interests seized on the former bombing range’s new status as a wildlife refuge to aggressively market the island as an undiscovered tropical
paradise. North American investors are largely enthralled by the creation of a new national park in the Caribbean and the possibility of buying a relatively inexpensive piece of “paradise.” One striking indicator of the island’s rapid gentrification was a listing in The New York Times Escape section featuring a three-bedroom house with guesthouse for sale in Vieques for $2.5 million. The owner was quoted as saying: “We love the beach, we love the Caribbean. Vieques, though, is very different from many of the other islands. Two-thirds of the island is a wild preserve, and there are a lot of beautiful beaches with no development —that’s what is special to us.”19

When asked what he thought of the influx of North Americans to Vieques, Leonardo Velázquez Maldonado, 70, a retired bank manager and lifelong resident, quipped, “I’m happy to have Americans here. I say, welcome to Vieques! Come share our contamination with us!”

Claudio Encarnación Solís, a 60-year-old former laborer and artist, puzzled over the seeming indifference of North American investors to health concerns. “Their interest in acquiring land and money affects their minds,” he said. “Those who don’t have to worry about cancer can concentrate on palaces, development, and factories. [The North Americans] don’t worry about health. For us viequenses, who are experiencing this crisis and illness, we are preoccupied not with money but with health. You have to have good health first to be able to enjoy everything else.”

Faced with multiple challenges posed by environmental contamination, the wildlife refuge, and gentrification, islanders continue to rely on social mobilization to hold the military and state accountable for cleanup and sustainable development. Since 2003, activists have organized numerous acts of civil disobedience, including marches and setting up encampments on restricted beaches in eastern Vieques, demanding that the federal government clean up the area and return it to residents.

These acts of civil disobedience have had a demonstrable effect on the cleanup process. The navy initially devoted itself to removing ordnance only from the western side of Vieques, a smaller, more manageable operation than addressing the catastrophic mess in the east. Protesters’ continued defiance, however, in entering into restricted eastern lands, demonstrated that the land was meant to be used by people, not just pelicans. This forced the navy to shift gears and begin cleaning up in the east. In addition, activists’ continued opposition to the open detonation of ordnance in the cleanup process forced the EPA to set up an air-monitoring station.

As Vieques residents struggle for access to land and participation in local decision making, they confront broader questions of political authority, control over natural resources, definitions of common property rights—in sum, the rights and privileges of citizenship. The struggle of Vieques remains fundamentally about unequal power relations between the United States and Puerto Rico and the island’s lack of sovereignty. As Vieques residents demand a voice in the future of the island, however, as they struggle for accountability and environmental remediation, they lay the groundwork for self-determination.


Katherine T. McCaffrey teaches anthropology at Montclair State University.
She is the author of Military Power and Popular Protest: The U.S. Navy in
Vieques, Puerto Rico (Rutgers University Press, 2002).


1. This essay is based on long-term ethnographic and documentary research in Vieques, Puerto Rico. Portions of this essay are drawn from Katherine T. McCaffrey, Military Power and Popular Protest: The U.S. Navy in Vieques, Puerto Rico (Rutgers University Press, 2002) and McCaffrey, “The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Vieques, Puerto Rico,” in David Carruthers, ed., Environmental Justice in Latin America: Problems, Promise and Practice (MIT Press, 2008).

2. Vice Admiral (ret.) John Shanahan and John Lindsay-Poland, “Vieques: Is It Needed by the Navy?” Vieques Issue Brief (Fellowship for Reconciliation, Winter 2002).

3. U.S. Navy, Commander, U.S. Second Fleet, “National Security Need for Vieques,” July 15, 1999.

4. See Lirio Márquez and Jorge Fernández Porto, “Environmental and Ecological Damage to the Island of Vieques Due to the Presence and Activities of the United States Navy” (Special International Tribunal on the Situation of Puerto Rico and the Island Municipality of Vieques, 2000). Also, “Resumen de estudios y datos ambientales en Vieques” (Universidad Metropolitana, New Jersey Institute of Technology, y el Centro de Acción Ambiental, 2000).

5. David Bearden, Vieques and Culebra Islands: An Analysis of Cleanup Status and Costs, Congressional Research Service Report (Library of Congress, 2005), 14.

6. John Lindsay-Poland, “The Long Struggle for Cleanup,” Puerto Rico Update (Task Force on Latin America & the Caribbean, August 2003).

7. Bearden, Vieques and Culebra Islands, 15.

8. Environmental Protection Agency, “Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Area—Vieques,” National Priorities List,

9. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, “Used and Fired Munitions and Unexploded Ordnance at Closed, Transferred, and Transferring Military Ranges. Interim Report and Analysis of EPA Survey Results” (April 2000).

10. Beardon, Vieques and Culebra Islands, 2.

11. Márquez and Fernández Porto, “Environmental and Ecological Damage.”

12. Arturo Massol Deya and Elba Díaz, “Biomagnificación de metalescarcinógenos en el tejido de cangrejos de Vieques, Puerto Rico” (Casa Pueblo de Adjuntas y Departamento de Biología del Recinto de Mayagúez, Universidad de Puerto Rico, 2000); “Metales pesados en la vegetación Dominante del area del impacto de Vieques, Puerto Rico” (Casa Pueblo de Adjuntas y Departamento de Biología del Recinto de Mayagúez, Universidad de Puerto Rico, 2000).

13. “A Summary of ATSDR’s Environmental Health Evaluations for the Isla de Vieques Bombing Range” (ATSDR, November 2003).

14. Cruz María Nazario, Erick L. Suárez, and Cynthia Pérez, “Análisis crítico del informe incidencia de cáncer en Vieques del Departamento de Salud de Puerto Rico” (Río Piedras: Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Ciencias Médicas, 1998).

15. David Sorenson, Shutting Down the Cold War: The Politics of Military Base Closure (St. Martin’s Press, 1998).

16. Ibid., 83, n. 174.

17. Ibid., 81.

18. Márquez and Fernández Porto, “Environmental and Ecological Damage”; also, Caroline S. Rogers, Gilberto Cintrón, and Carlos Goenaga, “The Impact of Military Operations on the Coral Reefs of Vieques and Culebra,” report submitted to the Department of Natural Resources (San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1978).

19. Amy Gunderson, “Houses With Outdoor Showers: The Simplest Luxury,” The New York Times, May 20, 2005.

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Vieques Artisans and Book Fair

Fort Count Mirasol Museum
P.O. Box 71 Vieques, Puerto Rico 00765
Telefax 787 741-1717 <>
Saturday, 29 August, 2009 6:00-11:00 PM

The Fort Count Mirasol Museum and the Organization of Vieques Artisans invite you to a Vieques Artisans and Books Fair this next Saturday beginning around 6pm in the grounds at the Fort.

In addition to an impressive array of artesanry, typical drinks and foods and Vieques books, there will be music by Manolin Silva: Ivory and Steel, with the special participation of Guayama (Puerto Rico) musician, “Tito” Rovira on the piano.

Also offering their musical talent will be our young Hip Hop artists, Lady M and McNatra.

Entrance free

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