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
NameVieques Navy Military Pollution, Puerto Rico
CountryPuerto Rico
ProvincePuerto Rico
SiteVieques (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 CommoditiesAsbestos
Chemical products
Tourism services
Industrial waste
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsFor 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 (in hectares)9,300
Level of Investment (in USD)350,000,000 (estimated clean-up cost)
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population9000
Start Date01/01/1941
Relevant government actorsUS Navy, Government of Puerto Rico
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersMisión Industrial (environmental organization in Puerto Rico), Comité pro-Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques, Alianza de Mujeres Viequenses (Vieques Women's Alliance, AMV, Catholic church
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous 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 MobilizationAppeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Public campaigns
Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Land occupation
Media based activism/alternative media
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Official complaint letters and petitions
Referendum other local consultations
Refusal of compensation
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
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
OtherSea 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
OtherTremendous 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-economic 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
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Strengthening of participation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Fostering a culture of peace
Violent targeting of activists
Land demarcation
Project cancelled
Criminalization of activists
Development of AlternativesThe 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 as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.On the whole "yes" becase the bombing by the US Navy was stopped. However, consequences remain.
Sources and Materials

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

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

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

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.


[1] New York Daily News
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[2] NVDA Database, Puerto Ricans force United States Navy out of Vieques Islands
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Other Documents

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Meta Information
ContributorKathleen de Onis, Indiana University, [email protected]
Last update17/09/2014