For decades, residents of Vieques, Puerto Rico fought a David and Goliath battle against the U.S. Navy. Until 1999, however, few people in the United States had ever heard of Vieques and its problems. Vieques is a 51-square-mile island, roughly twice the size of Manhattan, where more than nine thousand people lived wedged between an ammunition depot and a live bombing range. Since the 1940s, when the Navy expropriated more than two thirds of the island, residents have struggled to make a life amid the thundering of bombs and the rumbling of weapons fire. The U.S. Navy contended that the Vieques installation played a crucial role in naval training and national defense. The civilian community of Vieques argued that the military control of land and live-fire exercises caused severe ecological destruction, cancer and other health problems, and overwhelming social and economic crises. A grassroots movement against naval operations emerged in 1978 led by local fisherman whose livelihoods were disrupted by the naval training exercises. Although similar protests in the early 1970s forced the military out of nearby Culebra, the Vieques struggle died out. With the end of the Cold War, Viequenses began to organize again. However, the struggle became widely known only in the spring of 1999 when the death of a civilian security guard sparked a new wave of protest and placed Vieques on the international stage. The aim of this article is to understand how a local struggle became a national and international cause célèbre. Our hypothesis is that reframing opposition to military training in terms of environment, health, and human rights concerns allowed a broad coalition to form that reached well beyond party lines both in Puerto Rico and on the mainland. This coalition built overwhelming support for an end to live bombing exercises on Vieques, the Navy's immediate departure, and the return of federally controlled land to local authorities. In May 2003, activists achieved a major victory with the exit of the Navy from their community. The struggle, however, is now in its second stage: seeking social and environmental justice for Vieques.
|Title of host publication||Beyond Sun and Sand|
|Subtitle of host publication||Caribbean Environmentalisms|
|Publisher||Rutgers University Press|
|Number of pages||20|
|State||Published - 1 Jan 2006|