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It's unclear to
me how they think they are helping the people of Vieques by going out there. My
sense is that they have other motivations. I'd be out of line to speculate, but
I don't think it has much to do with the welfare of the people of Vieques, when
they penetrate that fence line.
-- Rear Adm.
Kevin Green, San Juan Star, August 8,
shall we tolerate abuse of a magnitude and scope the likes of which no community
in any of the fifty states would ever be asked to tolerate. Never again shall we
tolerate such abuse: not for sixty years, and not for sixty months or sixty
hours or sixty minutes.
-- Gov. Pedro
Rosselló, October 19, 1999. Statement before the U.S.
Navy has been smoked out of the bunker. The impopularity of the January 1999
Clinton directives and the ongoing penetrations of the Navy's Vieques (Puerto
Rico) bombing range have persuaded the Navy to establish an official website, www.navyvieques.
In its website, the Navy offers an extended response to charges against its
sixty-year presence in Vieques. The website supposedly presents the
"facts" against the "allegations" from Navy opponents. Yet
the Navy's website offers few facts --especially in its "Fact vs.
Allegations" link-- and many "allegations" of the Navy's own. We
may call them "Navyfacts". My discussion in the next few pages
addresses some of these Navyfacts. I do not aim to be exhaustive.
Hopefully others will also take the opportunity to address the Navy
directly and remind it of the facts. 
is particularly important to respond to Navyfacts because the
"official" website of the Government of Puerto Rico, that of the
Special Commission on Vieques (Comisión Especial de Vieques) was shut soon
after the January 31, 2000 Clinton directives. The Clinton directives were
accepted by the Puerto Rican government, in a sharp about-face from its prior
The Commission's website featured its well-documented 1999 report, which called
for an immediate and permanent cessation of
on Vieques. After January 31, this was not exactly music to the ears of Puerto
Rican government officials.
Navy's new website is not its first Vieques hard sell. The first
Navy/ Vieques website was taken off the net immediately after David Sanes'
death on April 19, 1999… because it was too
factual. That website was accessed through the Major Test Range Facility base
(MTRFB) network, www.acq.osd.mil/te/mrtfb.html,
or directly at http://www.nctspr.navy.mil/index1.html
(since April 1999 there's only an error message there).
In that prior website, the Navy urged military contractors and foreign countries
to rent its land and sea weapons ranges in and around Vieques.
moderate tropical climate is ideal for training exercises. Cancellations due to
inclement weather are very rare […] The Inner Range is a multi-purpose target
complex located on the eastern portion of Vieques island encompassing 10,800
acres and the surrounding airspace and waters. It consists of the eastern
training area, amphibious beaches, small arms range, a live impact area, and
practice minefields. The complex can support air-to-ground, mine delivery, naval
gunfire, artillery exercises, and subsurface assaults. Real time critique data
is available for all exercises and a visual scoring system is capable of
measuring bomb drops within 1 foot. The complex allows a full amphibious assault
to be conducted in the most realistic training environment in the world.
a list of AFWTF capabilities,
the Navy's old Vieques website included, in
14-point boldface, this slogan:
YIELDS HIGH RETURN ON
was brisk in the 1990s: the Navy was making $80 million a year off renting
Vieques to NATO allies for, in effect, one-stop shooting.
The website was so "fact-filled" that it outraged Puerto Rican public
opinion and was one of the compelling
revelations in the weeks after David Sanes' death. The website's omissions, too,
were revealing: it nowhere mentioned that Vieques is inhabited, with a
substantial civilian population.
Navy expects us to forget all that. Yet
the Navy is not saying much that is new in its "new" Vieques website.
Essentially, the Navy offers a meaner, angrier version of the same tired
arguments in its 1999 report, The
National Security Need for Vieques,
and in assorted press statements and Pentagon press briefings since.
the following pages, I shall concentrate on two major areas of the "Fact v.
Allegations" link in the Navy website. First, on the Vieques bombing range
in relation to the civilian zone in Vieques the Navy misstates its safety
record, the intensity with which the island's range has been pounded over the
decades, and the extent of the ecological damage the Navy has wreaked on
in comparing the Vieques range with weapons ranges in the United States, the
Navy overlooks distinctions between artillery-only ranges and ranges that also
feature air-to-ground and/or ship-to-shore bombing; the location of Stateside
bombing ranges within immense military bases that have large base-linked
military and civilian populations in their periphery, and a major economic
impact on their region; important
differences in population density; and other major considerations.
are just two of the areas where the Navy website presents only Navyfacts.
Navy's "one-stop shopping site" for Navyfacts --in essence, a
"one-stop shooting" site-- may prove to be the Navy's deadliest live
fire barrage… against itself.
THE VIEQUES RANGE
AND THE CIVILIAN ZONE
take the first Navy statement in its section on "Facts vs.
the residents of Vieques never have been in danger from the training activities
conducted by our military at the weapons range. This training complex is located
on the far Eastern tip of Vieques, more than eight miles from the nearest town.
In nearly 60 years of range operations, not one civilian living or working off
the range has ever been killed or placed at risk. The Vieques Weapons Range,
also on the eastern tip of the island, comprises approximately 900 acres, less
than 3 percent of the total land-mass of the island. This small weapons range is
the only location on the island where bombs and naval gunfire are used for
training. The other 97% has often been praised by
tourist magazines and newspaper reviews for its pristine beaches and
wonderfully preserved lands. More than half of the 22,000 acres owned by the
Navy in Vieques is managed in a conservation status with extensive programs for
endangered species. The Navy provides security for endangered species against
poaching and boat traffic, and devotes significant resources to developing
scientific knowledge and databases concerning such species (emphasis added).
one civilian living or working off the range
been killed or placed at risk"
at least none that the Navy has seen fit to recognize officially and to admit
responsibility for. One major difference between Vieques now and Vieques in
previous decades is the extent of press coverage. Twenty or even ten years ago
the Navy might have tried to sweep David Sanes' death under the bureaucratic
rug, probably insisting that it was all Sanes' fault (an argument it tried, and
failed, to make this time also). In 1999 it was just not possible for the Navy
to explain away Sanes' death. To viequenses, Sanes' death counted not only for
itself but for all the other local death and injury that the Navy had
"disappeared" away. As a Washington
Post concluded two weeks after Sanes' death, that was "more than an
isolated incident. It is the latest example of foreseeable harm to the people of
Vieques that goes back through decades of military abandonment of the island's
the years, Navy maneuvers in Vieques have bet against the odds, with the
viequenses on the game table. The Navy apparently values the proximity of
civilian populations (plus of course the live fire), as its maneuvers gain an
exciting "edge". A fighter plane like the F/A-18 that killed Sanes
flies at 500-1300 mph and drops its
from an altitude of 7-15,000 feet. The bombs themselves --often actually small
missiles-- shoot down at hundreds
of mph. The Navy ships shell the Vieques shore from over the horizon, 15 or more
miles away from the island. That means they can't see Vieques. No one should
have to live in such a war game board. In fact that's not even war games; that's
high-stakes gambling at the Vieques casino.
the Navy brushes aside other deaths and injuries that are not directly related
to ongoing maneuvers, but which have everything to do with the Navy presence in
Vieques. Not to mention the deaths of elderly persons directly related to their
forced removal from the west and east of Vieques in the 1940s.
its comprehensive report, the Vieques Special Commission concluded that Navy
activities in Vieques have indeed caused civilian death and injury. The Navy,
which is so "forthcoming" now, refused in 1999 to answer the
Commission's questions on its safety record in Vieques. This was the
Commission's question #11 (among 34 that the Navy refused
to answer): "¿How many accidents have occurred during maneuvers in the
Live Impact Area? ¿Outside the Live Impact Area?" Since the Navy won't
say, here's a list of the most serious episodes -- including the dropping
of live bombs near the civilizan zone, the use of depleted uranium and napalm,
sunken barges filled with toxic waste, massive coral reef damage, countless
unexploded bombs, and even a nuclear device:
1940: With the Navy presence still
fresh, Anastasio Acosta and his son were killed as they walked down a path and
their horse stepped on a grenade.
1953: Pepé Christian (Mapepé), an
elderly man, was murdered by 4 Marines and 4 sailors, and another man, Julio
Bermúdez, 73, was gravely injured. According to the autopsy, Christian's body
a golpes de puños y patadas [kicked and beaten to a pulp] and his skull
was so shattered that a finger could be easily sunk in his encephalic
mass". Hundreds of viequenses attended Chrisitan's burial. One of the
sailors and one of the Marines was court-martialled, but acquitted. The Vieques
Municipal Assembly unanimously condemned the killing of "Mapepe"
Christian and called for the Navy to return the 26,000 acres expropriated at the
beginning of World War II.
19 persons were injured (6 of them seriously) in a disturbance between civilians
and military personnel when the latter tried to crash a private party at the
Club Social Recreativo de Vieques.
30, 1966: The Navy dropped a nuclear device off Vieques. According to a
partially deleted report on the incident, "a test bomb with nuclear
characteristics" fell from an A4C Navy aircraft. The bomb was to be dropped on the simulated airfield in the
Live Impact Area (incredibly enough), but instead fell accidentally to the sea
due to a mechanical malfunction. The incident was the subject of a WAPA-TV news
report by Pedro Rosa-Nales in 1995, which the Navy denounced as sheer
allegations, and again on August 9-11, 2000. The incident is the object of
renewed controversy in Puerto
Rico at present. 
The "Vieques incident" occurred just months after the Palomares
incident, the most serious accident to date involving U.S. nuclear bombs.
April 1989: The USS Iowa explosion.
This accident occurred off Vieques and is usually not connected with the island.
However it did occur during maneuvers in the Outer Range,
ten years to the day before Sanes' death. And as in the case of David
Sanes, the Navy's reaction was to blame the victim. The USS
Iowa was the prototype for a whole generation of "Iowa-class"
battleships, and the Navy's proudest symbol. The Iowa
was recommissioned in 1984, with advanced electronics and missiles. In 1987
it led celebrations for the Constitution's bicentennial in New York Harbor. On
19 April 1989, the Iowa was engaged in maneuvers in the AFWTF Outer Range and
was about to begin a day of test firing its 16-inch guns. An explosion in a
defective center gun blasted a fireball down a turret and killed 47 men.
Sometime between 1990 and 1992, two
vessels loaded with dozens of barrels of unidentified toxic waste were sunk by
the Navy 15-20 ft. below the surface on the coral reefs off the southern coast
of Vieques. One of the vessels is a ship at least 100 feet long and 35 feet wide
with between 150 and 200 barrels showing from a partially breached hull. The other is a barge whose hull is broken in two, with a
stern section 105 feet long and a disintegrating bow section at least 15 feet
long. There are perhaps 900-1000 barrels at this site. The two sites have a
total of about 1100 barrels, apparently of both solid and liquid material. Both
sites are blanketed by live artillery shells and bombs, up to 400 yards
offshore. The coral reefs around the vessels show extensive damage. The Navy
told Puerto Rican government officials that holes in the reefs were the result
of hurricane damage. The existence of shrapnel in the holes indicates otherwise.
Navy jets dropped live napalm on the bombing range in eastern Vieques.
An FA/18 Hornet (flying at 1300 mph) dropped five 500-lb. bombs one mile from
Isabel II. Four of the bombs exploded; the fifth has never been found. The pilot
missed his target by eight miles. "We all heard these loud
explosions", Vieques Mayor Manuela Santiago narrates. "Every house in
the town shook". Santiago immediately called the base commander's office at
Roosevelt Roads, the command center for maneuvers in the Vieques range, but no
one could tell her what happened. The next day they found out. 
In 1995, two bombs destroyed installations in Observation Post (O.P.) 1 on Cerro
Matías, where maneuvers are monitored and where David Sanes would be killed
four years later.
Several bombs fell near a group of fishermen in the southern coast. One of the
fishermen was hospitalized with serious injures.
A National Guard unit in maneuvers mistakenly strafed a bus and a police car
with M-16 bullets. Again, no one hurt, but…
19, 1999: Another FA/18 Hornet misfires, this time killing a civilian
employee of the Navy, David Sanes, while on duty at O.P. (Observation Point) 1.
Two bombs fell 1½ miles away from their designated target; one of them fell 30
feet away from Sanes and killed him.
the Navy's credibility as to its safety record, the recent WAPA-TV news report was on target:
In the past the Navy had
denied that they stored nuclear bombs in Puerto Rico, but recently they had to
admit it. They denied the use of depleted uranium in Vieques and later had to
admit it. They also denied the use of napalm, and later had to admit it. They
had denied the existence of the program to train dolphins for military missions
and admitted it a few
years ago. They also denied the incident in Vieques and now they had to admit it.
beyond the Navy's "safety" record there are many other powerful
reasons for the Navy to immediately cease all maneuvers in Vieques.
The territorial, social and economic stranglehold that the Navy has on Vieques,
as well as its impact on the health and environment of the viequenses, is so
serious as to make the Navy's safety record (even the perfect one that it
claims) almost besides the point. An irony that did not escape viequenses is
that David Sanes was killed while enjoying one of the few economic benefits that
the Navy offers them: a job as a security guard.
a "small weapons range"?
only 3% of the total area of Vieques --as the Navy urges us to recognize--
perhaps the impact area (Live Impact Area) in Vieques is "small".
Impact areas in armed forces weapons ranges are relatively small in comparison
to the total amount of land in the weapons range. A substantial buffer zone must
always exist, in Vieques this is the Inner Range/Eastern Maneuver Area (see
any case, the "small" Vieques impact area has been subjected to
pressures without parallel under
the U. S. flag, or anywhere else for that matter. According to Resident
Commissioner Carlos Romero Barceló, the Navy has consistently expended in
Vieques each year nearly 2/3 of total ordnance used in all its bombing ranges
worldwide. Since 1983 alone, the Navy and Marine Corps dropped 2.9 million lbs.
of explosives on the east end of Vieques, by the Navy's own figures in The National Security Need for Vieques. Another source suggests that
ordnance dropped on Vieques was considerably more: in 1993 alone as many as 13.7
million lbs. of ammunition were handled by the Naval Ammunition Storage Depot (NASD)
on the western part of the island (14.4 million lbs. in FY 1994).
Of course not all the ammunition was for use in Vieques, or in particular
its Inner Range. But much of it surely was.
What are the facts on this?
wonder that the "small" Vieques range is described by Adm. Jay L.
Johnson, former Chief of Naval Operations, as "the crown jewel of
live-fire, combined arms training" ranges; and that in the old Navy/Vieques
website, as in the recent Navy-ITT contract, Vieques is called "the most
realistic training environment in the world". 
From the historical record, there
is (among others) the statement by Secretary of the Navy Frank Nash, who exulted
in 1953: "after flying all over the world supervising amphibious training
sites I can assure you that Vieques is the perfect site for this type of
environmental effects of any bombing range, especially one so intensely
eastern Vieques, evidently go beyond the immediate "small" area of the
range: wind currents, water runoff, and crabs and fish who feed in the area (and
their offspring) will carry the heavy metals that ordnance explosions leave
behind. There are several ongoing
studies of this aspect of the Navy presence.
of course, there is the matter of total Navy landholding in Vieques.
The Navy owns not "less than 3%" but nearly 3/4 of Vieques. The
"small" weapons range is part of a much larger complex that includes
the buffer zone of the Live Impact Area: the Inner Range/Eastern Maneuver Area
(14,000 acres). In the EMA, the Navy and Marine Corps carry out artillery, mine
and small-arms practice, and especially landing maneuvers. There is also the
munitions depot area on the western part of Vieques (8,000 acres),
for a total of 22,000 of Vieques' 33,000 acres. To this figure one must
yet add the 11,000 acres of Roosevelt Roads Naval Station 7.5 miles away in
Ceiba, mainland Puerto Rico... for a total of 32,000 acres. Total Navy landholding in Vieques and Ceiba thus nearly equals the
entire area of Vieques. Because of local pressure, over the past two
decades the Navy has allowed visitors, including tourists, to enter selected
areas of the Eastern Maneuver Area. But that has been at the Navy's whim, when
and how it sees fit, even though all beaches are public land under Puerto Rican
a series of rapid acquisitions in two phases (1941-2 and 1947), the Navy forced
landowners large and small to sell. In 1941-2 the Navy claimed wartime
emergency; it also promised great economic opportunities. In 1947 the Navy was
more brazen, and simply insisted that it needed the land for practice ranges. In
1941-2 as in 1947, even where the prices paid for the land may have been
reasonable, these were clearly condemnation proceedings, held without a hearing,
and where the owners were granted little time and less choice.
This is the text of the eviction notice:
house and land which you occupy in the Municipality of Vieques was acquired by
the United States under judgment of the Federal Court which granted the right of
immediate possession. You will be required to vacate this property within ten
days from the start of this notice. Should you wish to move to another site on
Federal property you will be
assigned to a
area by the Officer-in-Charge of the Project upon execution by you of an
agreement setting for the the terms upon which your occupancy of the site is
no effective provisions were taken with respect to the thousands of non-property
owners, agregados who had been tenants
for generations. The agregados were
simply evicted to the outskirts of Isabel II with $25 and some wood and
corrugated steel (zinc) planks. There,
the Navy purchased land for "resettlement". About 95% of the Vieques
populations were titleless agregados.
The topic of expropriations merits detailed discussion elsewhere. 
TO U.S. BOMBING RANGES
A second set of assertions made by the Navy in its Vieques website turns on the comparison between Vieques and weapons ranges in the mainland United States and Hawai'i.
The burden of hosting defense
facilities is not limited to the residents of Vieques alone. Vieques is one of
56 Department of Defense live-fire ranges. Other communities in the United
States have residents living closer to a weapons range that the residents of
Vieques. The civilian population of Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for example, lives a
mere 1 ½ miles away from the target zone, while the towns surrounding the major
military live-fire ranges of Eglin Air Force Base and Pinecastle, both in
Florida are 7 and 8 miles away from the live-impact areas, respectively.
may be the most egregious Navyfact. Vieques has indeed been one of 56 DOD
live-fire ranges (sometimes the Navy figure is 57). Yet the Navy forgets to
mention that the vast majority of the 56 "live-fire ranges" are merely
artillery ranges. A similar figure
that the Navy has brought up elsewhere is that of "300-plus ranges" in
the U.S., a figure that includes inert-fire ranges which are mostly all
artillery or small-arms. Artillery ranges are significantly less harmful, less
dangerous, less noisy, and have less of an environmental impact than ranges such
as Vieques where air-to-ground or ship-to-shore shelling is also carried out…
not to mention missile tests, including cruise missiles (Tomahawks), which the
Navy has tested or plans to test shortly on Vieques' Inner Range. I shall first
discuss air-to-ground and ship-to-shore ranges, then move on to the issue of
range size and proximity to civilian communities, and several other
"unique" Vieques characteristics.
Vieques, there is only one live-fire air-to-ground Navy range on the Atlantic:
Pinecastle, in the Ocala National Forest (Florida), scheduled for closing in
October 1999. And the Air Force has its
major live-fire range, Eglin (Florida). The Army has two live-fire ranges in the
East Coast (Ft. Stewart in Georgia and Ft. Bragg in North Carolina), but these
are essentially for artillery practice. In other East Coast ranges, only inert
ATG ordnance is permitted:
Corps' Camp Lejeune
the Navy and
Marine Corps' Cherry Point range (North Carolina)
Force/Navy Dare ranges (North Carolina)
the Air Force's
Avon Park (Florida), quite subutilized in recent years
the vast expanse of the U.S. West, there are only six live ATG Navy ranges
(Fallon, El Centro, White Sands, China Lake/Point Mugu, Boardman, and San
Clemente Island). Only four of these (Fallon, China Lake/Point Mugu, San
Clemente, and White Sands) are analogous to Vieques in that they are also used
for missile tests. There are also several Air Force and Army ranges. In all,
Vieques is only one of three
live-fire ATG ranges in the Atlantic, and one of only nine
nationwide. That is a first approximation.
is also used for ship-to-shore shelling (Naval Surface Fire Support,
NSFS) which is not carried out in most of the stated ranges. This puts
Vieques in still narrower company, virtually in a class of its own. In the East
Coast, the only ranges that had both types of bomb training (ATG and
ship-to-shore) were closed several years ago:
Nomanis (Nomans') Island off Cape Cod and Bloodsworth Island in
Chesapeake Bay. Both are islands, both are --to be sure-- uninhabited (or their
native populations were removed by the Navy decades ago, e.g. San Clemente). Yet
bombing was ceased in both sites for environmental reasons.
the West/Pacific, Kaho'olawe in Hawai'i was also the target of ATG and
ship-to-shore bombardment, but this was ceased in 1990. Both types of bombing
are carried out presently only in San Clemente, which is uninhabited except for
Navy personnel stationed there and who are transported daily from San Diego (in
the 1930s, the Navy evicted hundreds of Native American families who had lived
in San Clemente for generations).
sum, Vieques is one of only two
Navy ranges in the U.S. where both air-to-ground and ship-to-shore bombardment
are practiced; and the other range
site, San Clemente, is (at least since the Navy took over) an uninhabited
island. This is the context in which Vieques is more appropriately viewed:
Vieques is not just one more among 56/57 or 300 weapons ranges. In this context,
the Navy's insistence on Vieques' "uniqueness" (a theme that the Navy
often invokes to argue for Vieques' irreplaceability) has a eerie subtext.
(inhabited) island range
if one found bombing ranges in the U.S. to lie closer to civilian communities
than Vieques, Vieques' insularity (in fact being a relatively small
island) makes a large difference.
Evidently Vieques’ population is less mobile in job opportunities and daily
life generally than a comparable population in a larger territory. Vieques is
doubly insular: on account of geography, and of size.
is the only inhabited U.S.-flag
island ever to have a U.S. armed forces bombing range. Interestingly, several
U.S. news reports assumed at the start of the current round of controversy in
1999 that Vieques was uninhabited; apparently it did not cross the journalists'
minds that it could be otherwise.
Even in the uninhabited islands where the U.S. has had
bombing ranges, bombing has ceased for ecological considerations. Apart
from Kaho'olawe, Nomanis and Bloodsworth islands, already mentioned, bombings
were carried out during World War II in San Miguel (California Channel Islands)
and South Monomoy Island (Massachusetts), both uninhabited.
Bombing ceased on San Miguel and South Monomoy shortly after the war (the case
of Desecheo island in Puerto Rico is similar). As stated, the only other U.S.
island besides Vieques where a bombing range presently exists is San Clemente,
which is uninhabited
except for a working-hours population of Navy personnel.
land area of the stateside ranges is far larger than Vieques'. Most
U.S. bombing ranges (like Eglin), especially
those with air-to-ground fire, lie deep within huge military bases between five
and ten times the size of Vieques. After all, even mid-size U.S. states such as
Virginia and Pennsylvania are 30-40 times the size of
all Puerto Rico (let alone Nevada, 80 times the size of Puerto Rico, or
states that are even larger such as California and Texas). The U.S.
as a whole is 1,000 times the size of
the Atlantic coast, the large military bases with bombing ranges are all in the
Southeast -- which on the whole is less densely populated than the Northeast.
mi. is 14 times Vieques,
and about equals the Caribbean island of Guadéloupe; Dare Bombing Range, North
Carolina (132 sq. mi.), Georgia’s Ft. Stewart (438 sq. mi. ),
Carolina's Camp Lejeune (244 sq. mi.) and Ft. Bragg (204 sq. mi) are all far
larger than Vieques. In the West, the large military bases are in the high
desert, and are even larger on average: Nellis (Nevada), home of Area 51, has an
area of 4,687 sq. mi., i.e. 1.3 times the area of Puerto Rico. Also larger then
Puerto Rico: China Lake, California, (1,719 sq. mi.),
the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range,
Arizona (4,167 sq. mi.), and White Sands, New Mexico (4,000 sq. mi.). The
largest is the Utah Test and Training Facility, 19,000 sq. mi.
large military bases with bombing ranges often adjoin large national forests or
wilderness reserves that further isolate the bases' bombing ranges. The
Pinecastle Naval Bombing Range (5,728 acres) is located in the Ocala National
Forest (382,408 acres or 598 sq. mi.); the Avon Park Bombing Range (USAF)
adjoins the Arbuckle State
Cherry Point (Navy), in North Carolina is surrounded by the Croatan National
Forest and the Dare bombing ranges adjoin two large national wildlife refuges.
In the Western United States, Twenty-nine Palms (Marine Corps) is adjacent to
the Joshua Tree National Park (1,234 sq. mi.) and to the Mojave Desert. And in
Kauai, Hawai’i, the Pacific Missile Range Facility (Marina) is separated from
the rest of Kauai (ten times the size of Vieques, with half its population
density) by a national forest and several wilderness reserves.
Vieques civilian zone is only 8.7 miles from
the Live Impact Area. While in the U.S. itself there may be communities just
outside the gates of bases with
bombing ranges, those communities are at a
considerable distance from the actual ranges, which lie deep inside the
bases. The Navy website claims
that the bombing impact areas in Eglin, Pinecastle, and Ft. Sill lie closer to
civilian communities than in Vieques. Let us take each site in turn.
The Eglin maps in The National Security Need for Vieques are too schematic to be of
any value.  For instance, it is not
clear exactly where in Eglin's 745 sq. mi. the impact areas are located.
However, one may infer that civilian communities around Eglin are in fact
further away from the bombing ranges than the Vieques
zone. Or is the Navy suggesting that with a far larger land area at its disposal
than in Vieques, the Air Force needlessly places civilian communities in harm's
Pinecastle Naval Bombing Range lies deep inside the Ocala National Forest.
"Estimated population of current homesites in current Noise Contour Area is
over 1,500 people […] Very low permanent population (about 1,500) in Noise
According to a U.S. Forest Service map, the Pinecastle bombing range is
surrounded by at least 15 miles of forest to the north, east and west. Most of
the Ocala National Forest is located in the East Marion division of Marion
county. The East Marion division has an area of 700 mi.2 (about
thirteen times Vieques), and a population of 15,249. East Marion's population
density is thus 21.8 persons per sq. mi., compared to Vieques' 535. The civilian
communities that lie closest to the Pinecastle range, Umatilla City and Astor
City (both actually hamlets) lie
south of the forest. In 1990,
Umatilla City's population was 2,388; Astor City's, 1,235.
The Navy planes that bomb Pinecastle are stationed in Jacksonville, 80 miles
the Navy's argument becomes surreal. The Navy claims that a civilian community,
the town of Lawton, exists only 1½ miles away from the weapons range of Ft.
This line of argument has also been pursued, on several occasions, by Sen. James
Inhofe. In the course of the October 1999 hearings before the Armed Forces
Committee, Sen. Inhofe presented aerial photos of Ft. Sill and boasted that
there have been 36 deaths on account of maneuvers there, with no protest from
local residents. Where others might hear bombs explode, the patriotic denizens
of Lawton only hear "the sound of freedom", Inhofe urged. As it
happens, and as Gov. Rosselló and others have stated, Ft. Sill --known as
"The Army's Home of the Field Artillery"-- is an artillery range, with
not even air-to-ground bombing. Second, the range is located within the vast
expanse of the Ft. Sill base, an area of 147 mi.2 . This is nearly
three times the size of all Vieques. The state of Oklahoma as a whole is over
fifty times the size of Puerto Rico, though with a smaller population.
Third, Ft. Sill is a major base, and has over 18,000 permanent military
personnel (many of whom reside in Lawton), with another 15,000 passing annually
through its U.S. Army Field Artillery School. The base has a civilian workforce
of over 7,500 and a payroll total of over $171 million. The overall economic
impact of Ft. Sill is over $1 billion annually. Fourth, the civilian
community around Ft. Sill developed after the fort, and virtually owes its
existence to it. The town of Lawton is
named after an Gen. Henry W. Lawton, an early Army general. The origins of Ft.
Sill go back to the American-Indian Wars, when it was the first outpost of the
in the area (1860); Geronimo was imprisoned there for years, and killed while
attempting to escape. 
More generally, Vieques is also unique in that it is a “stand-alone”
bombing range, i.e. one that is not located within a military base. The
AFWTF’s home base, Roosevelt Roads, lies
eight miles across the Vieques Channel. The viequenses must live with all the
disadvantages of major bombing ranges and very few of their typical benefits.
Vieques is the only “stand-alone” bombing range in the Major Test
Range Facility Base network. Among non-MTRFB ranges in the east coast, only
Pinecastle (set for closing) and Dare, North Carolina,
are “stand-alone” ranges. This may be qualified further, as Pinecastle
lies within commuting distance of the Jacksonville metropolitan area, a major
Navy base and Navy-contractor city; and Dare is near the major Cherry Point
Marine Corps base.
burden is not offset…
Navy brings minimal economic benefits to Vieques that might help to offset its
adverse impacts. The Navy’s payroll in Vieques consists mostly of contract
security guards. David Sanes, killed in April 1999 by an errant bomb, was one of
those guards. Total Navy payroll in Vieques is less than $3 million.
A Navy base, Roosevelt Roads, is in Ceiba ten miles away on the main
island of Puerto Rico. But "Rosy Roads" brings hardly any benefits to
the viequenses; not even to the
residents of Ceiba. It was only recently that the Navy made a commitment to
fully pay Ceiba's municipal taxes. In the Eglin Air Force base in Florida, often
invoked by the Navy as an area where live fire is heard by the local population,
the economic impact of the base is over $5 billion a year.
As in Lawton, this is the sound of freedom with a metallic ring.
is suggested by the names of many bases (e.g. Ft. Stewart, Ft. Bragg) or of
their adjacent towns (Ft. Walton, next to Eglin), in many cases the formation of
a town occurred during (or even after) the establishment of a military fort.
That is, these are places with little or no pre-existing civilian population.
The identification of the local residents with the military is thus especially
strong; indeed, they often are
the military. Eglin’s
perimeter developed largely as a result of the Air Force’s presence and much
of the population is connected to (or formerly in) the U.S. armed forces. This
last point may especially surprise those who did not know that Vieques was a
preexisting community (with a population of over 11,000) in 1941, before the
Navy came in.
benefits from the Navy's presence were admitted by Mr. P.J. Crowley, a Navy
public relations officer, at the Pentagon news briefing where President
Clinton's January directives on Vieques were announced:
You know, I think that obviously there's a recognition that, you
know, there are needs that the -- the clear needs that the people of Vieques
deserve; I mean, if you compare the situation of Vieques to what other training
locations -- say, in the continental United States, you'll find that the people
of Vieques have for a number of years borne the burdens of hosting a training
range without many of the rewards. If you compare that to training ranges, you
know, around bases here in the United States, for example, you'll find that
these states host a large number of troops.
These troops live in the community. They buy cars at the local
dealerships. They eat at the local restaurants. They go to the local schools.
That draws impact aid, you know, to those communities so that there's a clear
benefit to having a base in your state, for example. The people of Vieques do
not host the same -- you know, a volume of Navy personnel.
that the one-time economic package being proposed by the Pentagon would bridge
the gap between Vieques and any comparable weapons ranges in the U.S. Whether
the amounts being considered by the Navy (a maximum of $90 million with live
fire) will compensate the economic and health impacts on the viequenses over the
long term is an open question. Of course, $90 million does not even begin to
clean the Live Impact Area. The larger question is whether Vieques can be viewed
as a matter of economic compensation, or if it is rather an issue of human
rights. Could the government pay someone to renounce his or her fundamental
Navy has not yet addressed --and may prove unable to address-- the question of
Vieques with the transparency that it requires. When "Navyfacts" are
scutinized, the picture that
emerges is very different from the official Navy position. Whatever its
shortcomings, the www.navyvieques.navy.mil
website (and its more documented progenitor, The
National Security Need for Vieques) will have to do for now. We await
the study conducted by the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island.
"definitive" study was supposed to be out by April 2000, and has
presumably been completed months ago. However, its release has been delayed
pending: a full, honest report on the death of David Sanes on April 1999.
In such a report --not like the ones
we've seen so far-- the Navy might tell us the names of the Marine Corps pilots
and the Range Control Officer who, the Navy has concluded, were responsible for
the accident. The Navy and Marine Corps continue to stonewall
information. We only know that the pilot who actually dropped the bomb that
killed Sanes was transferred to the Marine Corps' Cherry Point (North Carolina)
Marine Corps did not dare to conceal the name of the suspect crew members of the
1998 accident in Cavalese, Italy. On that tragic occasion, 21 persons were
killed when a training jet from the Aviano base severed a ski-gondola cable. The
F/A-18 was flying at an altitude of 300 ft. when the minimum altitude is 1,000
ft. The Marine Corps' initial reaction was (again) to deny all responsibility,
and to insist that the plane's flight plan had been fully cleared with Italian
authorities. This was soon proven to be untrue. Faced by the political clout and
public opinion of a major European country, the U.S.
did an about-face and conducted a joint investigation with Italian
authorities. "Aircrew error"
was signalled as the cause of the accident.
Of course, identifying possibly responsible servicemen was only the first step.
In the Cavalese accident, only two of the four crew members were tried by the
Marine Corps, and only one, the actual pilot, served time… five months.
La Repubblica, the leading Italian
daily, published a front-page cartoon depicting President Clinton piloting a jet
with 20 skulls painted on the fuselage, a cable hanging from the tail, and the
caption: "Dress rehearsal for Baghdad" (and the Navy laments Puerto
the Sanes accident, the Navy might also be clarify whether ITT Systems personnel
were present in the O.P. controls at the moment of the accident, and what was
their role in it. And we might also
read about the F/A-18's radar system (manufactured by Raytheon, the Navy's #1
contractor) and any possible malfunction.
Vieques Inner Range is the most harmful and dangerous weapons range in the test
and training circuit of the United States Armed Forces, whether under the U.S.
flag or in foreign countries. This is so both in terms both of the impact of
military maneuvers on the bombing ranges themselves, which combine air-to-ground
and ship-to-shore shelling, and of the civilian communities in their
peripheries. The intensity, complexity, and "uniqueness" of the
Vieques range operations translate as greater risk of accidents, greater
environmental damage to the island, and greater health risks for civilians. The
Navy presence harms Virques not only because of the stranglehold on the island's
territory, but because of the environmental and health damage wrought beyond the
bombing range itself. The Navy's insistence that Vieques is similarly situated
to dozens of ranges in the United States is ill-founded. Civilian communities
that lie anywhere close to bombing ranges in the U.S. never have to contend with
the combined impact of ATG and ship-to-shore shelling, are never on islands,
have far lower population densities than Vieques, are often military communities
to begin with, and derive huge economic benefits from the military presence.
Navy's Vieques website proves once again that the Navy prefers Navyfacts. When
will the Navy move beyond?
A useful starting
point. Full menu of links on Vieques using each website's icon.
Comprehensive site for news on Vieques, in Spanish and English,
including articles from U.S. and Puerto Rican newspapers, news bulletins
from Vieques organizations; good coverage of pro-Vieques activities in Puerto
Rican communities in the U.S.
Website of the
Caguas diocese, to which Vieques belongs, and which has been very active in
supporting the viequenses. Includes detailed information on the June 2000 poll
conducted by the Caguas Dioceses in Vieques, which reflected nearly 90% support
for immediate Navy withdrawal from Vieques.
Website of the Frente Unido Pro Defensa Valle
de Lajas, which united with Vieques in 1995 in opposition to the ROTHR antennas.
Especially useful for information on the ROTHR but has other Vieques
Up-to-date news reports and communiques on Vieques. Is also the website for the
Comité para el Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques.
Website of the Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño. Excellent photo gallery
showing craters in the Live Impact Area and other environmental damage.
U.S. website on Vieques, in English. Features a response to the Navy website.
Includes AP photos on the May 4 arrests.
Website of the Coordinadora Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques.
The Puerto Rico Herald's archive section. See its excellent collection of
articles from the U.S. and Puerto Rican press, 1999-2000, with articles and
editorials originally in Spanish translated into English, and vice versa.
Vieques Online. News report and materials on Vieques.
Website of the Movimiento Socialista de Trabajadores and the Taller de Formación
Política. News releases, communiques, photos.
Website of the New York-based Vieques Support Campaign.
The Executive Summary of the Vieques Commission report may be consulted at http://www.fire.or.cr/comision.htm
(for other Vieques websites, see list at the end).
The MRTFB circuit groups the 21 "major-league" test ranges of the
U.S. armed forces… including the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Facility (AFWTF),
whose axis is Vieques.
The Navy's old Vieques website included information on ITT Industries'
Federal Services Corporation (now ITT Industries' Systems Division), which
offered "comprehensive air, surface, and subsurface testing and related
range support to U.S. Navy Fleet and allied forces… [ITT Federal
Services'] work includes operations, repair, maintenance, and test range
logistics for four major ranges and related multiple radar tracking and
communications sites throughout Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands".
The Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility's "capability
highlights" included (in the original they appeared fully capitalized):
* live-fire capability for most
non-conventional weapons inventory
* capability of single ship to battle
* simultaneous conduct of gunnery, missile
firing, atg ordnance delivery, ew [electronic warfare], amphibious, small
arms, mining, and underwater operations utilizing four different ranges
* multi-axis, real world scenarios
designed to simulate the electronic order of battle
* extensive, unconstrained, encroachment free,
controlled air and sea space.
A number of Department of Defense facilities are available for commercial
www.acq.osd.mil/te/mrtfb/commercial/. "Utilization of DoD
facilities is now easier, faster, and cheaper than ever before", as the
website reads. For the Pentagon's "Range Use Charging Policy", see
Commander U.S. Second Fleet and Commander U.S. Marine Corps Forces,
Atlantic, The National Security Need for Vieques. A Study Prepared for the
Secretary of the Navy (15 July 1999).The Special Panel on Vieques (Rush
Panel) based many of its conclusions and recommendations on The
National Security Need for Vieques.
For a detailed critique of The
National Security Need for Vieques, see Juan Giusti-Cordero, “La
Marina en la mirilla: una comparación de Vieques con los campos de
bombardeo en los Estados Unidos”, in Fronteras en conflicto: guerra contra las drogas, militarización y
democracia en Puerto Rico, el Caribe y Vieques (Río Piedras: Red
Caribeña de Geopolítica/Atlantea, 1999), Jorge Rodríguez Beruff and
Humberto García Muñiz, coords., pp.
131-201. Major flaws in the National Security Need report: (1) vagueness
on specific locations of ranges within bases (2) vagueness on
distances between bombing ranges and the closest
communities (3) vagueness on population figures for civilian populations
near bases/ranges (4) insufficient
distinctions between air-to-ground bombing and ship-to-shore bombardment (5)
inadequate description of the buffer zones around many bases/ranges (6) no
consideration of the differential economic impact of large bases with ranges
vis a vis “stand-alone”range such as Vieques (6) no careful
consideration of Vieques' insular condition.
“Island Casualty”, Washington Post editorial, May 3, 1999.
 In its conclusion, the recentWAPA-TV news report on the
Vieques nuclear incident raises these questions: "Why the deployment of
so much personnel and equipment for the search? Why did they send the bomb
to the government's principal laboratory for atomic energy, in sandia base?
Why was the incident concealed as a national secret for over 30 years? Why
is the specific bomb type still secret? Why was the secret report sent to
the Joint Committe on Atomic Energy of the U.S. Congress? And why did the
Atomic Energy Commission itself classify the accident as nuclear?"
In the Palomares incident, an Air Force KC-135 tanker and a B-52 bomber
collided 30,500 feet above the Mediterranean coast of Spain on January 17,
1966. The collision killed seven crew members. Three of the four B28
thermonuclear weapons on the B-52 fell
with the wreckage and reportedly did not undergo a
nuclear detonation, while a fourth one was not found until April 1966.
The Navy soon blamed a surviving sailor based on an alleged homosexual
relationship with one of the men who was killed, when in fact that sailor
probably saved the ship's ammo depot from exploding and averted a far
greater catastrophe. This was true military form, as per the Okinawa
schoolgirl rape, the Tailhook scandal, and the Air Force's Ted Harduver
case. On the Navy's witchhunt/coverup, see Gerald Posner, "The Navy's
January 1990, http://www.posner.com/articles/
iowa.htm; also, "Death in the Military", a three-part series
in the Philadelphia Inquirer,
Eventually the Navy changed versions and
blamed the defunct "lover", now cast as "suicidal". What
the Navy avoided recognizing is that there were serious safety problems in
the nearly 50-year old Iowa and in
the gunpowder it used. The battleship was decommissioned a year later. The
Navy will not confirm or deny
whether the Iowa was armed with nuclear weapons on the day of the explosion.
See The House Armed Forces Committee 's Readiness Review, Vol. 2, Issue 1, March 2000 http://www.house.gov/hasc/Publications/106thCongress
/readinessreviews/rr2-1vieques.pdf. The Readiness Review forgets to
mention that Vieques is inhabited. On the Navy-ITT Contract see http://
See, in particular, the document titled "sow-SEP-rev.doc"
(Attachment J-1, p. 1).
Arturo Meléndez, La batalla de Vieques (Río
Piedras: Edil, 1979), p. 109. Meléndez' book is the only full-length
historical study of the Navy presence in Vieques. The book is based on
newspaper and official sources and is essential reading.
Incidentally, the map of Vieques in the Navy website ("Press"
section) also deserves some comment. Surprisingly, the map does not
distinguish between Navy and civilian territory; it does not identify the
impact area, or known contaminated areas; it does not locate the civilian
communities in Vieques; and it seems to characterize all of Vieques
essentially as a pristine ecological preserve. The salient points of
Vieques, according to this remarkable map, are the Northwest Coast Seagrass
Beds Conservation Zone, the Yellow Beach Conservation Zone,
the Cayo Conejo Conservation Zone, and so forth. And yet the Navy
calls it "Map of Naval Installations on Vieques Island"!
The map's color-coded legend, too, is revealing: with 15 different
colors for Land Use, 16 for Habitat, and 14 for the various Conservation
Zones, the map hardly expresses the stark reality of a civilian zone
sandwiched between two navy fences (see the box at the bottom of the
land-use column, which features several shades of yellow). A more useful map
may be consulted at the Puerto Rico Herald website: http://puertorico-herald.org
/issues/ vol3n50/ViequesMap-en.shtml. See also a useful map of the Inner
and Outer Ranges, which shows all of the Caribbean to the south of Puerto
Rico, and east of the Mona Passage, as zona
airspace/ carib/ afwfmap.htm
The text, which was circulated to the "condemned", was
signed by J. C. Gebhard,
“Captain (CEC), U.S.N.”
Pinecastle was, however, activated for the March 2000 maneuvers as a result
of the Vieques protests.
It is often remarked that bases in the U.S. often have no clear and
sharp boundaries with respect to the civilian communities around them, as
many servicemen and officers live off-base and no fences marke the beginning
of base property. The bases also have a large civilian workforce that
resides in their periphery. Thus even the civilian comunities become in a
sense part of the base. In Puerto Rico, U.S. military bases are closer to
the pattern of U.S. bases in foreign countries.
The National Security Need for Vieques,
p. A10-18 . The report does not define or specify the magnitude of the
“Noise Contour Area”.
See http://sill-www.army.mil/; http://sill-ww.army.mil/tngcmd/usmc/tcusmc.htm
. Fort Sill “serves as a national historic landmark and home of the Field
Artillery for the free world”. Faulk et al.,
eds., Early MilitaryForts and
Posts in Oklahoma, (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1978).
For a chronology of the important Cavalese court martial and detailed
sumaries of the evidence and testimony presented t the Ashby trial, see http://www.clis.com/
prowler/trial.htm. This website was established by supporters of the
officers accused, who charged that their case was simply due to
"politics". The website seeks contributions to the officers' legal
defense fund, whose appeals continue. Also featured: biographies and photos
of the four crew members.
Cavalese was an accident waiting to happen as the U.S. crews were often
prone to hot-dogging on their Hornets at very low altitudes. Newsweek
reported: "For years the villagers of Cavalese had griped about the
fighter jets that regularly roar up their Alpine river valley. Some claimed
to have seen both U.S. and Italian fighter jocks "hot-dogging" by
threading under cables and high-tension wires. Italian military officials
routinely defended low-level flights through the Dolomites as a crucial part
of combat training. Not last week. Italians raised a collective howl of
protest after a U.S. fighter jet clipped two cables stretched about 300 feet
off the valley floor and sent a yellow gondola full of skiers tumbling to
the ground. It took Italian police almost two days to extract and identify
the bodies of 20 tourists from seven European countries. By then, Prime
Minister Romano Prodi had already judged the crash "an act of tragic
The pilot, Capt. Peter Ashby, was tried on charges of involuntary
manslaughter, dereliction of duty, destruction of private property, and
destruction of government property… but was found not
guilty on all charges by panel of Marine Corps officers. Ashby was
later convicted only of charges of obstruction of justice, with a six-month
sentence. Ashby served five months, on account of "good behavior".
That's probably less than the time that several of the Vieques
"trespassers" will spend in jail A second crew member was tried
exclusively on obstruction-of-justice charges, but plea-bargained and was
dismissed from the Marine Corps on April 1999. Two other crew members were
not charged, by determination of Lt. Gen. Pace. Under military law, a
14-member panel/"jury" is selected from officers of equal or
superior rank to the person charged. The panel was selected not by a
presiding judge, but directly by Lt. Gen. Peter Pace, Commander, U.S. Marine