HomeHistoryNavy History

Juan Giusti-Cordero

August 17, 2000


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, 2000


Never again 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.

Senate Armed Forces Committee



One-stop shooting

The 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. [1]


It 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 stance.[2] The Commission's website featured its well-documented 1999 report, which called for an immediate and permanent cessation of



bombings on Vieques. After January 31, this was not exactly music to the ears of Puerto Rican government officials.


The 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,, or directly at (since April 1999 there's only an error message there).[3] In that prior website, the Navy urged military contractors and foreign countries to rent its land and sea weapons ranges in and around Vieques.


The 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.[4]


Below a list of AFWTF capabilities,[5] the Navy's old Vieques website included, in  14-point boldface, this slogan:








Business 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.[6] 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. 


The 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,[7] and in assorted press statements and Pentagon press briefings since.


In 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 Vieques.


Second, 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.



These are just two of the areas where the Navy website presents only Navyfacts.

The 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.





Let's take the first Navy statement in its section on "Facts vs. Allegations".


First, 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).


"Not one civilian living or working off the range

has ever been killed or placed at risk"

Well, 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 interests.[8]


Through 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


bombs 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.


Moreover, 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.


In 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 was "molido 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.


1959: 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.  


June 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. [9] The "Vieques incident" occurred just months after the Palomares incident, the most serious accident to date involving U.S. nuclear bombs.[10]


19 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.[11]


1990-92: 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.[12]


1992: Navy jets dropped live napalm on the bombing range in eastern Vieques.




1993: 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. [13]


1995: 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.


1996: Several bombs fell near a group of fishermen in the southern coast. One of the fishermen was hospitalized with serious injures.


1997: A National Guard unit in maneuvers mistakenly strafed a bus and a police car with M-16 bullets. Again, no one hurt, but…


April 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.


Regarding 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.


Moreover, 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.


Vieques, a "small weapons range"?

At 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 below).


In 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).[14]  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?


Little 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". [15] 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 operations.[16]


The environmental effects of any bombing range, especially one so intensely

used as 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.






Navy latifundismo

Then, of course, there is the matter of total Navy landholding in Vieques. [17] 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 law.


In 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:


The 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





suitable 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 permitted.[18]


Moreover, 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. [19]





            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.


This 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.



Air-to-ground ranges

Besides 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.[20] 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:

·        the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune

·        the Navy and Marine Corps' Cherry Point range (North Carolina)

·        the Air Force/Navy Dare ranges (North Carolina)

·        the Air Force's Avon Park (Florida), quite subutilized in recent years


In 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.


Ship-to-shore bombardment

Vieques 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.


In 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).




In 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.


An (inhabited) island range

Even 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.


Vieques 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.


Ranges and bases

The 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 Puerto Rico.


In 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. Eglin’s



745 sq. 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. ),

North 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.


The 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

Forest; 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.


Home on the range

The 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. [21]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.


Eglin (Florida): The Eglin maps in The National Security Need for Vieques are too schematic to be of any value. [22] 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



civilian 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 way?


Pinecastle (Florida): 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 Contour Area”.[23] 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.[24] The Navy planes that bomb Pinecastle are stationed in Jacksonville, 80 miles away.


Ft. Sill (Oklahoma): Here 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. Sill.[25] 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.[26] Fourth, the civilian community around Ft. Sill developed after the fort, and virtually owes its existence to it. The town of Lawton is



itself 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 U.S.

Cavalry in the area (1860); Geronimo was imprisoned there for years, and killed while attempting to escape. [27]


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.


The burden is not offset…

The 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.


As 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.



Vieques' scant 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.


Crowley added 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 rights? 



The 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 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.[28]  This "definitive" study was supposed to be out by April 2000, and has presumably been completed months ago. However, its release has been delayed without explanation.


Also pending: a full, honest report on the death of David Sanes on April 1999.[29] 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


this 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) base.


The 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"[30] was signalled as the cause of the accident.[31] 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.[32] 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 Rican "allegations"!!).



Regarding 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.


The 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.


The Navy's Vieques website proves once again that the Navy prefers Navyfacts. When will the Navy move beyond? 



Vieques websites 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 materials. 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.

[1] The website already features a keen and lively  response to the Navy website, and urges: "Read NAVY `FACT VS. FICTION' vs REAL FACTS".

[2] Try The Executive Summary of the Vieques Commission report may be consulted at (for other Vieques websites, see list at the end).

[3] 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.

[4] 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".

[5]  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 group scenarios

* 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.

[6] A number of Department of Defense facilities are available for commercial use http:// "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

[7] 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.

[8] “Island Casualty”, Washington Post editorial, May 3, 1999.

[9]  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?"

[10] 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.

[11] 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 Scapegoats", Penthouse, January 1990, iowa.htm; also, "Death in the Military", a three-part series in the Philadelphia Inquirer, December  1993. 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.

[12] "Team Finds Bombs & Sunken Ships Off Puerto Rican Island",  posted by EcoNet on February 1, 2000.

[13] See Juan Gonzalez, "Vieques Libre"

[14] Adm. Ernest Christiansen, Public Hearnigs, Vieques Lands Tranfer Act 1994, H.R.3831. I thank researcher Marta Villaizán for this reference.

[15] See The House Armed Forces Committee 's Readiness Review, Vol. 2, Issue 1, March 2000 /readinessreviews/rr2-1vieques.pdf. The Readiness Review forgets to mention that Vieques is inhabited. On the Navy-ITT Contract see http:// NAVbusopor.nsf/43ace59eeb08dfbc8825675c006c 79b2/ d7a322a6ee8c4c35882567660045f78e?OpenDocument&Highlight=0,ITT,Industries. See, in particular, the document titled "sow-SEP-rev.doc" (Attachment J-1, p. 1).

[16] 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.

[17] 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: /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 restringida. airspace/ carib/ afwfmap.htm

[18]  The text, which was circulated to the "condemned", was signed by  J. C. Gebhard, “Captain (CEC), U.S.N.”

[19] For a recent study focusing on the structure of pre-Navy propertyholding in Vieques and the consequences of the Navy expropriations, see César Ayala, "Las expropiaciones de la Marina en la década del cuarenta" (forthcoming, Revista de Ciencias Sociales).

[20] Pinecastle was, however, activated for the March 2000 maneuvers as a result of the Vieques protests.

[21]  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.

[22] The Eglin AFB website does not offer much further information.

[23] The National Security Need for Vieques, p. A10-18 . The report does not define or specify the magnitude of the “Noise Contour Area”.

[24] On the Ocala National Forest, see and

[25]  Ft. Sill home page:

[26] (latest data available on website: 1996).

[27] See; . 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).

[28] The Naval War College's Center for Naval Warfare Studies is conducting the study; in particular, it appears, its Strategic Research Department. See

[29] See El Nuevo Día, April 18, 2000, pp.  4-6, 8 y 10.

[30] For a chronology of the important Cavalese court martial and detailed sumaries of the evidence and testimony presented t the Ashby trial, see 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.

[31] 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 recklessness."

[32] 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 Corps.