US Navy Leaves Vieques After 60 Years of Bombing

The US Navy bombing tests and military practice on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, has ended. On May 1, citizens in Vieques celebrated the first day in over 60 years without a US Navy bombing run.

Puerto Ricans of Vieques objected to the US Navy’s presence across many other ideologically divisive issues regarding the US. Until recently, the US Navy owned over two-thirds of Vieques. When the US bought this land in the 1940s, many families and farmers were forced out of their homes and off their lands to make way for military exercises, which began in 1947.

Bush announced that the Navy would leave Vieques in June 2001, and it is widely accepted that it was the success of the protest movement that led to the this decision and to the US Navy’s withdrawl.

While resistance to the Navy’s military exercises was ongoing, it was not until 1999, when a civilian security guard was killed by a bombing accident, that popular resistance began to have a lasting effect on US policy.

Many problems remain in Vieques, however. Environmental destruction and unexploded ordinances ravage the land. The land has not been returned to the people of Puerto Rico, rather, it has been transferred to the US Department of Fishing and Wildlife, so that an environmental assessment can be obtained. Early Puerto Rican estimates have produced a figure of $400 million necessary to clean up the land used by the US Navy, but only $23 million has been allocated so far.

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