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South Florida Sun-Sentinel

The Struggle For Vieques

July 21, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Sun-Sentinel. All rights reserved.

On the island just off Puerto Rico, the 9,100 people of Vieques live between the U.S. Navy's live-fire bombing range on the eastern end and a vast munitions dump on the western end. Residents complain that the Navy has stymied Vieques' economic development and damaged their environment. The Navy says it has no alternative other than Vieques to conduct critical combat training.


March 17, 1941: The Navy purchases two-thirds of Vieques for a military base and training ground. About half the population is forced to move.

1947: Department of Interior describes plan to move the island's entire population to St. Croix.

1961: President Kennedy and the Department of Defense draw up a plan to clear the island for the Navy. The plan is called off after protests backed by the local government.

1975: Protests that began in 1971 culminate in the Navy leaving the nearby island of Culebra.

1978: Vieques fishermen and relatives block military exercises.

1983: Navy agrees to protect Vieques environment and economy.

1983: Vieques used to train for Grenada invasion.

1997: Residents clash with two NATO warships intruding into civilian areas; two are injured.

April 19, 1999: Bombing accident kills civilian security guard David Sanes Rodriguez, 35. Four others are wounded. Exercisessuspended.

May 8, 1999: Independence party leader Ruben Berrios and supporters take over beach on bombing range, joining handful of protesters. Protest camps are erected.

May 28, 1999: Navy admits it mistakenly fired 267 uranium-tipped shells on Vieques in February.

June 10, 1999: President Clinton orders review of military operations on Vieques.

July 1, 1999: Multiparty Puerto Rico commission recommends Navy abandon Vieques.

July 19, 1999: Navy reverses earlier denials it used napalm on Vieques in 1993.

Oct. 18,1999: Presidential panel recommends Navy resume live- fire training on Vieques, but leave in five years.

Dec. 3, 1999: Clinton decides Navy should resume exercises but without live bombs, and leave island in five years; Puerto Rican government rejects the plan.

Jan. 31, 2000: Puerto Rico government accepts Clinton proposal to allow the Navy to resume limited training for at least three years using dummy bombs; Vieques will decide whether it wants the Navy to leave in a referendum .

Feb. 21, 2000: More than 80,000 protest Vieques deal in San Juan.

May 4, 2000: U.S. marshals, FBI agents and Marines reclaim Vieques base in dawn sweep.

May 10, 2000: Puerto Rican Independence Party President Ruben Berrios is arrested after defying warnings and re-entering the range.

June 25, 2000: Navy begins a ship-to-shore shelling exercise, the first large-scale bombing training since removal of protesters.

Oct. 16-17, 2000: Navy begins massive two-week exercises simulating a NATO-led U.N. peacekeeping operation. The exercises include troops from Canada, France, Denmark, Germany and Britain.

March 1, 2001: Navy suspends bombing until further notice.

April 27-28, 2001: Bombing resumes despite protesters -- including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., actor Edward James Olmos and labor leader Dennis Rivera -- using their bodies as shields.

April 30, 2001: Navy turns over 4,000 acres in the western portion of Vieques to the local government.

May 1, 2001: Protests continue, as the Rev. Al Sharpton is arrested outside Camp Garcia.

May 23, 2001: A federal judge sentences Sharpton to 90 days in jail for trespassing.

June 13, 2001: The Bush Administration says the Navy will cease training operations and leave Vieques by May 1, 2003.

July 6, 2001: A federal judge sentences Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and several others to 30-day prison terms for trespassing.

July 29, 2001: Referendum demanding that the U.S. Navy stop bombing immediately and give back the land it controls gets 68 percent of the vote in Vieques.

Aug. 2, 2001: U.S. Navy ships pound the shores with dummy bombs.

Aug. 17, 2001: Sharpton is released from a federal prison in Brooklyn.

Aug. 29, 2001: A federal judge in Puerto Rico sentences a U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois to a three-hour prison term and probation for trespassing.

Sept. 19, 2001: The U.S. Navy notifies the Puerto Rican government that it plans to resume bombing exercises following theSept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Sept. 24, 2001: Jet fighters drop nonexplosive training bombs in the first full-scale military exercises since the United States declared war on terrorism in response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Oct. 17, 2001: A Puerto Rican judge rules that a referendum on the U.S. Navy's future in Vieques is unconstitutional.

Dec. 12, 2001: Congress allows the Pentagon to decide the Navy's future on Vieques.

Jan. 2, 2002: Federal judge dismisses Puerto Rico's lawsuit to stop the Navy from resuming bombing exercises on the island.

Jan. 9, 2002: Military announces training normally held on Vieques will be carried out temporarily in Florida near Ocala and in North Carolina.

April 1, 2002: Navy ships deploy for bombing exercises on Vieques that continue until May.

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