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Vieques, Puerto Rico

Vieques, Puerto Rico is a beautiful but controversial island.

Studies show that Vieques was first inhabited by Native Americans who came from South America about 1500 years before Christopher Columbus set foot in Puerto Rico in 1493.

After a brief battle between local Indians and Spaniards, the Spaniards took control of the island, turning the locals into their slaves.

In 1811, Don Salvador Melendez, then governor of Puerto Rico, sent military commander Juan Rosello to begin what later became the take-over of Vieques by the people of Puerto Rico.

In 1816, Vieques was visited by Simón Bolívar.

Teofilo Jose Jaime Maria Gillou, who is recognized as the founder of Vieques as a town, arrived in 1823, marking a period of economic and social change for the island of Vieques.

By the second part of the 19th century, Vieques received thousands of Black immigrants who came to help with the sugar plantations. Some of them came as slaves, and some came on their own to earn extra money. Most of them came from the nearby islands of St. Thomas, Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Croix and many other Caribbean nations. Ever since, Black people have formed an important and essential part of Vieques' society.

During the 1940s the United States military took away farms and territory from locals, who in turn were forced to emigrate to mainland Puerto Rico and to St. Croix to look for homes and jobs. After that, the United States military used Vieques as testing grounds for bombs, missiles, and other weapons.

There have been some non-proven claims that these tests are the cause of Vieques' high cancer rate. The World Socialist Website (WSWS), an opponent of US military and foreign policy, reports that "Over a third of the island's population of 9,000 are now suffering from a range of cancers and other serious illnesses." [1] WSWS links these cases of illness to the US Navy's target practice on Vieques. The cancer rate is reportedly about 25% higher on Vieques than on the main portion of Puerto Rico.

In March, 1999, Vieques native David Sanes was killed by a bomb dropped by a military jet during bombing exercises. A a civilian employee of the Navy, Sanes was on duty at a military Observation Point when two bombs fell 1½ miles (2½ kilometres) away from their designated target; one of them fell 30 feet (10 metres) away from Sanes, killing him instantly. [1] Ever since, Puerto Ricans from all over mainland Puerto Rico as well as from the United States travelled to Vieques to protest the bombings and testings, by illegally introducing themselves on the bombing grounds and camping there. People from all over Latin America joined the struggle. Many celebrities, including the political leader Ruben Berrios, singers Danny Rivera and Ricky Martin, boxer Felix Trinidad, Mexican actor Edward James Olmos and Guatemala's Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu have protested. Pope John Paul II said that he wanted peace for Vieques. And many hundreds of Puerto Ricans served time in jail for illegally entering the bombing grounds.

In 1999, then-Governor Pedro Rosello began talks with the U.S. government to try to look for a solution to the problem, and in 2001, Governor Sila Maria Calderon signed a treaty with President George W. Bush that guaranteed the military's leaving of the island in May of 2003.

Young Milivi Adams, a Vieques native who was a cancer patient, became the protester's symbol child in their quest to liberate the island of the bombings. On the morning of November 17, 2002, she passed away.

Vieques' small airport is the hub of Vieques Air Link, which flies to many cities in mainland Puerto Rico from there. But no other airline companies currently serve this airport.

In addition, the new Miss Puerto Rico is from Vieques.

On May 1, 2003, the military commenced their moving out of Vieques, in an event that was covered by the international media. At 12:01 AM EST of that day, a street party erupted all over Vieques, many of Vieques' citizens celebrating the military's move out of the island.

Key Figures of the movement against the military in Vieques