The U.S. Military in Puerto Rico

Military Facilities in Puerto Rico

Presently, there are twenty five military installations in Puerto Rico.1 The largest of these installations are the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Ceiba, the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station and Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility (AFWTF) on Vieques, the National Guard training facility at Camp Santiago in Salinas, the Naval installation at Sabana Seca, the Army's Fort Buchanan in San Juan, and the Muñoz Air Force base in San Juan.2 The land occupied by the military is some of the most fertile on the island amounting to approximately 13 % of the arable land in Puerto Rico.3 On the island of Vieques, the military controls 76% of the land.2

Military Personnel in Puerto Rico

A large number of Puerto Ricans participate in the US armed services. The size of the overall military related community in Puerto Rico is estimated to be 100,000 individuals.2 4,927 people have full time military or civilian positions at the major military bases located on the island.1 In addition, approximately 17,000 people are members of the National Guard or the Reserve forces.4 Puerto Ricans from the island have had a disproportionate representation in several US military conflicts including the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War.

A number of Puerto Rican colleges and universities have the Reserve Office Training Corps (ROTC) programs. Army ROTC programs are offered at American University of Puerto Rico, Caribbean University, the University of Puerto Rico - Arecibo, the University of Puerto Rico – Bayamon Technological University College, the University of Puerto Rico – Carolina Regional College, the University of Puerto Rico - Cayey, the University of Puerto Rico - Mayaguez, and the University of Puerto Rico - Rio Piedras.5 Air Force ROTC programs are offered at the University of Puerto Rico - Bayamon Technological University College, University of Puerto Rico - Mayaguez, and the University of Puerto Rico - Rio Piedras.5 Junior ROTC programs are offered at Puerto Rican high schools in San Juan, Guaynabo, Gurabo, and Trujillo Alto.6 The Junior ROTC program sponsors a summer camp program for high school students at Fort Allen, Puerto Rico.7

The military has sought to form aliances with Hispanic organizations to promote military recruitement. In January 1999, leaders of National Hispanic organizations in collaboration with the US Army held the Hispanic Leadership Summit '99. The summit titled "Education and Career Opportunities for Hispanic Youth in America's Army" included the participation of leaders of the US Army as well as leaders of National Hispanic Organizations including ASPIRA, The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the National Association of Hispanic Publications (NAHP), the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), SER jops for progress, and the members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.8 At the summit, the director of the LULAC National Educational Service Center (LNESC), Richard Royball commented "Based on our mutally beneficial partnership, we would encourage other Hispanic organizations to ally themselves with the US Army."8 LNESC promotes military recruitment in educational service centers in several US cities and in Puerto Rico.9

Military Uses of Puerto Rico

The US military installations in Puerto Rico are part of the US Atlantic Command (LANTCOM).2 LANTCOM has authority over all US military operations which take place throughout the Atlantic. Puerto Rico is seen as crucial in supporting LANTCOM's mission. Both Naval Forces Caribbean (NFC) and Fleet Air Caribbean (FAIR) are based at the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station.2 NFC has authority over all US Naval activity in the waters of the Caribbean while FAIR has authority over all US military flights and air operations over the Caribbean.

US Navy's largest training area for the US Atlantic Fleet is in Puerto Rico and in the ocean surrounding the island. Every year, the US conducts several military training exercises in Puerto Rico, the largest of these being Operation Springboard and Operation Readex.2 These exercises include thousands of personnel and involve air, sea, and land operations, and include training with live ammunition. In addition to the exercises of the US military, NATO forces and foreign forces that pay rent to the US government are permitted to utilize the bases in Puerto Rico.10

On top of training exercises, the US uses Puerto Rico as a base to rehearse and launch military operations in Latin America and throughout the world. Operations launched from Puerto Rico include the 1954 intervention in Guatemala, the 1965 invasion of the Dominican Republic, the 1983 invasion of Greneda, the 1989 invasion of Panama, support of El Salvadorian military; preparation for operation Desert Storm and Desert Fox in Iraq; and preparation for the War in Yugoslavian. Further, in 1984, it was revealed that the FBI offered monthly courses to participants from El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Honduras, as well as Puerto Rico.2

Military Spending in Puerto Rico

Direct military expenditures in Puerto Rico are about $611 million a year.11 Not included in this figure are expenditures for contractors based in the United States that also have operations in Puerto Rico, and expenditures for military operations that fall under broader scopes such as the expenditures for the operations of LANTCOM.
Nuclear Weapons in Puerto Rico

In the mid 1980's the Bar Association of Puerto Rico appointed a special commission to investigate the US military plans and actions related to Nuclear Weapons in Puerto Rico. The commission concluded that the US violated the Treaty of Tlatelolco - an international treaty, to which the US is a signatory, which bans nuclear weapons in Latin America. Among the findings of the commission were that: Roosevelt Roads Naval Station at Ceiba has been prepared to function as a center for command and control operations for nuclear weapons; facilities at Roosevelt Roads have been designated for anti-submarine nuclear weapons; the US has prepared a communications network for the control of nuclear weapons in Puerto Rico; ships and submarines carrying nuclear weapons are often stationed at Naval bases in Puerto Rico; testing of Nuclear related weaponry and Nuclear weapons simulations are conducted in Vieques and in the waters and airspace surrounding Puerto Rico.12 In addition, William Arkin of the Institute for Policy Studies found that the military has been given presidential authority to deploy 32 nuclear depth bombs in Puerto Rico.13

Issues of Particular Concern

Military Operations in Vieques

The US military presence in Vieques has long been a point of contention between Puerto Ricans and the US government. Vieques is of particular concern due to the large area of land the military controls, the effect of the military operations on the population, and the effect of military operations on the environment. The military controls approximately 76% of the island of Vieques. The military base on Vieques is used for practice operations including combined land, air, and sea operations, practice with live munitions, and the storage of munitions.

Much attention was focused on Vieques this past spring two 500 pound bombs, launched as part of US military training exercises for the war in Yugoslavia, landed a mile and a half off target killing a local security guard, David Sanes, and injured four others. This incident inspired several commissions to investigate the effect of US military operations in Vieques including a commission appointed by the governor of Puerto Rico and a US government commission. Following the killing of Sanes, Puerto Ricans have held a continuous occupation of part of the military base in Vieques, and on July fourth, approximately 50,000 Puerto Ricans demonstrated in Vieques, calling on the military to clean up and evacuate the base.14

While the killing of Sanes sparked particular outrage, this was not the first time citizens were put at risk by the US military operations in Vieques. In 1993, the Navy dropped five bombs a mile from Isabela Segunda, the main town in Vieques; four of these bombs detonated.15 In 1997, a vehicle in the municipal dump was struck by M-16 bullets.15 In addition to these incidents, the US military admitted to firing 263 depleted uranium shells in Vieques in February 1999.16 Depleted Uranium is pyrophoric and ignites upon impact forming an aerosol of Uranium Oxides which can travel for miles before settling on the ground. If ingested, the Uranium Oxides present health risk due to their chemotoxicity and radioactivity. While the military claimed that the use of depleted uranium shells was an accident, the revelation of their use of Depleted Uranium only came out in May as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request by the Military Toxics Campaign.17

When they released their report early July, 1999 the governor's commission concluded that the Navy has failed to fulfill their commitment to promote economic growth and protection of the environment as elaborated in the 1983 memorandum of understanding between the government of Puerto Rico and the Navy.16 Despite the Navy's commitment to promote economic growth, the residents of Vieques suffer from a severe level of unemployment and underemployment. Approximately 73% of the population of Vieques lives in poverty.16 Despite the Navy's commitment to promote environmental protection, the governor's commission found that the Navy's activities had damaged lagoons, forests, mountains and coastline.15 According to testimony by the Comité pro rescate y desorrollo de Vieques, TNT, NO3, NO2, RDX, and Tetryl have been found in drinking water in Vieques.10 The recent governor's commission also found evidence that materials from explosives, including TNT had seeped into the local drinking water.15 In addition the Navy has recently admitted to using Napalm on Vieques.18

In February, 1999, the Human Rights and Environmental Commissions of the Puerto Rican Bar Association also began an investigation into the effect of the Navy on Vieques. They found that the cancer rate on Vieques is 26% above the Puerto Rican national average and that as a result of the Navy's bombing, Vieques is being polluted with toxic materials including asbestos, lead, mercury, and nitrates.19 Referring to the conclusions of the Bar Association's commissions Eduardo Villanueva, president of Puerto Rican Bar Association, stated that "Both Commissions found that the training maneuvers of the military threaten the very lives of the people of Vieques, in clear violation of international law. The toxic materials generated by the bombings deteriorate the health of local residents by causing cancer and diseases of the central nervous system, and destroy the natural resources of this island."19

Despite the death of Sanes and the findings of the various commissions studying the effects of the military on the people and environment of Vieques, Navy Secretary Richard Danzig has said "From a national security standpoint, this is an important and not replaceable site."14 Issuing a similar statement, President Clinton said that Vieques is ". . . a vital part of our national defense and regional security readiness training."15

Errant Bomb in Coamo

While the military operations in Vieques have stirred a great deal of protest, Vieques is not the only region in which military "accidents" have occurred. On July 9, 1999 another bomb went off target and landed in the municipality of Coamo. The explosion creating a 4 foot deep by 4 foot wide crater.20

Coquí I and II

NASA directed projects Coquí I and II to advance research into the behavior of the upper atmosphere. Turbulance in the upper atmosphere affects radio and satellite transmissions. Though not explicitly military in nature, this field of research is of particular interest to the military since radio and satellite transmissions are used for command and control.

As part of the Coquí project, Trimethyaluminum (TMA) was released in the ionosphere at an altitude between 50 and 93 miles.21 In the upper atmosphere, TMA, which is a highly voluble, ignites leaving trails which provide a visual display of the dynamic behavior within the ionosphere. While NASA spokespeople claimed that all the TMA in the Coquí projects ignited before reaching the ground, swimmers at Rio Grande and Aguadilla reported rashes following the release of TMA above these areas following the 1992 Coquí I experiments.22 A July 1997 report titled "Technical Information Document for the 1998 Coquí Sounding Rocket Campaign, The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico" noted that residue associated with the experiments may remain in the environment for a lengthy period of time and have large scale effects.22 The report also noted that a forested area was "clearly degraded" following the Coquí I experiments, and that it may take decades for the forests to recuperate.22 The 1997 report further noted that the Coquí II experiments may result in 100 pounds of lead falling into the Tortuguero Lagoon and nearby waters.22

The Coquí II project conducted from February to April 1998 consisted of the launch of 11 sub orbital rockets.21 Residents near the area of the launch lodged complaints regarding the noise associated with the launches from Tortuguero, which is near the Arecibo radio telescope.22 According to NASA, the Coquí II project has been completed and no further ionospheric testing is planned for Puerto Rico .23

Future Military Activities in Puerto Rico

Remote Over The Horizon Radar (ROTHR)

The Navy is presently planning to construct a Relocatable Over the Horizon Radar (ROTHR) in Puerto Rico. The ROTHR would be part of a surveillance network which designed to monitor flights over an area encompassing more than 1 million square miles in South America. The ROTHR, developed by Raytheon, would consist of 34 antennas and support structures, 71 to 125 feet tall. The transmitter is planned for a 100 acre plot of land in Vieques. The site for the receiver was originally planned to be located in the Lajas Valley but was changed to Fort Allen due to protest regarding the military's use of prime farmland and possible disruption of the community's irrigation system.24

US Southern Command

As part of treaty with Panama, the US Southern Command is to leave the Panama canal by 1999. The plan is to move operations to bases in the US, Honduras, and Puerto Rico. In December, 1998, the Associated Press reported that military / counter-narcotics operations would be moved to Puerto Rico as well as other sites in the region.25 The US is planning to station the division, Special Operations, South (SOCSOUTH) to Vieques.25 This would result in more military operation in this region, and an even greater risk to the civilian populations and the environment. A 1998 study by the US Army Corps of Engineers found that SOCSOUTH operations in Vieques would have adverse affects on the land, air quality, and local flora and fauna.26


1. OSD, Washington Headquaters Services, Directorate for Information Operations and Reports (DIOR); "Atlas/Data Abstract for the United States and Selected Areas - Fiscal Year 1997;" Department of Defense; 1998
(Note: The count of 25 military installations includes the large component of the Roosevelt Roads Naval facility on the island of Vieques as distinct from the Roosevelt Roads Naval station on Cieba)
2. Meléndez, Edwin; Meléndez, Edgardo; Colonial Dilemma; South End Press; Boston; 1993
3. Oficina del Gobernador, Junta de Planificación; “Plan de Desarrollo Integral;” April 1979; p.96
(According to this document, the total amount of arable land in Puerto Rico which is not subject to flooding and without urban development is 362,591 acres. According to source # 2, the major military installations in Puerto Rico occupy approximately 47,082 acres of land.)
4. Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Reserve Affairs; "Official Guard and Reserve Manpower Strengths and Statistics - Summary End Fiscal Year 1996;" 1996
5. Macmillam Reference USA, The College Blue Book, 26th Edition – Tabular Data; Simon & Schuster Macmillam; New York; 1997
6. United States Army; "Schools with JROTC, Region 1, Brigade 6;" http://www-rotc.monroe.army.mil/jrotc/schools/reg1bri6.asp
7. Schlossberg, Leon D., Editor; "First Region JROTC Summer Camps;" http://www.usarotc.com/e-paper/np06.htm; Oct. 1998
8. "US Army Meets with Hispanic Congressional and Community Leaders on Education and Career Initiatives;" La Prensa San Diego; San Diego, California; January 15, 1999
9. Dickey, Connie E., Sgt 1st Class; "Hispanic Youth Meet Army Leaders;" http://www.lulac.org/Programs/Army.html
10. Comité pro rescate y desarrollode Vieques; Testimony before the United States Committee on Energy and Natural Resources; Washington, DC; May 6, 1999
11. Daley, William - Secretary, US Department of Commerce; Ehrlich, Everett - Under Secretary for Economic Affairs, Economics and Statistics Administration; Farnsworth Riche, Martha - Bureau of the Census; "Federal Expenditures by State for Fiscal Year 1997;" Issued April 1998
12. Berkan, Judith; Hey-Maestre, Charles; Saade-Llorens, Pedro; "Violating the Treaty of Tlatelolco;" Arms Control Today; Vol. 15, No. 1; January 1985
13. Arkin, William; "Contingency Overseas Deployments of Nuclear Weapons - A Report;" Institute for Policy Studies; February 1985
14. Hawley, Chris; Associated Press; "Puerto Rico protesters scrawl on Navy warship;" Boston Globe; Boston, Mass.; July 19, 1999
15. Navarro, Mireya; "Puerto Ricans Protest Navy Firing Range on Vieques;" http://www.latinolink.com/news/1999/0710vieq.htm; July 15, 1999
16. Navarro, Mireya; "Puerto Ricans Protest Navy Firing Range on Vieques;" 1999 N.Y. Times News Service; July 9, 1999
17. Faul, Michelle; "Puerto Rico Officials say US didn't tell of shelling error;" Boston Globe; Boston; May 29, 1999
18. Associated Press; "After Denials, Navy admits '93 napalm drop on Puerto Rico range;" Boston Globe; July 21, 1999
19. Ruiz, Carmelo; "Lawyers speak up against U.S. military;" www.micronetix.net/virus/vieques.htm; Puerto Rico, May 4 1999
20. Associated Press; "Blast Shakes Puerto Rico Area;" Washington Post; July 6, 1999
21. Savage, Don; "NASA Studying Space Weather from Puerto Rico;" NASA News Release; http://www.wff.nasa.gov/~web/PRCampaign/english/NewsRelease.html
22. Candelas, Laura; "NASA Launches Controversial Experiment;" http://www.latinolink.com/news/news98/0301nnae.htm
23. Koehler, Keith; NASA official; personal communications
24. Oliver, Lance; "Demilitarizatin Threat Salts Puerto Rico Status Issue;" LatinoLink; http://www.latinolink.com/opinion/opinion97/0420hibe.htm; April 20, 1997
25. Associated Press; "Puerto Rico is Chosen as a Site of U.S. Anti-Drug Base;" The Plain Dealer; Cleveland, OH; Dec 2, 1998
26. US Army Corps of Engineers; "Environmental Assessment for the Relocation of Special Operations Command, South and Selected U.S. Army South Elements from the Republic of Panama to U.S. Naval Station in Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico and Other Locations;" US Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District, Tetra Tech. Inc.; DACA01-969D-0011 DO#0064; December 1998