According to sources close to the manoeuvres, jets and warships launched more than 200,000 pounds of projectiles at Vieques between 13 January and 4 February. Residents of the island reported intense explosions and low overflights by jets. Residents claim that a number of projectiles missed their targets, landing in lagoons, beaches and in the ocean.
The navy recently promised to withdraw permanently from Vieques in May 2003. Their statement follows intense activism in Vieques, which has resulted in more than 1000 arrests; several of those arrested were US celebrities. Eighteen “civil disobedients” were arrested during this recent round of manoeuvres.
The US navy has used Vieques as a training ground since 1941. Military exercises on Vieques have generated many controversial incidents, including the dropping of live napalm in 1992. In 1999, the navy accidentally fired depleted uranium shells over Vieques. Activists say military exercises put the people of Vieques at risk of bodily harm, especially since Vieques has no hospitals, adding that exposure to certain weapons has increased Vieques' rates of cancer, asthma, and lupus.
Spokespeople for the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques described the recent bombings as “unnecessarily abusive and cruel,” particularly in light of the navy's vow to end its exercises in Vieques in just a few months. Said Nilda Medina, spokeswoman for CRDV, “This is like putting salt on a wound, just to add to the suffering of our people.