Resources on U.S. Military Presence in Latin America

Information on U.S. military presence throughout Latin America, now and in the past, as well as on struggles to close U.S. bases and establish a continent free of foreign military presence.

Military Bases in Colombia page — official documents, analysis, news, responses

Puerto Rico Campaign to Close and Clean up Military Bases — 2000-2006

Panama Campaign to Close and Clean up Military Bases — 1992-2000

Puerto Rico Campaign Archives

Puerto Rico Update Archives


Vieques Women and the Costs of Battling Cancer, by Marykate Zukiewicz - August 2003

US House Authorizes Vieques Naval Base Closure - August 2003

The Long Struggle for Cleanup in Vieques - August 2003

The Second Invasion of Vieques, by Carmelo Ruiz Marrero - August 2003

Statement of Thanks to the People of Vieques - May 2003

Update on Viequenses of Puerto Rico - May 2003

Vieques Movement Succeeds in Ending Naval Bombing, but Concerns Remain

Report on Environmental Legacy in Vieques - October 2002

Investigating the Sunken Atomic Ship in Vieques - October 2002

Issue Brief: Health In Vieques: A Crisis and its Causes - June 2002

Vieques Movement Faces Uncertain Future - November 2001

US Solidarity with Vieques, July 2000

Launching the Puerto Rico Campaign: March 2000

March 2000
Launching the Puerto Rico Campaign


With this newsletter, we inaugurate a new five-year campaign of the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s (FOR) Latin America program. After consultation with our colleagues in Latin America and the United States on the re-militarization of the Americas and an internal reflection in the FOR, we have committed ourselves to support the process for the withdrawal of US military troops and activities from Puerto Rico, the environmental cleanup of contamination generated by those activities, and the economic conversion of these sites to uses decided by Puerto Rico’s people.

The newsletter will report on that campaign and related developments in Puerto Rico. We will also continue to follow other aspects of militarization in Latin America, such as the escalating U.S. military involvement in the war in Colombia. The Task Force is adapting an exposition on the war in Mexico produced by Service for Peace and Justice in Cuernavaca, and we continue to place volunteers with collegial grassroots organizations in Latin America.

The Puerto Rico Campaign will work from the knowledge and contacts we developed during our Panama Campaign. While attention now is focused on the struggle to ensure the U.S. Navy’s departure from Vieques, we will work with those looking at the long-term process of community-based economic conversion and environmental cleanup in Vieques, as well as the U.S. military’s other operations in Puerto Rico.

These activities distort the choices available to the people of Puerto Rico, but they also have an impact beyond Puerto Rico’s shores. The Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH), formerly based in Panama and now in Roosevelt Roads on the eastern end of Puerto Rico, includes hundreds of soldiers who train other armed forces throughout the hemisphere in combat techniques which are frequently used in counterinsurgency wars. The US Army South (USARSO), which moved from Panama to Fort Buchanan in San Juan last year, coordinates Army operations and relationships throughout Central and South America.

Our activities will range from research into the military’s activities and publishing resources for activists, to organizing delegations to Puerto Rico and speaking tours by Puerto Rican activists in the United States, to participation in national and international networks on military base cleanup.

The FOR’s decision to focus on demilitarization in Puerto Rico has a history. In 1992, we published a booklet, Puerto Rico: The Cost of Colonialism. In 1998 and 1999, we organized together with the Caribbean Project for Justice and Peace and other groups two international delegations that visited Vieques, Roosevelt Roads, Fort Buchanan and sites where the Navy planned to install a powerful and highly unpopular radar for use in regional surveillance.

The Puerto Rico Campaign also follows naturally from our Panama Campaign. That campaign was initiated with Panamanian groups in 1993 and sought the withdrawal of US troops and military bases from Panama, the economic conversion of the bases, and the cleanup of contamination produced by more than 80 years of bombing and other military uses. We foresaw negotiations for the permanence of troops in Panama beyond 1999, and that is what happened. We achieved what we never expected, revealing a history of contamination by “conventional” munitions as well as chemical weapons and depleted uranium. In the context of a popular movement in Panama that mobilized against a post-1999 military presence, information on military contamination influenced the breakdown in negotiations that led to the U.S. departure from Panama — even though the United States has still not assumed responsibility for cleanup of abandoned chemical munitions or thousands of conventional explosives left behind in Panama.

Most of the U.S. forces stationed in Panama moved to Puerto Rico, even as the movement in Puerto Rico against the U.S. military’s presence gathered steam. We aim to contribute what we can that is useful to that movement. We will continue to follow events in Panama, especially as they relate to former US military bases and cleanup of explosives, chemical weapons and other contamination left by the military’s activities. As you will see in this issue of the Update, we also will cover other aspects of U.S.militarization, such as the escalating U.S. military involvement in Colombia, though our principal focus here will be Puerto Rico. We invite you to join us in this effort.

Purposes and Objectives of
FOR’s Puerto Rico Campaign


  • Contribute to the decolonization of relationships between the United States and Puerto Rico, through demilitarization and the development of people-to-people relationships based on mutual respect for the aspirations of grassroots communities.
  • Help to limit the United States’ capacity to wage offensive war through the closure of combat training facilities in Puerto Rico, thereby encouraging efforts to solve international conflicts through negotiation instead of violence.
  • Support the implementation of drug policy that focuses on “harm reduction” rather than military means for addressing drug addiction and consequent harms.
  • Strengthen the mechanisms (political, legal, popular) to hold the U.S. military accountable for cleanup of environmental destruction caused by its operations and training.

Objectives (Five Years: 2000-2004):

  • Contribute to the withdrawal of Navy troops, termination of all military operations, and return to civilian use of lands and waters currently used by the Navy at Vieques and Roosevelt Roads Naval Station.
  • Ensure the United States commits itself to fund the environmental cleanup of lands and waters in Vieques contaminated by the military’s activities.
  • Support community-based development of all lands, waters and property returned by the military to the people of Puerto Rico, including the establishment of a land trust in Vieques and the creation of community-controlled entities with decision-making power over the returned properties.

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ITT To Run Vieques Bombing Range: Summer 2000

Puerto Rico Update #30, Summer 2000


ITT to Run Vieques Bombing Range

While the drama of Vieques unfolded in the Caribbean and the mass media in May and June, the military signed off with corporate giant ITT to operate the Vieques bombing range for up to six years. The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center on May 25 sealed a contract with ITT Industries’ Systems Division, based in Colorado Springs, CO, to maintain and operate the range complex in Vieques and surrounding islands and waters for $11 million a year, renewable annually.

This win continues ITT Industries leadership in the Naval Range market,” chirped Jim Cameron, president of the Systems Division. In addition to the bombing range on Vieques itself, known as the Inner Range, the complex to be run by ITT includes an underwater range with billions of dollars worth of sensors, and facilities on St. Croix, St. Thomas, Pico del Este and other sites.

ITT also operates the Pacific Missile Range in Hawai’i and the firing range at Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California, according to its web-site ( According to Marta Villaizán, a Puerto Rican historian who discovered the ITT contract, ITT will be testing new weapons systems in Vieques and its surrounding waters, including Tomahawk missiles. Appendix G of the contract provides that ITT will also test “Mark” torpedos, a submarine version of the Tomahawk, according to Villaizán. The operational evaluations of these weapons will take place between 2000 and 2005, and many will take place in Puerto Rico. “They will certainly not be inert,” Villaizán says.

ITT’s annual report for 1999 boasts of doubled earnings for its shareholders and “improved profit margins” for its weapons exports business. ITT is known as a telecommunications company — and for its active support of the covert CIA operation that overthrew the elected socialist Chilean government of Salvador Allende in 1973.

To let ITT know what you think about its profiting from the bombing of Vieques, call or write: Jim Cameron, President, ITT Industries Systems Division, P.O. Box 15012, Colorado Springs, CO 80935-5012. Tel: 719-591-3600 ext. 4103. Fax: 719-591-3698.

Sources: El Nuevo Dia, 7/9/00; ITT website.

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Vieques Protest Update, December 2000

Puerto Rico Update, December 2000

Vieques Protest Update

by Luis Monterrosa

Since last July, several groups, including the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques (CPRDV), Vieques Youth United, (VYU), and the Vieques Women’s Alliance, have taken many powerful actions in Vieques against the Navy’s military exercises. These ranged from weekly vigils in front of the gates to Camp Garcia, the navy’s bombing range entrance, to penetration of the Navy’s restricted zone. The CPRDV has also continued to maintain the Peace and Justice Camp (PJC), allowing Viequenses to camp out directly in front of the Camp Garcia gates. The following are just some of the many nonviolent acts of resistance by the many groups.

On August 1, several members of the CPRDV and VYU held a sit-in in the office of the Secretary of Health to demand information, including cancer and infant mortality rates, on Vieques. On August 6, thirty-two women penetrated the Navy’s restricted zone, conducting a ceremony representing Vieques’ desire for peace. One week later, approximately 1,000 people, primarily Viequenses, representing the CPRDV, the Viequense Women’s Alliance, and the VYU, created a human chain in front of the Camp Garcia gates. And on August 28, a group of graphic artists and actors entered the Navy’s restricted zone, where they performed the theatrical play, I Believe in Vieques.

On September 22, thousands of people traveled from all over the United States and Puerto Rico to hold a demonstration at theWhite House. About 75 people were arrested for civil disobedience.

On October 18, a group of Viequenses penetrated the bombing range during military maneuvers; they risked their lives as the Navy continued bombing even after being advised of human presence on the range. Nine people were arrested, including seventy-year old Angel Navarro, a Korean War veteran. Most of them were freed on a $1,000 bail; however Robert Rabin, spokesperson for the CPRDV, was ordered to pay $5,000, which he could not pay at the time and had to spend the night in jail. Four days later, following intense bombing by the Navy, the various action groups, accompanied by church leaders, fishermen, and elderly people formed a human chain, composed of hundreds of people, which partook in taking down the military fence.

On October 21, more than a thousand people in New York City marched for peace in Vieques down Fifth Avenue, an event organized by a coalition of Puerto Rico and human rights groups.

On December 21, several members of the Peace and Justice Camp stopped a US Navy construction project on civilian land near the Camp García military fence, where the Navy was building a new entrance to the base. Protesters believed it was to avoid the constant protests and vigilance by the community. Members of the PJC placed themselves in front of Navy tractors and other heavy equipment to block what they described as an illegal movement of land in property of the Puerto Rican people. The protesters insisted that the Navy produce necessary governmental agency permits to prove that they were not acting illegally. When representatives of the Navy said they only had a permits from the regional office of Public Works, the protesters pointed out to police officials that Navy construction required permits from Natural Resources, the Planning Board and the Archaeological Council. The presence of people from the community shined on the military, who when confronted with the lack of building permits and forced to take their equipment and personnel back onto the Navy’s side of the fence.

Meanwhile, members of the PJC and the CRDV set up a new camp named Camp Luisa Guadalupe, in honor of the 83-year old Viequense woman and well known activist against the Navy, who died the week prior to the action.

The acts of peaceful disobedience have served to garner world attention to the plight of Viequenses. Public figures such as Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Dalai Lama, and most recently Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú from Guatemala, have expressed their solidarity with the Viequenses’ non-violent resistance to the U.S. Navy. As we see, with every action taken against the military’s presence on the Isla Nena, the people of Vieques are growing stronger and the Navy’s days there are counted.

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Fellowship of Reconciliation
Puerto Rico Campaign
Produced by the Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean
2017 Mission St. #305, San Francisco, CA 94110
Tel: (415) 495-6334, Fax: (415) 495-5628, E-mail:

©2001 Fellowship of Reconciliation


FOR Programs - Puerto Rico Vieques Conference 04


Transformando Sueños en Realidades:
¡La Lucha Continúa!

Conferencia sobre Vieques 2004

15-18 de mayo

Washington, DC

Una Conferencia Invitacional

Convening Organizations

Organizaciones Convocadoras
Judith Conde Pacheco
Alianza de Mujeres Viequenses

Armando Torres/Robert Rabin
Comité Pro-Rescate y Desarollo de Vieques

Josie Pantojas/Che Paraliticci
Pilar Beléndez
Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques

Wanda Colón Cortéz
Proyecto Caribeño de Justicia y Paz

Comité Planificador
Natalia Cardona/Denise Davis
Darryl Jordan
American Friends
Service Committee

Sonia Ivette Dueño
John Lindsay-Poland
Fellowship of Reconciliation

Tara Thornton
Military Toxics Project

Marisol Morales/Alejandro Molina
National Boricua
Human Rights Network

Esperanza Martell/Frank Velgara
Pro-Libertad Campaign

Dr. Carlos Correa
United Church of Christ

Rev. Eliezer Valentín-Castañón
United Methodist Church,
General Board of Church
and Society

Carlos Rovira
Vieques Support Campaign

David Cline, Chairperson
Veterans for Peace

El pasado primero de mayo del 2003, la marina estadounidense transfirió terrenos Viequenses bajo su tutela al Servicio de Pesca y Vida Silvestre del Departamento del Interior de Estado Unidos concluyendo mas de sesenta años de bombardeo y uso como área de tiro en la isla poblada. Mediante la desobediencia civil y con apoyo de organizaciones como su grupo y de todos los sectores de la sociedad civil tanto nacional e internacional, la comunidad de Vieques logró finalmente librarse de décadas de practicas militares.

Hoy, el pueblo de Vieques, Puerto Rico continúa su lucha por paz con justicia. La próxima fase de la lucha Viequense se desarrolla mientras cada día personas son diagnosticado con cáncer, mueren a consecuencia de la enfermedad, y el resto trabaja para asegurar el regreso de las tierras que aún permanecen en manos federales. El pueblo Viequense vive a diario con la contaminación de las municiones vivas, el uranio reducido y el napalm usado por la Marina. La lucha sigue sin atenuarse y continuo apoyo llega de todos los rincones del mundo para asegurar la victoria lograda.

El llamado para “Vieques: Tranformando Sueños en Realidades ¡La Lucha Continúa! Conferencia Sobre Vieques 2004 a llevarse lo hacen Alianza de Mujeres Viequenses, el Comité Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques, Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques, y el Proyecto Caribeño de Justicia y Paz. Otros grupos en el Comité Planificador son: la Red Nacional Boricua de Derechos Humanos, Pro-Libertad, Campaña en Apoyo a Vieques, Proyecto Tóxico Militar, Veteranos por la Paz, American Friends Service Committee, la Junta General de Iglesia y Sociedad y el Movimiento de Reconciliación.

La conferencia propone solidificar la colaboración entre el pueblo Viequense con los aliados estadounidenses y los activistas ProVieques en los sectores de justicia ambiental, religiosos, y otros sectores a la luz de la nueva fase de la lucha por la descontaminación, devolución y desarrollo de la Isla Nena. Este proceso resultará en una serie de actividades contínuas este año y en los años por venir.

La conferencia comienza el sábado 15 de mayo en la mañana a las 9:30am. Las organizaciones de Vieques y la isla grande de Puerto Rico presentarán acerca de sus trabajos, del ambiente politico y de los prospectos en los Estados Unidos para el cumplimiento de las demandas Viequenses. Esta conferencia ofrecerá una oportunidad importante para entablar un dialogo entre las organizaciones e individuos participantes acerca de como desarrollar trabajo de apoyo por Vieques a nivel local, nacional, e internacional.

Todo el sábado 15 de mayo y el domingo 16 por la mañana se dedicará a evaluar y desarrollar estrategias para el futuro trabajo por Vieques. Para el domingo 16 en la tarde esperamos el haber desarrollado una estrategia de trabajo que los participantes pueden llevarse consigo e implementer en sus respectivas comunidades y grupos. El domingo en la noche habrá una presentación pública por los grupos Viequenses. El lunes 17 de mayo y el martes 18 serán para reuniones con oficiales electos y organizaciones nacionales en busca de apoyo para las estrategias desarrolladas.

De parte del Comité Planificador de la conferencia, le extendemos esta invitación a su grupo para que se una a nosotros del 15 al 18 de mayo en Washington, DC. Le pedimos que su organización considere el endosar la conferencia y el enviar representantes que asistan y participen activamente. Sus sugerencias son de importancia especial en estos momentos cuando el Comité Planificador trabaja los aspectos logísticos y programáticos de la conferencia.

Esperamos su contestación. Favor de comunicarse con Sonia Ivette Dueño al 202-488-5613 o por correo eléctrónico al <SDueno@UMC-GBCS.ORG>quien coordina el evento de parte del Comité Planificador y quien estará disponible con más información acerca de los preparativos de la conferencia.


Recuerde que en Vieques: ¡La Lucha Continúa!

Se puede inscribir por uno de dos vias: por Internet con una tarjeta de
crédito (es seguro), o imprima esta página, llenelo, y envíelo con un cheque a la dirección debajo.

Registration form:

Si está pagando con cheque, por favor escriba “Vieques Conference” en la línea para memorándum. Haga su cheque a “Fellowship of Reconciliation” y envíe este formulario a:

Attn: Vieques Conference/ Fellowship of Reconciliation, 521 N. Broadway , Nyack, NY 10960
Fax: 845-358-4924

School of the Americas: "New Name, Same Shame", Summer 2000

Puerto Rico Update #30, Summer 2000


School of the Americas: “New Name, Same Shame”

The U.S. House of Representatives voted on May 18 to close the controversial Army School of the Americas (SOA) located at Ft. Benning, Georgia. But Congress also voted to establish yet another military school — the Defense Institute for Hemispheric Security Cooperation, which will operate like the SOA and be located at Ft. Benning. Rep. Joseph Moakley (D-MA) tried to defeat the Pentagon proposal with an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill, but the House rejected the bi-partisan amendment.

Critics call the Pentagon plan a cosmetic name change with no attempt to address the growing public outcry and congressional concern over the SOA’s link to human rights atrocities in Latin America. SOA alumni include Salvadoran death squad leader, Roberto D’Aubuisson and Guatemalan Col. Lima Estrada, arrested in January for the assassination of human rights champion, Bishop Juan Gerardi. In 1998, assassins beat Gerardi to death with a brick just days after he released a human rights report critical of the Guatemalan Army.

The bi-partisan task force called for in the Moakley amendment would have evaluated the effect of U.S. military training on the human rights performance of Latin American soldiers. Commando and combat courses have been core curricula at the SOA and critics believe that the training contributes to human rights atrocities. Salvadoran soldiers cited by a United Nations Truth Commission for the commando-style massacre of six Jesuit priests and their two women co-workers had just completed the SOA commando course.

Congress may have been fooled, but the people are not. The SOA has a new name, but the same shame. We will be at Ft. Benning by the thousands again this November, and we will be in the halls of the new Congress in January. We will keep coming back until we shut down the ‘School of Assassins’ — whatever they call it,” promised Fr. Roy Bourgeois and Carol Richardson who head up the ten year effort to close the SOA.

Source: SOA Watch , 202-234-3440 ,

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U.S. Solidarity for Vieques: Summer 2000

Puerto Rico Update #30, Summer 2000

U.S. Solidarity for Vieques, Puerto Rico

by Julina Bastidas-Bonilla

Federal Marshalls and Marines invaded the civil disobedience camps in Vieques, Puerto Rico on May 4, removing more than 200 peaceful protesters. The camps consisted of groups and individuals from across political and religious lines from Puerto Rico, Vieques, and the United States and had brought more than a year of peace from the continued bombing by the U.S. Navy.

Within hours of the arrests, protesters throughout the U.S. mobilized to show support for the people of Vieques. In downtown San Francisco, members and friends of the Bay Area’s Vieques Solidarity Coalition held a rally on the afternoon of May 4, denouncing the arrests, while 16 protesters peacefully occupied a U.S. Navy recruitment office just blocks away. The protesters were arrested, cited for trespassing, and released to a crowd of supporters gathered outside of the police precinct.

In Boston a group of Harvard students camped outside the JFK Federal Building and were joined by over 100 protesters. The crowd marched and waved Puerto Rican flags, and a group camped out for several days and nights. In Philadelphia 15 protesters committed civil disobedience at the Navy recruiting office and were arrested. Demonstrations also took place in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Minnesota, Connecticut, Illinois and New Hampshire, according to Flavio Cumpiano of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques.

During recent months, the city councils of New York City, Boston, Springfield, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, Berkeley, California, and the Hawaiian House of Representatives also displayed unprecedented support, passing resolutions calling for the U.S. Navy’s withdrawal from Vieques.

Support from youth in the United States has resulted in events dedicated to the struggle against the U.S. Navy in Vieques. Hip Hop fundraisers for Vieques have been held in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.

The date after the camps in Vieques were removed, eight Vieques activists interrupted the Yankee-Oriole baseball game at Yankee Stadium, dashing across the field during the fifth inning carrying Puerto Rican flags and a “U.S. Navy Out of Vieques” sign. This act of civil disobedience brought national attention and condemned the U.S. invasion of the island of Vieques.

More than a million Puerto Ricans reside in New York City and the city hosts the largest parade in the United States. This year’s Puerto Rican parade on June 10 was dedicated to Vieques and drew more than a million spectators with a special delegation from Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rican activist and Dartmouth student Hector Rosario, who took part in the Yankee Stadium civil disobedience, held a fast in front of the White House June 14 — 20 to urge President Clinton to meet with community leaders from Vieques. Hector’s plea went unheeded as the U.S. Navy announced its plans to begin bombing the island the following week.

Lawsuits and Leaders
In addition to action in the streets, activists also took to the courts. Following a similar action by the Bar Association in Puerto Rico, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and other lawyers filed a letter of intent in May to sue the Navy for an end to bombing and environmental cleanup in Vieques. Plaintiffs in the suit will include the Committee for the Defense and Rescue of Vieques, Alliance of Vieques Women, and other Vieques groups and individuals, and the U.S. organizations Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Fellowship of Reconciliation, and SEIU Local 1199, which is helping to finance the suit.

Kennedy, the NRDC and the Pace University Law Clinic are suing for violations of major environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Ocean Dumping Act, while the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, based in New York, will file a civil rights claim for discrimination against the people of Vieques. “The reason the Navy is dropping bombs on Vieques is because the Navy likes to drop bombs,” Kennedy said. “There is no military reason.”

Solidarity for the people of Vieques came from U.S. religious communities as well. More than 50 national religious leaders signed a letter on June 28 to President Clinton. Initiated by the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Puerto Rico Campaign, the letter calls on the President to order an end to bombing in Vieques and to meet with leaders of the island and Puerto Rican religious leaders. Signers of the letter included leaders of the National Council of Churches and the American Baptist, Catholic, United Methodist, Lutheran, Mennonite, Unitarian Universalist, Buddhist, Quaker, and UCC faiths, as well as leaders of virtually all religious faiths in Puerto Rico.

President Clinton’s coordinator of Puerto Rican Affairs Jeffrey Farrow told the FOR that the White House is preparing a response to the letter, but it had not come by press time.

Suggested Action:

  • Call or write to the White House and demand the immediate withdrawal of the U.S. Navy from Vieques.
  • Write: President William J. Clinton, President of the Untied States, The White House, Washington, D.C. 200500.
  • Call the White House Comment Line and demand the bombing of Vieques cease, that the island be demilitarized, and the U.S. Government fund the clean up of the environment — (202) 456-1111.
  • Contact the Fellowship of Reconciliation to connect with a group supporting Vieques in your area.

Sources: AP 5/19; 5/29/00; AFP 5/5/00; Harvard Crimson 5/8/00; letter of intent to sue, 5/16/00; letter to Pres. Clinton 6/28/00.

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U.S. Army South to Leave Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Update, February 2002

By John Lindsay-Poland

Only three years after moving to Puerto Rico from Panama, U.S. Army South is preparing to pull up its takes and move to the United States. General Alfredo Valenzuela, chief of the command which is responsible for U.S. Army operations in Latin America and the Caribbean, recommended leaving Fort Buchanan in San Juan in a memo last August.

The two main candidates for relocation of the command, known as USARSO, are Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas — where Valenzuela grew up — and Fort Benning, Georgia, home of the U.S. Army School of the Americas. The final decision will be made by Army Secretary Thomas White and Army chief of staff Eric Shinseki, with the consent of Congress. Shinseki had reportedly approved a move to San Antonio, and White is from Texas, but interest in Congress in hosting the command apparently delayed a formal decision. The Army is conducting a study of eight possible sites.

Valenzuela cited the high cost of living for base workers as well as the controversy over Vieques as reasons for leaving. Some 480 soldiers and 670 civilians are employed by the command on Fort Buchanan, which could remain as an Army Reserve or National Guard base, or be closed, when USARSO leaves. In 1999 Congress imposed a moratorium on construction at Buchanan as a result of the Vieques conflict, preventing the badly needed expansion of child care clinics the base.

Buchanan workers complain that they must wait months to get a home telephone from the company that took over phone service when it was privatized in 1998. They have also found that hospitals are so short-staffed that family members must help out by keeping long vigils with patients. The command lost 200 workers in 2001, and has not replaced most of them, leading Valenzuela to conclude that “leaving Fort Buchanan is a must-do to accomplish the mission.”

Valenzuela said the Army could save money by moving to Georgia or Texas, where it would operate in leased buildings. In Fort Sam Houston, the command would move into the dilapidated Brooke Army Medical Center, vacant since 1996.

When USARSO’s relocation to Puerto Rico from Panama was announced in 1997, then-governor Pedro Rosselló greeted the news with enthusiasm. He claimed that the command’s location in Puerto Rico would strengthen the war on drugs and country’s economy — and his drive to make Puerto Rico as U.S. state. Rosselló has been in disgrace of late as a result of growing corruption scandals showing his administration, which ruled the archipelago from 1992 to 2000.

By linking the move to the controversy around Vieques, it appears to be an attempt to punish Puerto Rico economically for its opposition to naval bombing on the island. But if Puerto Rico prepares to convert Fort Buchanan to productive uses, it could be the best blessing the Army could offer.

For the Caribbean Project for Justice and Peace, USARSO’s announcement is good news. “Moving troops of US Army South from Panama to Puerto Rico was another business between governments, without the people’s consent, with no environmental, social or economic impact analysis, and without giving information on what the troops would do,” Wanda Colón Cortez, director of the Project in San Juan, told Puerto Rico Update. Noting that militarism has limited the right of Puerto Ricans to self-determination, Colón expressed confidence “that the 700 acres of Fort Buchanan, like all lands militarily occupied, be returned for the use and enjoyment of the Puerto Rican people.”

Sources: San Antonio Express-News 12/23/01; El Nuevo Día 12/10/01; El Panamá América 8/2/97.

Panama Campaign Archives

Panama Update Archives

Report: Test Tube Republic

Published July 1998

I. Introduction
II. Brief History of Chemical Weapons Programs in Panama
III. Storage of Chemical Agents and Munitions
IV. Chemical Weapons Tests
V. Disposal of Chemical Agents and Munitions
VI. Potential Long-Term Dangers Posed by Abandoned Chemical Weapons
VII. Information and Documents on Chemical Weapons: The U.S. Record
VIII. Legal Obligations
IX. Alleged development of biological agents in Panama
X. Conclusions and Recommendations

Test Tube Republic, Part VI: Potential Long Term Dangers Posed

TEST TUBE REPUBLIC: Chemical Weapons Tests in Panama and U.S. Responsibility

VI. Potential Long-Term Dangers Posed by Abandoned Chemical Weapons

Health effects of chemical munitions can be long-lasting, as demonstrated by continuing burns of Chinese people by chemical munitions that were abandoned by the Japanese army in China during World War II. As one study of chemical munitions abandoned in China notes, abandoned chemical weapons (ACW):H
pose much greater hazards to civilians than military stockpiles of chemical weapons, such as those stored in depots in the United States and Russia. Military stockpiles are stored in special bunkers under lock and key, so that barring a catastrophe, ordinary citizens face no immediate threat. Since the location of many ACW is not known and civilians lack an understanding of their hazards, they risk being accidentally exposed to these weapons.69 (This and all subsequent endnotes can be found here.)

China asserts that Japan abandoned two million chemical munitions on its territory, most of them in Jilin Province. As recently as 1987, over 200 people were injured when workers attempted to set fire to a barrel of liquid mustard in order to determine what it was. In 1991, twenty people experienced dizziness, nausea and breathing problems after leaking phosgene mortars were discovered at a junior high school.70 Closer to home, World War II-era chemical rounds recovered at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland in 1994 were still able to detonate, despite their age. In that case chemical rounds were misidentified as conventional munitions, which when detonated released 11 pounds of mustard agent into the environment.71

DOD treaty implementation director Richard McSeveney made a striking claim about chemical munitions — “they have a short shelf life.”72 His statement echoes another military officer’s reported statement to Panamanian officials that chemical agent or munition in burial sites has “dissipated.” However, neither official offered any substantiating data or precedent for their assertions.

Chemical agent that has been sprayed or exploded does dissipate, but agent that is stored or abandoned in canisters or drums can survive for decades. “Where nerve and other [chemical warfare] agents hydrolyze quite readily,” writes John Hart, an expert on abandoned chemical weapons, “mustard does so only very slowly. Instead a hardened, protective gel forms around its exterior. The mustard in the interior can remain active for decades.” This is why fishermen in the Baltic Sea are still sometimes injured by chemical weapons dumped there more than 50 years ago which they catch in their nets.73

According to Colonel Edmund W. Libby, the U.S. Army’s Project Manager for Non-Stockpile Chemical Materiel:

Historical experience indicates that chemical warfare agents dispersed in the environment, as through detonation of chemical weapons, lose their unique agent toxic effects essentially completely over a period ranging from minutes to weeks or months, depending on the agents, weather, soil, and other factors. Stable agent breakdown products may remain, however, in generally very low concentrations, which may in turn retain some much lower level of toxic effects associated with their chemistry (as for industrial chemicals, organic solvents, etc.).

Our experience indicates, however, that chemical warfare agents which remain in storage containers or munitions, or which are otherwise retained in bulk quantities, can retain essentially all of their toxic agent properties for many years. Even unexploded munitions recovered from the World War One era are often found to contain chemical warfare materiel that has been but little degraded in its toxic effects by the passage of time. For this reason, recovered suspect chemical warfare munitions and containers must be treated with extreme care, and handled and disposed of only by properly trained authorities.74

Moreover, when chemical warfare agents degrade, they often turn into compounds that are also very toxic to humans, particularly if exposed to drinking water. Finally, chemical munitions typically contain conventional munitions to burst the chemical filling. Buried or dud chemical rounds or bombs with these explosives can be as hazardous as other unexploded ordnance.

On San Jose Island, hazards from unexploded chemical rounds still remain. The island’s owner in the 1970s, the inventor Earl Tupper, discovered this himself. “An [Explosive Ordnance Disposal] team was contacted by Mr. Tupper’s son in 1974 with [a] report that one of the their workmen had been burned and requested assistance,” the Pentagon wrote in 1979.75 Glenn Tupper recently confirmed that a worker on the island “suffered some sort of sever[e] skin irritation that seemed unrelated to commonly known rashes caused by local plants and/or insects.”76

In addition to the acute symptoms from exposure to live chemical agents, ranging from temporary burns to death, exposure can cause chronic and delayed effects as well. Long-term injuries from exposure to mustard agents include respiratory and skin cancers, leukemia, asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, chronic laryngitis, eye problems, conjunctivitis, traumatic stress disorder and sexual dysfunction. “There is no doubt that the long-term health consequences of exposure to mustard agents or Lewisite can be serious and, in some cases, devastating,” the Institute of Medicine reported in 1993.77 In addition, because no one knows definitively the health effects of low-level exposure to chemical agents, the United States may not assume that burial sites are harmless.

TEST TUBE REPUBLIC: Chemical Weapons Tests in Panama and U.S. Responsibility
I. Introduction
II. Brief History of Chemical Weapons Programs in Panama
III. Storage of Chemical Agents and Munitions
IV. Chemical Weapons Tests
V. Disposal of Chemical Agents and Munitions
VI. Potential Long-Term Dangers Posed by Abandoned Chemical Weapons
VII. Information and Documents on Chemical Weapons: The U.S. Record
VIII. Legal Obligations
IX. Alleged development of biological agents in Panama
X. Conclusions and Recommendations

Test Tube Republic, Part VII: Information and Documents on Chemical Weapons

TEST TUBE REPUBLIC: Chemical Weapons Tests in Panama and U.S. Responsibility

VII. Information and Documents on Chemical Weapons:
The U.S. Record

The complete transfer of canal-area lands under the Panama Canal Treaties by December 31, 1999, creates a key historical moment. Panamanians will soon have full sovereignty over and responsibility for these properties. Because the lands have been under United States control for more than 90 years, most Panamanians have little or no idea of their history of use, especially the history of military activities, which have typically been kept secret. A responsible reversion of these lands must include the transfer by the United States government to Panama of all historical documents related to activities that have had impacts on canal area lands.

The record of information transfers to date falls considerably short of that goal.

According to Panamanian officials and records, the Government of Panama has repeatedly and formally requested documents from the United States on chemical weapons tests in Panama. On January 28, 1997, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested a series of documents including one on “Detection Chemical Agent, Nerve Vapor.” Project numbers were noted in the request. On August 1, 1997, the Ministry broadened its request for information to documents on chemical weapons tests generally.78 (This and all subsequent endnotes can be found here.) The Ministry also requested relevant portions of a list of “suspected overseas burial sites,” which was written as an annex to the November 1993 “Survey and Analysis Report on all U.S. Non-Stockpile Chemical Materiel sites.”79

But according to Foreign Ministry officials, the United States had not given Panama a single document on chemical weapons programs conducted in Panama — until July 1998, as this report was in preparation.80 At that time, the United States released to Panama copies of the four nerve agent test reports cited above. In all other cases, U.S. military officials have responded with brief letters describing chemical warfare activities in general terms. In response to the ministry’s August 1, 1997 request, for example, Colonel Debow wrote two paragraphs on tear gas and VX nerve agent tests.81

In June 1997, the Fellowship of Reconciliation also requested portions of the 1993 annex listing suspected overseas chemical munitions burial sites. The request, made for the section of the document that dealt with suspected sites in Panama, was denied. The denial was appealed in July 1997, and the appeal was denied in May 1998.82

The reasons given for denying the annex on “suspected overseas burial sites” are instructive. The Army General Counsel’s Office stated that the document is correctly classified “because the requested material contains information concerning weapons systems and information of a foreign government, and the information could assist in the development or use of weapons of mass destruction.”83 In other words, the Army may be conceding that the chemical agents abandoned in Panama have not simply “dissipated” into a harmless state or even into a militarily useless condition.

If persons with bad intentions obtained still-usable chemical munitions from burial sites or other chemical dumps in Panama, they could cause havoc. But this offers an equally compelling reason for the United States to disclose to Panama the locations of chemical agents or munitions, in order to forestall the possibility of accidents.

The U.S. military has already disclosed information on locations of other suspected burial sites, including in the United States. For example, the second edition of the Survey and Analysis Report includes a 13-page chapter on Water Island, located in St. Thomas and the site of the San Jose Project after it left Panama, from 1948 to 1950. The report lists a likely burial site, three suspected burial sites, and two possible burial sites, and includes a map of the sites.84

The Department of Defense’s problems with disclosing historical information about its activities are systemic. Dugway Proving Ground, located in Utah, served as headquarters for chemical weapons field tests (and was the controlling agency for chemical weapons programs in Panama in the 1950s). During the course of this study, Dugway’s technical library conducted a “key-word search” of documents referring to Panama, Tropic Test and several other key-words or phrases. The result was 2252 documents referring to Panama in either their titles or abstracts. To both facilitate and narrow our search for documents, the Fellowship of Reconciliation sought permission to visit the Dugway library. Although Dugway’s legal and intelligence offices approved the request, the base commander subsequently denied it, citing “extremely heavy testing and troop training ongoing at Dugway.”85

Aberdeen Proving Ground, in Maryland, which served as headquarters for U.S. chemical warfare programs for many years, also has a technical library and historical office. According to a former project manager of the Tropic Test Center who has been contracted by the Defense Department to research TTC’s projects in Panama, the Aberdeen library is open only two hours a day, and his request to use the library was denied as well. His research, and delivery to Panama of its results, are likely to be delayed months by Aberdeen’s restrictions.86

In other words, the U.S. military’s current operations — at least in this case — take precedence over the historical research necessary to be held accountable for the military activities in the past.

TEST TUBE REPUBLIC: Chemical Weapons Tests in Panama and U.S. Responsibility
I. Introduction
II. Brief History of Chemical Weapons Programs in Panama
III. Storage of Chemical Agents and Munitions
IV. Chemical Weapons Tests
V. Disposal of Chemical Agents and Munitions
VI. Potential Long-Term Dangers Posed by Abandoned Chemical Weapons
VII. Information and Documents on Chemical Weapons: The U.S. Record
VIII. Legal Obligations
IX. Alleged development of biological agents in Panama
X. Conclusions and Recommendations

Test Tube Republic, Part IX: Biological Weapons Programs

TEST TUBE REPUBLIC: Chemical Weapons Tests in Panama and U.S. Responsibility

IX. Biological Warfare Programs

During World War II, the military developed an increased interest in biological warfare, both defensive and offensive. The first action of the War Research Service, which was established in 1942 to investigate a variety of unconventional weapons, was to set up antibiological warfare programs in the United States and abroad — including the Canal Zone and Puerto Rico — under the auspices of the Surgeon General’s office. These programs instructed medical and military officers in defensive measures against biological weapons.99 (This and all subsequent endnotes can be found here.)

In late 1947, the British Navy proposed to use U.S. facilities on San Jose Island to support biological warfare trials at sea, beginning in October 1948. Under the plan, the United States would provide 20 technicians, care for animals used in the experiments, and “shore base facilities” for recreation and ship maintenance. The military’s Joint Strategic Plans Committee favored the experiments because they would “facilitate the obtaining of essential basic research data in the BW [biological warfare] field.” But with the evacuation of San Jose Island in January 1948, the plan for using that island was scuttled. The experiments may have been carried out instead on Parham Sound in Antigua, which was considered as an alternate site.100

Since plans for the military use of biological agents focused on their transmission through aerial spray techniques, studies of aerosol spray patterns in Panama may have been designed to explore how biological agents could be used there. Dugway Proving Ground’s technical library lists a number of such studies.101 However, chemical sprays and smoke devices also rely on aerial and meteorological data.

The National Institutes of Health’s Middle America Research Unit (MARU) actively used biological agents in Panama. MARU was established in the 1950s, and worked closely with the Gorgas Memorial Laboratory. Located in a building in Ancon Heights, MARU “handled some of the deadliest and most infectious diseases known to medicine at the time,” according to Carl J. Peters, a scientist who worked there in the 1960s. Peters emphasized the measures taken to contain the agents that the MARU technicians were working on, but noted that one lab technician accidentally contracted Bolivian hemorrhagic fever at the lab and died within a few days.

One disease in particular that MARU worked with was Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis (VEE), a naturally-occurring virus which incapacitates but generally does not kill its human victims. Instead, VEE begins abruptly with high fever, chills and aches and an intense aversion to light, then typically is gone within a week or two. In Central America in the 1960s, VEE attacked horses and mules, leaving many dead, and MARU sought to stem the disease’s migration toward the United States through development of a vaccine. But Peters writes:

Nobler designs aside, however, the U.S. government had other reasons to be interested in VEE. The symptoms in humans are so incapacitating that VEE had been seen as a potential biological weapon. The army wanted to develop different categories of biological warfare agents: incapacitators as well as killers. With a relatively short incubation period of two to three days, VEE could be an ideal incapacitator: neutralizing an enemy population right before a battle without risk of killing innocent civilians or committing wartime atrocities. With that as a plan, the army had developed a vaccine to protect our troops in case an enemy tried to use it on them, or presumably in case the wind blew the wrong way the day they tried to use it on someone else.102

The army authorized MARU to test a live-attenuated vaccine on horses in the field, and Peters describes such tests on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. The Gorgas Memorial Laboratory also studied VEE among humans in Almirante from 1960 to 1962 and in Darién and the urban communities of Patoistown and Zegla in 1968, as well as in laboratory animals during the same periods. The studies included testing live vaccines of VEE on animal subjects.103

Exercises to test the military usefulness of VEE were carried out in Vietnam in the 1960s and on deserted islands in the Pacific, according to one account, but were put aside because allied troops could not be protected.104

VEE has persisted for long periods in Panama. Troops training at Fort Sherman in 1981 contracted it, an exposure that was linked to VEE in 1970, when the military was actively experimenting with VEE. The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research reported:

An outbreak of Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis (VEE) occurred in a unit of military personnel who had gone to Panama for jungle training in 1981. Exposure was linked to training in October in an area of Fort Sherman that was previously implicated over ten years ago. An intensive serological survey identified five cases presenting with fever, chills and headaches. VEE remains a threat to U.S. forces deployed to specific areas of Central America.105

In addition, 1977 news accounts cited intelligence sources who claimed that in 1971 U.S. intelligence agents brought Swine flu from Fort Gulick (Espinar) in Panama to Cuba, where the flu apparently contaminated a large number of pigs. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization called the epidemic of swine flu that hit Cuba in 1971 the “most alarming event” of that year. According to the accounts, an intelligence agent was given a sealed unmarked container and instructed to deliver it to an anti-Castro group in Panama. Cuban exiles interviewed for the report said they received the container off Bocas del Toro in Panama and brought it to contacts to the small island of Navassa, whence it was shipped to Cuba in late March 1971. The first Cuban pigs contracted the flu on about May 6.106 Cuban authorities slaughtered half a million pigs in order to contain the epidemic.107

Apart from the above information, however, we have not located documentation of current contamination by military biological agents in Panama. We also have not found documents indicating the testing or use of Agent Orange or other defoliants in Panama, though we do not discount the possibility that defoliants may have been tested there.

In November 1969, President Nixon issued an executive order renouncing the use of all biological warfare agents, effectively ending any lawful development of the agents. The declaration led to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, which outlawed efforts to “develop, produce, stockpile, or otherwise acquire or retain” any biological weapons. The United States became one of the first parties to the convention. The U.S. military subsequently converted stockpiled biological agents into harmless fertilizer.

TEST TUBE REPUBLIC: Chemical Weapons Tests in Panama and U.S. Responsibility
I. Introduction
II. Brief History of Chemical Weapons Programs in Panama
III. Storage of Chemical Agents and Munitions
IV. Chemical Weapons Tests
V. Disposal of Chemical Agents and Munitions
VI. Potential Long-Term Dangers Posed by Abandoned Chemical Weapons
VII. Information and Documents on Chemical Weapons: The U.S. Record
VIII. Legal Obligations
IX. Alleged development of biological agents in Panama
X. Conclusions and Recommendations

Resources about U.S. military bases in Colombia/Recursos sobre bases militares estadounidenses en Colombia

Resource Documents/Recursos Current Negotiations/Negociaciones actuales

Responses in Colombia, the region and the U.S./Reacciones en Colombia, la región y EEUU