Covering events from January-December 2001

Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
Head of state: George Walker Bush (replaced William Jefferson Clinton in January)
Head of government: Sila María Calderón Serra
Capital: San Juan
Population: 4 million
Official languages: Spanish, English
Death penalty: abolitionist

There were allegations that US Navy personnel used excessive force against peaceful protesters and reports of ill-treatment by the Puerto Rican police.


Vieques, a small island off the east coast of Puerto Rico, has been the scene of frequent demonstrations by the local population, civil rights activists and environmentalists protesting against the use of the island for some 60 years by US forces as a military training ground. In April 1999 a civilian worker was killed by an errant bomb, since when the US Navy has used inert bombs.

In June, the US administration ordered that the Navy pull out of Vieques by 1 May 2003. A non-binding referendum in July returned an overwhelming vote for an end to the bombing and for the immediate withdrawal of the US Navy. An official referendum, due to be held in January 2002 to decide whether the Navy should stay or go, was cancelled following the attacks on 11 September in the USA. In December, legislation was passed by US Congress stipulating that the Navy could not close its training range in Vieques until it found a suitable replacement. The Navy stated that it would resume using live ammunition in Vieques during its next training exercises.

Allegations of excessive force

During protests against US military exercises at Camp García on Vieques at the end of April and the beginning of May, a number of peaceful demonstrators, including elderly people and children, were reported to have been sprayed indiscriminately by US Navy personnel with large quantities of chemicals and pepper spray. Rubber bullets and pellet weapons were allegedly fired at them. Many reported being ill-treated in custody following arrest. They alleged that they were sprayed in the face with tear gas and pepper spray while kneeling and handcuffed from behind; that they were made to kneel for hours on rocky terrain and to spend long periods in the sun without water; and that they were subjected to humiliating procedures during clothed body searches, such as having their breasts or testicles squeezed. Others complained of being denied food, water, medication and phone calls for long periods. Most only had access to a lawyer after they had been brought before a judge after two or three days in detention. Several detainees on hunger strike were allegedly denied adequate quantities of water, causing severe risk to their health. It was alleged that the Navy continued to fire its inert bombs after activists, holding white flags and flares, penetrated the bombing range. The US Navy refuted the allegations and noted that the actions used by navy personnel during the protests were legitimate law enforcement procedures.


Four homeless men alleged they were ill-treated by police officers after being picked up in Bayamón in March and taken to another town where they were left on the street. They alleged that they were beaten on various parts of the body, sprayed in the face with an irritant and hit in the mouth with a police radio. The authorities claimed that the police were trying to identify those who might benefit from a rehabilitation program. However, it was alleged that the four were among a wider group of homeless people who were said to have been arbitrarily removed as part of an operation to clear the streets of homeless people. An investigation into the case was undertaken by the Cuerpo de Investigaciones Criminales, Criminal Investigations Office, but the outcome was not known at the end of the year.

AI country reports/visits


  • US Navy must use restraint against protesters in Vieques, Puerto Rico (AI index: AMR 51/082/2001)

An AI delegate visited Vieques in May.

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