Covering events from January - December 2002

Head of state: George W. Bush
Head of government: Sila María Calderón Serra
Death penalty: abolitionist

US Navy personnel used pepper spray against protesters in a number of separate incidents. Legislation prohibiting same-sex consensual relationships was under review by the Puerto Rico Senate.


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. President Bush ordered the Navy to withdraw from Vieques by 1 May 2003 but this deadline might be postponed.

Treatment of protesters

During US Navy training manoeuvres in April, US Navy personnel were reported to have used large amounts of pepper spray against protesters in a number of separate incidents, including outside the US Naval base camp at Camp Garcia and in Monte Carmelo.

  • On 6 April the US Navy fired pepper spray at peaceful demonstrators shouting anti-military slogans. The demonstrators were talking to a visiting US-based support group in an area known as camp Luisa Guadalupe. Members of this group took refuge in a school bus to escape the fumes, but the bus and camp were bombarded with gas over a period of 20 minutes. An eyewitness said that local police officers, news reporters, children and demonstrators were affected by the fumes which caused choking and eye and respiratory problems. One young man reportedly suffered a head injury from a gas bottle fired into the camp. The US Navy stated that the action by military personnel was appropriate and that protesters had used violence. However, the police chief of Puerto Rico is reported to have condemned the Navy's action and the governor of Puerto Rico, Sila Calderón, voiced her concerns and called for an inquiry. A civil complaint against the Navy was dismissed in September, and a Justice Department investigation was initiated.
Tear gas was also fired at demonstrators who were reportedly throwing rocks during military training exercises in September.

Several protesters were arrested for trespass during the protests, including two Roman Catholic priests.
  • Robert Rabin, a protester sentenced to several months' imprisonment in April, was alleged to have been placed unfairly in solitary confinement on a number of occasions because of his political opinions rather than for any infringement of prison regulations.
Legal reform

A draft bill was being debated in the Puerto Rican legislature which would eliminate Article 103 of the Penal Code, which prohibits same-sex consensual relationships and provides for a punishment of 10 years' imprisonment.

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