Imperial Ecologies: Institutionalized Power, Legal Protest, And Land Access In Vieques, Puerto Rico
This thesis investigates the relationship between the Viequenses, the U.S. government, the land, and the law on Vieques from 1979-2012 to illustrate how ecological empire is enacted and contested on the island of Vieques. I argue, that imperial ecology is enacted when a distant and overarching hegemon, in this case the U.S. government, controls the access, use, and management of land and sea through institutional channels in order to advance national priorities of defense and security. In Vieques, the authority of the Navy on the island represented a direct and explicit expression of U.S. military empire and expansion. However, the consequences of the restrictions of land on the island, and the lasting imprint on the land left by the Navy constitute a more subtle and deceptive transnational process of what I term as “imperial ecology.” Chapter One investigates the 1978 fishermen’s struggle for livelihood rights on Vieques to illustrate how the Viequenses framed their grievances in terms of livelihood and land—and sea—and how these grievances became amplified and dispersed as Puerto Rican political actors and radical activists became involved in the struggle. Chapter Two explores the transfer of former bases lands in 2003, unveiling the tensions and contradictions implicit in the overlapping designations of Wildlife Refuge and Superfund site on the island. Chapter Three investigates the 2007 class action lawsuit filed by a collective of over 7,000 Viequenses to demonstrate how the Viequenses perceive the mechanisms of imperial ecology on their island, and how these perceptions diverge from the Navy’s understanding of its action on the island.