The island municipality of Vieques, baptized the “Isla Nena,” or “Little Girl Island,” by poet Luis Llorens Torres, is located 10 kilometers (6 miles) southeast of Puerto Rico. The island has a total area of 136 square kilometers (52 square miles) and is 33 kilometers (20 miles) long by 7 kilometers (4.5 mile) wide.
The island has 9,106 inhabitants (2000 Census). The municipality is divided into eight sectors: Florida, Isabel II, Llave, Mosquito, Puerto Diablo, Puerto Ferro, Puerto Real and Punta Arenas. The patron saint festival is held in July in honor of the Virgen del Carmen, the patron saint of Vieques.
Vieques is currently in the process of reorienting its economy due to the transfer of lands formerly occupied by the United States Navy to the government of Puerto Rico in May of 2003. The eastern part of the island is now under the control of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service while various parts of the western zone of the island are under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of the Interior, the municipal government of Vieques and the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust.
Economic activity in Vieques is based on construction, tourism, fishing, and jobs generated by the General Electric factory, which has been on the island for more than two decades.
Among its tourism attractions are its beaches and bioluminescent bays.
Vieques is located 6 miles southeast of Puerto Rico, separated from the main island by the Vieques Passage. Off Vieques’ north coast is the Atlantic Ocean and to the south is the Caribbean Sea. The topography of the island includes hills, small valleys and coastal plains. The highest point, located in the western part of Vieques, is Mount Pirata, which is 910 feet (301 meters ) above sea level. The second-highest point is the Matías peak at 440 feet (138 meters ) in the east.
The island has a tropical marine climate with minimal fluctuations in temperature. The trade winds blow directly over the island, moderating the temperatures, which average 79° F (26.5° C). Annual precipitation ranges from 64 centimeters (25 inches) in the east to 114 centimeters (45 inches) in the west. The wettest months are October through December and the driest are March through May. Because of its limited rainfall, Vieques does not have a permanent system of rivers.
Vieques has several springs and streams, although they are not sufficient to provide water for the island. In the town is the “urban stream,” which produces a small cascade during rainfall. There are also lagoons, such as the Kianí, Playa Grande and Yanuel. Beaches are numerous and include the Sun Bay, Caracas, Esperanza, Navío and Blanca beaches.
Vieques’ name is derived from the Taino name for the island, Bieque, which means island or small land. The indigenous people who lived on the island at the time of colonization were led by the chiefs Cacimar and Yaureibo. In 1514, both waged revolts against the Spanish on the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. Cacimar died in battle and Yaureibo was eventually defeated in Vieques by a Spanish expedition that enslaved the Taino survivors.
The Spanish did not colonize Vieques immediately, however, so during the 17th and 18th centuries, the island was the object of multiple attempts at colonization by various European powers. The French were the first to occupy the island. They were expelled by the English in 1647. In 1666, the English, who called the island Crab Island, tried to settle Vieques, but were expelled by the Spanish. The English again tried to settle the island in 1718, but were defeated again by the Spanish. In 1752, the Danes created a small settlement that was also destroyed by the Spanish.
It was not until the early 19th century that the Spanish government began to secure the territory. In 1811, under the leadership of Commander Juan Rosselló, the first Spanish settlement was created on Vieques, and from then on it belonged to Puerto Rico. In 1816, the liberator of the Americas, Simón Bolívar, after having been defeated in Venezuela, landed in Vieques on his way to Haiti. His ship passed almost unnoticed because it was thought that it was another ship of pirates or privateers, who stopped on the island constantly.
Through the royal order called the Real Cédula de Gracias of 1815, the Spanish crown granted certain freedoms related to commerce, immigrationand taxes to discourage in Puerto Rico the kind of separatist movements that had occurred in other colonies. With immigration now possible, many French landowners settled in Puerto Rico and Vieques to flee the revolutionary environment in the French colonies. One of them, Teófilo José Jaime María Le Guillou, was named governor of the island of Vieques in 1832 by Santiago Méndez Vigo, the governor and lieutenant general of Puerto Rico. Vieques then was still not part of the territory of the main island of Puerto Rico.
In 1844, under the leadership of the second military governor of Vieques, Francisco Sainz, the town of Isabel II was founded. Vieques was formally annexed to Puerto Rico in 1864 and was declared a free port in 1880, the year a customs house was installed.
During the second half of the 19th century, the Vieques economy prospered from the sugar industry. Various central sugar mills were established on the island, most of them under French ownership. Among these were Arcadia, Esperanza, Playa Grande, Resolución, Santa Elena and Santa María. Some of these names are now part of the Vieques topography, as they identify sectors of the island. The sugar industry experienced a marked decline on the island in the 1920s and 1930s, which forced many of the workers to move to the main island of Puerto Rico or to St. Croix.
In 1941, the United States Congress approved a series of laws that created a military base on Vieques and expropriated 21,013 acres of the 33,649 acres on the island. This led to the closure of the Playa Grande Central Sugar Mill, the main source of jobs for Vieques residents, and forced the relocation of 700 families to the center of the island, which became known as the civil sector.
The construction of the base generated many jobs, but once it was completed, the economic situation of civilian residents became difficult. Between 1945 and the mid-1970s, several efforts were tried in vain to re-establish agriculture in the civil sector. In the 1960s and 1970s, the economy became industrial. In 1969, General Electric established a plant on Vieques that is still in operation today.
During the decades following the arrival of the Navy to Vieques, the residents of the island organized protests against the military presence on the island and the expropriation of land. In 1999, after the death of a civil guard, David Sanes, during military bombing practice, a civil disobedience movement began.
Citizens of Vieques and Puerto Rico began to invade the firing zones by land and by sea to stop the military exercises. In May of 2003, the Navy left Vieques. Most of the land was designated a national wildlife refuge that is now under the administration of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Vieques economy today is based mainly on tourism and, to a lesser degree, on commercial fishing, cattle farming for beef production, and cultivating ornamental plants, fruits and vegetables. General Electric continues to be an important source of jobs on the island.
The flag of Vieques consists of seven horizontal bands of equal width: four white and three blue. In the center is a green diamond shape with a simplified yellow depiction of a castle.
Coat of Arms
The sea off of Vieques is represented in the field of the coat of arms by the wavy silver and blue lines. In the center is a green diamond shape that symbolizes the island. On top of this shape is a traditional Spanish heraldic castle in gold and red, which is a symbol of Spain.
The gold of the castle and the green of the diamond form are the main colors of the seal of the Venezuelan Bolivars. These references refer to the fact that Vieques was the only Puerto Rican territory visited by the liberator, Simón Bolívar. The naval crown sits atop the Vieques coat of arms instead of the traditional wall crown to emphasize the nature of Vieques as an island and the glorious naval battles that took place in its waters to expel enemies of Spain and Puerto Rico.
Mayors before Vieques municipality
1844-51 Francisco Sainz
1851 José Astorga
1856- Gregorio Tenorio
1857- Luis de Oñativia
1860 Francisco Gómez de Mercado
1862 Manuel Iturriaga
Mayors after Vieques became a municipality
1864-66 Francisco Gómez de Mercado
1867 Luis de Riego y Pica
1870 Manuel Iturriaga & Luis Prats
1871 Tomás Font, Juan Campos, Federico Marangues y Chavar
1872 Cayetano Bola y Carbonell
1873 Benigno álvarez & Félix Nieto
1873-74 Manuel E. Benítez
1874- Juan Luján, Francisco Sánchez & Lucas Jiménez Mestre
1874-78 Alejandro Montestruque
1879-82 Anselmo Aragón
1883- José Marina
1884- Andrés Teruel Gallardo
1885- José Valensuela
1886- Valiente & Laureano Sierra
1887- Lorenzo Garbo
1888- José Miró
1891- Enrique Gallardo y Fragoso
1892- Manuel Vázquez Alayón
1894 Arturo García Villanueva
1895 Molinari y Antonio Llabrés
1897 Santiago Paz y Laureano Sierra
1898 Luis García Alpuente,
1898 Ildefonso Leguillou
1898 Laureano Sierra
1898-1899 José A. Díaz
1899-1902 Leopoldo Venegas
1902-1910 Luis Amedée Bonnet
1910- Victor Dúteil
1914 Carlos Benítez
1914-1920 Luis Amedée Bonnet
1920-1928 Zoilo Benítez Castaño
1928-1932 Miguel Simons
1932-1933 Diego Meléndez
1933- Juan Bermúdez
1933-1936 Aureo Díaz
1948-1972 Antonio Rivera
1972-1976 Carlos Luis Castaño
1976-1980 Radamés Tirado
1980-1984 Carlos Luis Castaño
1984-2000 Manuela Santiago
2000-2008 Dámaso Serrano
2009- Evelyn Delerme Camacho
2012-currently Victor M. Emeric Cantarineau
Hon. Victor M. Emeric Cantarineau
Places of Interest
Conde de Mirasol Fort
Mosquito Bay – bioluminescent bay
Mulas Point Lighthouse
Ferro Point archaeological zone
Esperanza waterfront and monument to Angel Rodríguez Cristóbal
Bust of Simón Bolívar, Isabel II Plaza
Centennial Ceiba tree
Tombs of the Le Guillou family
Sun Bay Public Beach
Jaime Benítez Educator and politician. Served as chancellor and president of the University of Puerto Rico from 1942 to 1972 and as resident commissioner in Washington from 1973 to 1976.
Luisa Guadalupe Community leader who fought for social and political causes on Vieques.
Germán Rieckehoff Sampayo Served as president of the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee.
Carmelo Rodríguez Torres University professor, novelist, essayist. His works include the novel Veinte siglos después del homicidio (1972), La casa y la llama fiera, Cinco cuentos negros, and others.
Patron Saint Festival in honor of the Virgen del Carmen – July
Three Kings Festival – January
Note: These articles have been edited and checked by academics and specialists in History. Discrepancies may exist among historians regarding some data.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: June 14, 2015.
Images Gallery of Vieques
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