Since 1938, the United States Navy has occupied a significant portion of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, a fifty-two square-mile island eight miles east of the mainland of Puerto Rico. By the end of the twentieth century, the U.S. Navy controlled over 70% of the island. Thousands of the island's 10,000 inhabitants had been forcibly removed from their homes and relocated to the center portion of the island, surrounded by training grounds, weapons depots, and bomb sites on both sides. According to the U.S.
In 1970, Puerto Rico was a non-sovereign territory of the United States. Its residents were U.S. citizens but could not vote in presidential elections, nor did they have political representation in the U.S. Congress, although they could serve and be drafted in the U.S. armed forces. At the beginning of the 20th century, the U.S. Navy eliminated the principal town on the island of Culebra and evicted its residents so that a marine base could be built. In 1941, President Roosevelt claimed exclusive rights to the air space above Culebra as well as a three-mile wide radius around the island.