The struggle for ex-military lands from Puerto Rico to Hawai’i

In her article “Struggles for Ex-Base Lands in Puerto Rico” published in the Peace Review, Mills College professor and Puerto Rican activist/scholar Deborah Berman Santana writes:

Community struggles against militarism do not end once they succeed in ending military occupation and closing down bases. In fact, such victories often signal the beginning of a potentially much more difficult struggle—that is, to ensure that the formerly militarized lands and resources will benefit the communities that were most impacted by the bases. Since military bases are usually built in highly desirable locations in terms of accessible coastlines, fertile lands, and abundant water resources, once closed, they often become targets for corporate and elite control.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Puerto Rico, a United States colony since 1898 with a continuing history of U.S. military occupation and corporate economic exploitation, as well as political domination by an entrenched local elite. The story of the sixty-year struggle of the people on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques against U.S. Navy occupation and bombing received international attention, while continuing efforts of that community to hold the Navy accountable for its toxic legacy have recently begun to receive more coverage. Yet the equally important struggle of the communities impacted by the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station—the huge naval complex to which Vieques belonged—is virtually unknown outside of Puerto Rico. This essay examines the important community struggle, based both on class and colonial resistance, to regain the lands that comprised the military base known as Roosevelt Roads for sixty years.


The difficulty of the clean up process is well known in Hawai’i at sites like Kaho’olawe, Waikane, and Waikoloa. However,  in Hawai’i we need to address whose vision dictates the reuse of the former military lands.

The Navy has begun to sell and lease excess lands in Hawai’i to generate revenue for Ford Island redevelopment. It was a special loophole created by Senator Inouye to facilitate the privatization of former military lands, to the exclusion of the conversion of these excess lands to other conservation, sustainable development or culture oriented reuses.    This issue may arise in Lualualei, where the land has been relatively underutilized by the military and may be a candidate for some sort of transfer in the future.  The community in Wai’anae wants to see the lands return to agriculture, especially since the Lualualei vertisols are some of the richest agricultural soils in Hawai’i.  But developers want to exploit this “frontier” of closing military lands.

The Wai’anae community is resisting the encroachment of industrialization in Lualualei. But these profit driven elites are pushing for changes to the Wai’anae Sustainable Communities Plan, including an industrial spot zone in Lualualei and a Pohakea bypass road that would penetrate the Wai’anae mountains and destroy agricultural lands, native forest and sacred sites.  The Pohakea road was inserted into the draft plan without the knowledge or consent of the community.  It has been compared to another H-3 Freeway.

On Sunday, Na Wahine O Kunia sponsored a cultural access to Pohakea in the Wai’anae mountains. It is one of the traditional passes through the Wai’anae range (the other being Kolekole that is also controlled by the military) where Hi’iaka traveled from Wai’anae to ‘Ewa in her epic journey.  They plan another hike on July 16 to raise awareness about the riches of the area and the sacred landscape that would be affected by over development.


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