Vieques, Puerto Rico, Murder Rate Highest in the World

Only One Explanation: The Drug War

EspañolThis week the El Vocero newspaper reported murder number 16 for 2013 on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. Then a possible 17th occurred at the Fajardo Courthouse, when gunmen from a moving vehicle opened fire and killed a woman entering the courthouse parking lot. Published reports indicate the shooting was drug related and the woman was a resident of Vieques.

In the grand scheme of things, 16 murders in 10 months may not seem like such a big deal. However, when you consider the population of the Vieques — less than 10,000 — it starts coming into perspective. After reading the Vocero report, I did a little research and found that the murder rate on Vieques is actually the highest reported murder rate in the world by about 100 percent (when compared to nations).

Normally when calculating a murder rate you take the total population and divide it by 100,000. Let’s say you have a population of one million, and you have 100 murders in a year or given time frame. To calculate your murder rate you divide the population by 100,000 (1,000,000/100,000), which gives you 10. You then use that number (10) to divide your murders (100 murders/10), and you get a murder rate of 10.

In the case of Vieques, the sample is too small to calculate down, so you have to extrapolate the number by multiplying up. Statisticians will tell you that you have a less reliable number, given the smaller sample size. True, a larger community would enable a better comparison, but the rate remains the best data point we have to compare Vieques’s murder rate to elsewhere.

So in the case of Vieques, it would be 10,000 times the number needed to reach 100,000. You would then need to use that same factor to increase your murder numbers to match the larger number: 16 x 10 = 160. So the extrapolated murder rate for the island of Vieques Puerto Rico is 160 per 100,000.

Let that sink in a bit, and then look at these statistics from 2011: the top 20 countries in terms of murders.

The 20 Most Homicidal Countries in the World

Murder Rate (per 100,000)
2El Salvador66.0
3Cote d'Ivoire56.9
8US Virgin Islands39.2
9Saint Kitts and Nevis38.2
13Trinidad and Tobago35.2
14South Africa33.8
18Central African Republic29.3
19Puerto Rico26.2

It’s bad enough that Puerto Rico came in at number 19, with a murder rate over 26 per 100,000 residents. The highest official number, however, went to Honduras, with a murder rate of just over 82 per 100,000. When you consider the global murder numbers the Vieques murder rate takes on a whole new and frightful dimension: 160/100 thousand versus 82/100 thousand.

The cause? The war on drugs. Plain and simple.

When the US Navy closed down Roosevelt Roads and its range on Vieques, the infrastructure that was used for defense training, which had a dual purpose of anti-drug operations, left. From that moment on, criminal drug organizations which had always kept an eye out for Federal assets had a much freer rein in the land, air, and sea on the eastern end of Puerto Rico. With those criminal organizations, comes enforcement.

The mafia soldiers keep order by blood. Defy the local boss, try to compete, threaten to tell or even associate with someone who might and you get an instant death penalty. No trial, no jury, no appeal; execution plain and simple.

While I did serve as the public affairs officer for Roosevelt Roads and would not mind seeing the base itself return, that alone will not solve the problems on Vieques. Only legalizing, regulating, and taxing drugs will end the associated violence and corruption — and this can only occur under independence.

There is yet another aspect of the Vieques situation that continues to boggle the mind. After the accidental death of one security guard after 60 years of live ammunition training on the eastern end of the island, thousands of people, politicians, actors, artists, and even reporters violated federal law to occupy the bombing range in order to get it to close down.

After years of trying, they succeeded. The range and the base with its 5,000 jobs closed.

Yet the murders of 16 people in 10 months have received almost no media attention. No protests, no new laws, no new regulations, no attempts to occupy the local housing project or the homes of the drug lords. How is it possible that one accidental death in 60 years holds more political clout than the murders of 16?

That is something to really think about.


You are incorrect.  Legalizing drugs on the island will have no impact since the vast majority of drugs in PR are destined to the US and Canada.  Legalizing in the US is the answer.  


You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi

Forget the past - all of us on Vieques need to heal the present We ALL know why there is crime and murders on this beautiful island, but until the people truly want his to change and stop seeing their sons killed for DRUGS and $$ - then it will continue to happen - regardless of jobs, navy base, tourism.



I think it should be mentioned that, according to police, ALL 16 murders were drug-related.  Having spent a lot of time in Vieques, if you aren't a drug dealer, it's a relatively safe place. 

Richard York
Richard York

I love P.R. have a timeshare in San Juan and me and wife visited Vieques several times 1 time 2007 with my 3 kids,January i will go to  P.R. and have a bed and breakfast booked for Vieques  but I think I may cancel after reading San Juan there are more police each year ,now their lights are always on also we have noticed the increased presence through the years,and we feel safe maybe more police would help in Vieques but I firmly do not believe legalizing drugs is a good answer....sad that the jobs went with the Navy...but the Tourist industry must grow to provide jobs so Vieques will move forward as a Magnificent Island Paradise  OR  it will become a Insignificant wasteland.                                                                                                                          I Hope I will Be Safe than We Will Be Back.  


How incredibly sad.  I visited Fajardo and Vieques in April 2012 with my family and found it to be a beautiful and unique place to vacation.  I had no idea about the unbelievable statistics you've mentioned in this article about Vieques' homicide rate.  I hope that at some point this problem can be addressed and solved.  We would love to return regularly but will have to think carefully about our safety before making another trip.

Miriam Ramirez MD
Miriam Ramirez MD

I keep in contact with the people in Vieques, Life has changed dramatically for the worse for them 

They miss the Navy and the quality of life they had then. 

Those people like Kathy, who boast and want to justify their stupid unpatriotic actions of protesting  to throw out  the Navy out of Puerto Rico are to blame for the economic  and criminal crisis hitting Puerto Rico and Vieques.

It is even worse and much more stupid to say  that someday Vieques and Puerto Rico will become a paradise. It was a paradise... now it is hell.

@Miriam Ramirez MD 


I was a Navy Range Control Officer at the OP for 3 years. The locals who had jobs on the range was appreciative and was treated with respect. They were well paid and enjoyed their jobs. We celebrated birthdays, weddings and births together. I wonder where they are now?


Great job Kathy! You assisted in driving the Navy out of Vieques. And bankrupting Puerto Rico! And taking money away from the PR people. Now they live in squalor! Awesome job Kathy. Why dont you ask the PR people how happy they are now?

Miriam Ramirez MD
Miriam Ramirez MD

If  a poll were held today.... there would be hardly anyone who would want to throw the NAVY out of Puerto Rico. I was an activist pro-Navy , risked my life in Vieques,and I am proud of it.

1.The Navy's Base loss was calculated to be a loss to Puerto Rico of over $700 million of dollars annually. Now we are bankrupt.

2. There were no murders in Vieques while the Navy was there... And now????

3. There were no drugs in Vieques... now it is an entry port. to Puerto Rico and the USA

4, They are still looking for ways to sue the Navy for whatever comes to mind. Research did not produce any link from the 2 weeks a year Naval  training bombing to "cancer"

5. I will stop here due to lack of space..

Miriam Ramirez MD


Hi Frank: I thank you for this thought-provoking post.  I believe that the changes in Mexico and Colombia have driven more drugs to pass through PR since the 2005 or so.  The murders in Vieques started in 2006.   I participated in the protests to stop the bombing and served a few days in prison for doing that. (the people of Vieques live without constant bombing but are still contaminated with heavy metals). So I can see why you might ask why no protests in the face of the blood bath that we are experiencing in Vieques.  It took over 60 years for the people of Vieques to get the Navy out, so I think it may take a bit of time for the community to get organized to stop the killing.  The police need to do a better job finding killers but I also agree that legalizing drugs would go a long way to ending a world with so many murders.  I also agree that we have to talk about the murders and pressure those in power to do something (unlike those who are scared to negatively effect tourism).