El Rompeolas (The Mosquito Pier)
The Mosquito Pier is a mile-long seawall, which is often referred
to as the Rompeolas, meaning "wave breaker" or "breakwater."
Once onsite you will easily understand the concept. Looking to
the east you’ll feel the wind in your face and see the waves
breaking against the seawall. Turn around and look the other way
and you’ll see tranquil turquoise waters with barely a ripple
The reason for this is that Vieques lies in the zone of the trade
winds. These winds are usually consistent, blowing from east to
west. Consequently, the waves arrive from more or less the same
direction and break on the eastern side of the Rompeolas leaving
the western or leeward side almost perfectly calm, great for snorkeling
or anchoring a boat.
History of the pier
In the late 1930s, the threat of war in Europe loomed over the
United States of America. Military interests focused on Puerto
Rico as a mainstay in the defense of the Caribbean and especially
of the Panama Canal.
In 1941, with the permission of the US appointed governor of
Puerto Rico, the navy began construction of bases on Puerto Rico
and Vieques. Their plan was to construct a sea wall that would
extend from Vieques to the Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Ceiba
on the Big Island and to create a naval facility in the Atlantic
surpassing even the Pearl Harbor Naval Base in Hawaii. The base
would be fully equipped and large enough to contain most of the
US Atlantic Fleet as well as the entire British Fleet, if and
when Great Britain fell to the Germans.
When the navy arrived to begin this massive project, Vieques
was in serious trouble economically. The decline of the sugar
industry in conjunction with food shortages caused by the war
created a condition of massive poverty and rampant unemployment.
Thus, despite the shock and consternation caused by the expropriation
and the forced relocation of the people living on these lands,
the promise of employment on the navy project left the Viequenses
with some hope.
In fact, the navy hired 1,700 Viequenses along with 1,000 laborers
from the Big Island to build the giant sea wall and to construct
concrete weapons storage warehouses called magazines, which were
to be cut into the hills of western Vieques and camouflaged by
a covering of grasslands.
The workers were paid $2.25 per day. Laborers, working three
shifts a day, dug out a mountain and used the dirt and rocks to
fill in the sea.
They worked 24 hours a day. There was no rest.
There were no objections to allowing this flow of North American
This money, for the most part was collected
by contractors from the United States and San Juan. Employees
came every week from different sections of Puerto Rico. But
a good part of the profits remained in Vieques. For two years
the town swam in gold. Rents went up three to four times that
which was normally paid. People bought fine clothing and treated
it without due consideration. Alcoholic beverages were consumed
without measure. There were those who would wash their floors
with beer and those who would buy a $35 dollar suit on Saturday
and wear it on Monday to mix concrete and it would be ruined
after two hours. 'The Base is here, and it will bring more,'
they would say.
Vieques Antiguo y Moderno, by J. Pastor Ruiz, 1947
The project was stopped in midstream due to two historical events.
The German Army had become bogged down in Russia and the tide
of the war appeared to have changed in favor of the Allies while
the attack on Pearl Harbor challenged the military wisdom of concentrating
an entire fleet in one area.
In 1943, the construction of the pier, which was at that time
about one mile long, was discontinued. The Viequenses were left
worse off than ever. With the massive land expropriations, there
was no more sugar industry at all and the ability of the people
to at least continue subsistence activities such as having small
gardens, raising animals, hunting crabs, fishing, charcoal making
and the gathering of coconuts and wild fruits was severely curtailed.
This boom of ready cash, like the fat cows
of the Pharaoh's dream, never compensated for many of the setbacks
caused by the naval base.
The richest and most fertile lands were expropriated
by the navy. The neighborhoods of Tapón, Mosquito and
La Llave disappeared. All the neighbors and small landowners
left to the new neighborhoods of Moscú and Montesanto.
Families that had their little house, cows, a horse and some
farmland went on to have nothing more than a makeshift shack,
a fistful of coins and the night and the day.
Those that had a garden plot and who lived
happily as tenants surrounded by farmlands and fruit trees now
live crowded together lacking even air with which to breathe.
In 2000, the Mosquito Pier was included in the 4,000 acre transfer
of land from the US Navy to the Municipality of Vieques.
Today, the one-mile-long pier is used recreationally as a place
to picnic, fish or to simply relax and enjoy the ocean breezes
one mile away from shore.
In the late afternoon it is a favorite destination
for walkers, joggers and bicyclists.
As of this writing, work is underway at the far end of the pier
for the construction of a new ferry terminal.