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Reflections from Puerto Rico: Rebuilding, Resilience and Resistance

By the Medill Explores Puerto Rico Team 
Medill Reports

In February 2020, Medill MSJ students reported across Puerto Rico about the impacts of the island’s colonial status and debt crisis; recent earthquakes and 2017 hurricanes Maria and Irma; environmental injustice; and the island’s imperiled infrastructure and electrical grid. Throughout the reporting, the resilience and resourcefulness of Puerto Rican people shone through. Here are some reflections from their reporting.


The view from El Fortín Conde de Mirasol in Vieques. (Maddie Burakoff/MEDILL)

La Isla Nena

By Maddie Burakoff 

La Isla de Vieques — a short ferry ride away from mainland Puerto Rico — is a tiny slice of an island, only 21 miles long by five wide, with a population just shy of 10,000. In Isabel Segunda, its relatively bustling capital, low-lying pastel buildings sprawl out around a small plaza; people on horseback trot alongside the trickle of cars winding through the narrow roads. Tourists seek out the island for its stunning natural scenery: secluded beaches, dramatic limestone cliffs, a bioluminescent bay whose tiny organisms light up the night with a magical blue glow.

Another of the island’s attractions is El Fortín Conde de Mirasol, the stout Spanish fort that has overlooked Vieques since 1845. Its hilltop location, which once offered a strategic advantage for colonial military forces, now provides panoramic views for visitors to the historic site. On this clear February day, the sun illuminates a landscape of lush greenery and vibrant houses, bordered on all sides by brilliant sapphire sea. 

But however idyllic the scene might appear, there’s a great deal of conflict pulling at the seams of the seeming island paradise. 

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Reflections from Puerto Rico: Medill Explores 2019

In Puerto Rico, I learned that butterflies are more resilient than dinosaurs
By Justin Agrelo

(Justin Agrelo/MEDILL)

There’s a square in downtown Adjuntas, Puerto Rico that when standing inside of it feels like you’ve hopped into a postcard or a history book about Spanish colonization.

The square is paved in white cement and gray cobble. Its fountain, benches, and pillars are all polished in white. Small patches of vibrant, neatly trimmed grass break up the monotony of the space.

Colorful Spanish colonial buildings line the square and a mountain can be seen in the distance, just above the bell tower of the town’s central church.

The square and its surrounding streets are almost empty except for three older gentlemen. The men break from their conversation and coffee to examine our group of unfamiliar faces, standing not far from them with cameras around our necks and cell phones stretched out.

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