By the Medill Explores Puerto Rico Team
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.
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.