Puerto Rico 2020

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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Over a month after deadly quakes, a Puerto Rican town is still reeling

By Joel Jacobs
Medill Reports

The town of Guánica in southern Puerto Rico is still reeling from a series of earthquakes that began in late December.

The largest — a devastating 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck around 4:24 a.m. on Jan. 7 — was followed by a 5.6-magnitude aftershock a few hours after, and a 5.9 temblor later in the week.

The quake knocked out power across the island. At least one person was killed and thousands slept outside their homes in Guánica and the surrounding municipalities on Puerto Rico’s southern coast.

Guánica is one of the hardest hit areas. Over a month after the Jan. 7 quake, the streets of the town remained nearly empty, and damaged homes could be seen on almost every block.

“You can tell on the faces of the municipal employees [in Guánica] that they are not well,” said Helga Maldonado, regional director of the nonprofit ESCAPE.

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