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Puerto Rico News – from PR Tribune: Nilda Medina: “Viequenses have the right to live here”

The content originally appeared on: El Nuevo Día

Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series of reports to mark the 20th anniversary of the departure of the Navy from Vieques.Visit the special siteto see a photographic timeline of the events that marked the fight. Also read the stories in Spanish.

Vieques – When activist Nilda Medina was contacted for an interview to mark the 20th anniversary of the departure of the United States Navy from Vieques, she said she wasn’t interested in talking about the struggles of the past.

The campaign to end the military’s presence was beautiful and ended in triumph, she said. But, the island municipality has new challenges that threaten its sustainability for future generations of Viequenses.

She met with El Nuevo D?a anyways, on a hot morning, in Isabel II, Vieques’ urban area. Sweaty, wearing a baseball cap, her hands covered in the gray dust of cement, she had been working earlier to rehabilitate an uninhabited building on Mu?oz Rivera Street, with the aim of turning it into a community hotel. From the rooms on the second level visitors could see the luminous Bay of Mulas, she said, where people arrive to the “Isla Nena” by boat or ferry. “I was working early you see,” she said.

In Vieques, the fight to survive didn’t end on May 1, 2003, when the Navy officially closed the bombing range that occupied the entire eastern part of the island. The challenges of the present–above all gentrification and displacement–are what Medina and many others think about day and night, rain or shine.

A native of Vega Alta, Medina came to Vieques 40 years ago to work as a teacher and to fight against the military’s presence. She’s honest as she talks about that decision. “I came here to fight against the military presence. I came knowing that my mission, my existence, was to ensure that the Navy left. It was a political decision. I’m a socialist, a communist, and I still am, despite the fact that all my colleagues from that time have gone the other way,” she says.

In Vieques, she fell in love with another newcomer: American Robert Rabin, who came to the island municipality from Boston more or less at the same time. He planned to study the effects of militarism for just a few weeks, but he never left. They lived together until Rabin’s death from cancer on March 28 of last year.

Both of them put all their energy into fighting against the Navy. They complemented each other well: Rabin was serene and conciliatory; Medina was more passionate and combative. “Bob used to say that he was as American as apple pie, but that he didn’t like what the United States was doing on this island,” recalls Medina.

Nilda Medina, together with other women, carry out an act in memory of those who have died of cancer in Vieques, on June 1, 2000, an incident that is related to the activities of the Navy. (Wanda Liz Vega)
(Wanda Liz Vega)

After the Navy left, Vieques’ immeasurable beauty acquired a new value. Naturally, not many people had been attracted to a place that, though beautiful, was bombed for six months of the year to the point that structures shook as if from an earthquake, and where rates of cancer were 31% higher than in the rest of Puerto Rico.

When the Navy left, tourism exploded and property values rose exponentially. Today, the median property value in Vieques is $595,000, according to That’s far out of reach of most of the local population, where 53% live below the federal poverty level. In other words: those who lived alongside the Navy for six decades are now finding it difficult to remain in a peaceful Vieques, which has begun attracting many newcomers.

This is Medina’s present fight. “In the future, there will be a child who wants to live in Vieques and won’t be able to, who wants to go to a beach in Vieques and won’t be able to. This here is going to be critical for Viequenses, who have the right to live on their island. I can go to the United States, I can go to Vega Alta. But people from Vieques have the right to live here and enjoy the air, the beach, the environment that other people come to enjoy,” she said.

Medina isn’t interested in protests or civil disobedience. She doesn’t support hostility toward foreigners buying land and property on Vieques.

Nilda Medina in front of a building that she is helping to remodel so that it becomes a hostel run by Viequenses and not foreigners. (Ramon “Tonito” Zayas) (Ram?n “Tonito” Zayas)

“We are a pretty open community and we are a community of peace,” she said.

She is the director of Incubadora Microempresas Bieke, where she guides Viequenses through the process of setting up a business as a way to reduce poverty, create wealth and have the resources to stay. It’s one of many strategies that Viequenses have developed to defend against the challenges they face.

She has one goal. “All Viequenses must feel the urgency of protecting the right of future generations to live here,” Medina said. And with that, she returned to the building on Mu?oz Rivera Street to keep building the future of Vieques.


Puerto Rico News – from PR Tribune

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