For more than 40 years, the US Navy maintained two military facilities in Vieques, a storage space for explosive and a bombing site to test weapons and conduct military exercises. In 2003, after years of community struggle against the military presence of the US Navy in Vieques, Puerto Rico, President Bush transferred the military facilities to the United States Fish and Wild Life Service. The struggle for the demilitarization of Vieques has become a symbol of the resistance against colonial rule in Puerto Rico. In 2004, I had the opportunity of travelling to Vieques to record in video the testimonies of many Viequenses who participated in the struggle against the US Navy military presence in the island. These testimonies are an invaluable historical source to understand the history of Vieques in the context of two major transitions: a political transition from military to demilitarized zone, and an economic transition driven by tourism, real estate investment, and farming as competing alternatives for development. These stories offer an intimate portrait of people who survived years of social exclusion in order to become protagonists of their own history. They also highlight the environmental and health problems created by the military uses of land as bombing sites, as well as the challenges of cleaning up vast areas of an island polluted with toxic waste. The story of Vieques can teach us how demilitarized communities confront social, economic, and environmental challenges while struggling to create civic-driven opportunities of sustainable development. In order to share the lessons of the Vieques history with my students, and to honor the Vieques community by making their testimonies available to the general public, my students and I have created projects in WordPress based on a video archive that combines the following technologies: YouTube, OMEKA, and the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer. This year I have also published a series of photo-essays that tell the story of my first trips to Vieques and the origins of the video archive in the independent journalism digital platform 80 grados from Puerto Rico.
Link to a series of articles published by 80 grados in Puerto Rico, using pictures from the archive.