On Sunday, March 24, the People’s Forum in Manhattan will host the first in a three-part series of film presentations—to be facilitated by Diana Ramos Gutierrez—that will focus on the history of the Vieques struggle. The double feature includes a rare screening of Vieques: The Island and Its People, which was produced by filmmaker Vicente Juarbe for the series Dos Mundos. The documentary originally aired in May of 1980 on the public television station WPVI, an ABC-TV affiliate in Philadelphia.
The second film, the 2001 documentary short Vieques: un pueblo forjando futuros, picks up the story two decades later. Director Johanna Bermúdez chronicles the resurgence of the Vieques movement in the late 1990s following the death of David Sanes Rodriguez, a Vieques native working as a security guard for the U.S. naval base. His accidental death as a result of a military exercise echoed the controversial death of another Vieques resident, Angel Rodriguez Cristobal, two decades earlier. Rodriguez had been arrested during a mass demonstration in 1979, along with a group of protesters who came to be known as the Vieques 21. Though his death was ruled a suicide, the results of an autopsy have led many to question the circumstances.
On March 31, Cuando lo pequeño se hace grande (2000) by Mariem Pérez and Vieques: Worth Every Bit of Struggle (2004) by Mary Patierno will be screened. Together, the films cover a period in which more than 1,500 protesters were arrested as the movement in Vieques gained widespread international attention.
The title of the fifth and final film of the series, however, alludes to the lingering consequences for viequenses more than a decade after U.S. Navy’s withdrawal in 2003. Vieques: una batalla inconclusa by Juan C. Dávila highlights the delayed decontamination of the water and soil in Vieques, as well as the ongoing struggle to regain all of the land taken over by the U.S. Navy in 1941. Recently, it was announced that the cleanup would be completed by 2032. Meanwhile, cancer and infant mortality rates on La isla nena remain well above average when compared to the rest of Puerto Rico.
Dávila will also be in attendance for the closing presentation on April 7 to provide commentary on the film. He will be joined remotely by Robert Rabin, a Boston native who moved to Vieques in the early 1980s, where became deeply involved in the movement against the U.S. Navy, in addition to his work with the Vieques Historical Archives. Currently housed at the Museum of Vieques Historic Memory, the archives contain each of the films to be screened at the People’s Forum. Today, Rabin is the Director of Radio Vieques, a local non-profit organization and community radio station founded in 2013 that serves communities in Vieques, Culebra, and the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. The series at the People’s Forum will serve as a fundraiser for Radio Vieques.
To see the full schedule of presentations, click here.
For more background on the history of social activism in Vieques, you can also check out Unit 14 of Center for Puerto Rican Studies’ online course, ‘History of Puerto Rico.’