From TAINO-L@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU Tue May 1 04:45:45 2001
Date: Mon, 30 Apr 2001 19:04:35 -0400
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History of Vieques Island, Puerto Rico
By Wanda Bermúdez, 1998
The name, Vieques, comes from the Indian word Bieque, small island. The little we know about the pre-Columbian inhabitants is derived from archaeological findings.
The most important to date is the one at La Hueca where artifacts made in amethyst, agate, turquoise and jadeite were found. The most remarkable were shaped like South American condors.
The Indians inhabiting the Island when Columbus arrived in 1493 were Tainos. Two brave brother Caciques in Vieques, Cacimar and Yaureibo, lead separate revolts against the Spaniards. They were soon defeated and killed. What was left of the Indian population was reduced to slavery and taken to Puerto Rico.
Once the Indians were expelled from the Island, a succession of attempted colonizations by the English, French and Danish failed. The Puerto Rico Spaniards drove them out every time. In some old English maps Vieques is named Crab Island. In between the attempted colonizations, the Island was used by pirates to re-supply their ships. There was abundant shellfish, fish, birds, and timber.
The Spaniards finally decided to colonize Vieques during the first half of the 19th century. In 1843 the municipality was established and construction of the Fort was begun. The first governor was Don Teofilo Jaime Maria LeGuillou, a Frenchman. At the time Vieques was independent from Puerto Rico. During the second half of the 19th century, Vieques saw a great economic boom driven by the sugar industry. Black slaves were brought in from the neighbor British islands. Several Centrales (mills) were in operation. Their names were eventually adopted for the barrios: Playa Grande, Santa Maria, Puerto Real, Esperanza. By the time the USA took over the island in 1898, after the Hispanic American War, there were 4 big Centrales. Sugar milling made a few families rich while most of the population worked on the fields. The workers were very impoverished and worked under very harsh conditions. After the general strike of 1915, working conditions improved greatly.
The population in Vieques has not changed much through the decades and still remains close to 10,000. Unemployment runs high. College bound kids seldom come back to live in Vieques but you can usually find them visiting the Island around summer. At the present time there is some development of the tourism industry. There are more small hotels and restaurants in Vieques than ever before. There is even a mega resort under construction. Many residents make a living out of renting their properties to tourists. This new industry has brought along a new influx of residents from the continental USA.
Development of any kind will be limited as long as the Navy keeps control of two thirds of the total Island. Some people like it this way so that the natural beauty of some beaches in the military side is preserved. Other people protest the bombing of the beaches beyond tourist's reach, the consequences to the ecology and the health of the population, the destruction of archaeological sites, and the restricted access to the beautiful resources on the bases.
Vieques en la Historia de Puerto Rico by Dr. Juan Amedee Bonnet Benitez
Vieques:History of a Small Island by Elizabeth Langhorne
Vieques Antiguo y Moderno by J. Pastor Ruiz
From TAINO-L@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU Wed May 2 05:41:03 2001
Date: Tue, 1 May 2001 13:53:58 -0700
I thought I would share information that i have from archival material, interviews on vieques, and my visits there:
The oldest human remains in the entire Caribbean -- over 4,000 years old -- were found in sector La Hueca in Vieques. I myself have visited this site, where great granite boulders were placed ages ago in a "mini Stonehenge". it is apparently a sacred place, and certainly feels that way too. THere are hundreds of archaeologicial sites, and many experts feel Vieques holds the key to Caribbean indigenous history. Most of the sites are under navy occupation, and they do not permit anyone but their own contracted workers to access them, they constantly minimize the importance of the sites, because to recognize them would obligate them to stop bombing.
Vieques was a refuge until the 19th century for various indigenous groups, escaped Africans, and other people in resistance to the colonial masters. The census figures by the spanish and by the US never actually counted everyone on the island, becasue many places were isolated, people were also going to other islands to work, and also becaseu many have never cooperated withthe authorities.
Today's viequenses bear the inheritance of those many peoples, and have continued their long tradition against oppression, with their heroic struggle against the US Navy. they are also struggling against outside speculators, mostly from the US and europe, who drive up real estate prices and dominate the tourist industry. This is why they are developing proposals for a community land trust, to control prices and speculation, while allowing for ecologically and socially sustainable development which will protect the community as well as the environment. This really is at the heart of all indigenous struggles for survival and deserves our support.
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