Vieques and Culebra ARE NOT the Spanish Virgin Islands

islandsofpuertoricoManager’s opinion

Why does it bother me so much to hear Vieques and Culebra being referred to as the Spanish Virgin Islands? Sometimes even abbreviated SVI, as if common knowledge. I would like to know who came up with this affront and insult to our islands identity. I am sure it was nobody born nor raised here because a native KNOWS.

The islands of Vieques and Culebra and the dozens of keys and smaller islands that surround them are neither Spanish nor Virgin.

Let me explain this for the history and geography challenged. Vieques and Culebra are municipalities of the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, which is a territory of the USA, not Spain. We are Puerto Rican not Spaniard.

These islands are NOT VIRGIN either. Although connected by family ties to the neighbor islands of St. Croix and St. Thomas, there is no historical nor political connection, and the USVI or BVI do not share the brutal physical abuse by its own government as Culebra and Vieques did. Fewer places in the world have been as violated with impunity as Vieques and Culebra have. Both islands were used as bombing targets by the U.S. Navy since the early 1940’s. Culebra was bombed until mid 1970’s when the military practices there were transferred and added to the ones already under way in Vieques until May 2003 when the Navy was kicked out. Since then, the U.S. Navy is undergoing an extensive cleanup effort on Vieques land to remove debris and exploded and unexploded munitions and other contaminants. The work in Culebra is still pending and no cleaning has started under water yet. Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit by the people of Viequese for damages and illnesses related to the bombing practice. The Supreme Court ruled “sovereign immunity”; the king can not be sued.

There haven’t been a collection of people more victimized by their government as the native peoples of Vieques and Culebra. We resent that outsiders, who are taking advantage of these beautiful but neglected islands, and are benefiting from the hard labor and efforts of many that were involved in the fight to remove the Navy from these islands, are so oblivious as to the history and the scars that run deep under the skins of the native Viequenses and Culebrenses.

It has taken years to re-implant, in the collective consciousness, the original names of the beaches in Vieques that the Navy so diligently removed for decades and substituted by unimaginative color names. Now we have to deal with another name change imposed on us again from the outside.

So please, stop insulting us. If you are going to exploit a place economically, at least get to know it first. Respect the natives and the culture. Our islands are not Spanish Virgins. If you need to collectively name them then call them what they are. These are the Puerto Rico Islands, the Islands of Puerto Rico, or the Puerto Rico Archipelago.

 

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