Maria Reinat-Pumarejo has played a key role in ending the use by the USA of the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, as a military base. Her world view of peace and justice has energized and empowered working-class women to uproot racism and sexism. In 1992, her struggle against racism prompted her to cofound the Institute for Latino Empowerment (ILE). In 1995, in collaboration with the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond, ILE extended its efforts to include white people and other people of color in its mission, resulting in the Undoing Racism Organizing Collective in the Northeast.
Born into a working-class family, Maria was adopted into a family of similar background when her parents separated. She began working at age 14. Maria obtained a bachelor of arts in social sciences with a concentration in history from the University of Puerto Rico and worked as a computer consultant. Poverty and the political situation prompted her to immigrate to the USA. A young, single mother, she was determined both to support her family and to get an education. She worked three jobs, and obtained a master of arts in education and counseling psychology from the University of Massachusetts. Maria began her work in social and political transformation in 1988 at Casa Latina, a nonprofit project in Northampton, Massachusetts, one of only three Latino organizations led by a woman in the area at that time. She cofounded ILE in 1992, and in 1997 returned to Puerto Rico. There, she focused her energy–often employing civil disobedience–to bring about the demilitarization of the island of Vieques by the USA, which had used the area for the past 60 years for bombing exercises. The occupation has resulted in at least one death and caused cancer and massive environmental degradation. The campaign resulted in an announcement by president Bush that the US navy would leave Vieques, an important step in the establishment of self-determination for all of Puerto Rico and a victory for others worldwide who are campaigning to rid their lands of US military bases and installations.
Institute for Latino Empowerment (ILE) People's Institute for Survival and Beyond East Asia-US-Puerto Rico Women's Network against Militarism