Puerto Rico: Nilda Medina-Diaz

The Navy is not leaving because it wants to, but because the people have forced them out.

— Nilda Medina-Diaz

Nilda Medina-Diaz has dedicated her life to the demilitarization of Vieques. This tiny Puerto Rican island was used by the US Navy for military exercises and weapons training and testing for 63 years. Largely through the work of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, cofounded by Nilda, the USA closed its bases in 2003. In addition to coordinating the movement's civil disobedience organizational center, Nilda continues to play a crucial role in the postnavy struggle to ensure that her community is informed and involved in their homeland's environmental cleanup.

Born 1950 in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, Nilda is the youngest of five children. As a student at the University of Puerto Rico, she began organizing for labor rights and was regional coordinator for the Puerto Rican Socialist Party during the 1970s. Armed with a certificate to teach science-and fierce determination-she moved to Vieques in 1980. In December 2000, Nilda and other members of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques placed themselves in front of huge navy tractors to block yet another military action. Riot police arriving at the scene were well equipped with dogs, pepper spray, and handcuffs. But when a large group of community members joined the protesters, the police withdrew. Scenes such as these were common in the battles Nilda fought with and for the citizens of Vieques. Leading the struggle for "the four Ds" (demilitarization, decontamination, devolution, and development), members of the Committee often put themselves in harm's way. Her work has not ended with the withdrawal of the US military. As a member of the Restoration Advisory Board, she reviews and reports on the military cleanup. She organizes community forums, independent expert evaluation of the progress of the cleanup, activities for teen mothers, and leadership opportunities for the local youth organization. She helps to resolve transportation issues for families with loved ones in hospital or in prison. and arranges legal representation for Viequenses who have been arrested by the US Fish and Wildlife Service for using ex-military lands for community functions. She is a coordinator of "Radio Vieques", a weekly radio program and a vital service for a community that has no newspaper. To help similar communities dealing with problems left by military bases, Nilda serves on the Board of the Military Toxics Project.

Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques Restoration Advisory Board Military Toxics Project