Ismael Guadalupe

"My sin was to step on the land where I was born." So declared Ismael Guadalupe, who, for thirteen years, had been a high school teacher. He had been arrested for participation in the May 19, 1979 ecumenical prayer service on naval territory, Vieques. For many years he had struggled for the right of the people of Vieques to live in peace on their island. He had been serving as president of the Crusade to Rescue Vieques. Joined together to free Vieques from the occupation of the United States Navy were members of diverse political ideologies, religious philosophies and social position.

"I do not come as one accused, but as accuser," Ismael stated in his court defense. He accused the Navy and the federal court of putting thousands of human beings on the street who had lived on the land now occupied by the Navy. His own parents had been victims of the expropriation. He claims to have known personally more than a dozen people killed at the hands of drunken sailors, or by bombs left lying on the land. He recalled the death of Chuito Legrand, a ten-year-old boy, victim of a bomb he had come across. Then there was the body of Alejandro Rosado found buried head down; the assassination of Francis Christian; the death of a father and his son Anastasia; of Domingo Acosta, and others.

In addition, there was the collective crime against 8,000 Viequens: the loss of 26,000 of the 33,000 cuerdas of land that had been theirs for their economic development and sustenance. Ismael saw Viequens as a people imprisoned between two bases, one for the storage of weapons, the other for target practice.

For this act in defense of his native land, Ismael was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of $500. We had been warmly received by his wife, also a teacher, during his imprisonment, as she coped with the care of their two boys.

We met with Ismael on the ferry taking us from the "baby island" of Vieques to Fajardo, on the mainland. It was a long, rough trip, twice the distance of a route to Ceiba that the Navy refused to grant. He told us of his imprisonment, first at Atlanta, then at Lewisburg, as one of the twenty- one sentenced to prison. He was on his way to take on a new job as organizer for the Federation of Teachers in the Fajardo area.

Ismael was influenced early in life by the Nationalist García Vélez, also a native of Vieques. He saw the problem as bigger than the mere occupation of Vieques. The issue was also the colonial status of Puerto Rico, largely responsible for unemployment, drugs, and social problems. In Vieques, he had experienced the high cost of living due to the almost total dependency on imports, the absence of jobs, the lack of medical services.

His spirit reflected that of the patriotic Viequens who seek to regain the fruits of their once prosperous island.