Tuesday, April 23, 2024

GUEST BLOGGER SERIES: Johanna Bermúdez-Ruiz “Sugar Pathways”

Dewey Johanna

SUGAR PATHWAYS began in the spring of 2000, nearly a year after two 500-pound bombs went astray on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, killing a native civilian employee, David Sanes, and injured four others. This incident led to an uproar that was captured by international media and drew world activists to protest the bombing practices on Vieques.

After, nearly two months in Guyana, South America, shooting a documentary film followed by three months of supervising the editing and completion of the co-produced short documentary film, SPIRIT OF EXPRESSION, I was ready for my next project.

To my surprise on my return back to New York City my friends — writers, poets, musicians, activists — and everyday people were involved in fundraising and protesting the U.S. Navy bombing on the island of Vieques.  I was concerned, and questioned my relationship with the island of Vieques. What did the Caribbean island of Vieques have to do with my Puerto Rican ancestry? How was the island of Vieques developed into a military bombing practice range? There were so many questions on my mind that day, so I called my grandmother and asked her, “Are we from Vieques?”

My paternal family and their ancestors were from the island of Vieques. During that conversation, I decided to develop a film about Vieques.

I bought a one way ticket to Vieques. I was ready to get started on this film. Nearly four months went by and I interviewed everyone that came through the camps.  Suddenly rumors started that the U.S. Navy was arriving shortly to the camps to remove protesters and arrest people if they refused to leave.

On May 5, 2000, federal Agents, U.S. Marshals, and Puerto Rico Law enforcers arrested more than 200 people. After filming more than six hours of government officials, clergy, elderly, and local activists detained, and then arrested, I hitched a ride back to San Juan on a small private plane. I remember looking through the window of the plane to the island of Vieques, and feeling so exhausted and sad. It had been nearly a year that people were camping at the front gates to the entrance of the bombing range and on the bombing test grounds.  I wondered what would be the next steps to cease the bombing on Vieques.

Shortly after, with the help of the communications department at the Catholic University of Bayamon, friends, and supporters, I started editing all of the film I had taken at the camps and created Vieques: An Island Forging Futures, a short award-winning documentary film that depicted the peaceful resistance and people’s struggle against the world’s most powerful armed forces. Vieques: An Island Forging Futures screened world wide, and it became part of the academic and civilian disobedience movement, which led in 2003 to the President of the United States ceasing bombing operations on the island.

This film inspired me to produce the new documentary film, SUGAR PATHWAYS, a feature length-documentary that captures the decades-long migration of Puerto Rican families from Vieques to the U.S. Virgin Islands.  SUGAR PATHWAYS is narrated by actress Lauren Vélez of the Emmy Award-winning Showtime series Dexter.

SUGAR PATHWAYS took me nearly eight years to complete. From raising the money to start-up of pre-production research, story development, on –camera interviews, editing thousands of hours and archival materials, and weaving the story of five American territory islands, St.Croix, Vieques, St.Thomas , St.John, and Puerto Rico all who speak in unique cultural accents and languages into one coherent film that any American can relate to. It was a difficult but maturing experience.

Through the support of many people and grants from the Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media, Center of Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism, U.S. Virgin Islands Council of the Arts, U.S. Virgin Islands Humanities Council, private and in-kind contributions, family, and friends, SUGAR PATHWAYS was completed in March.

It has received acknowledgement on the floor of U.S. House of Representatives by New Jersey Congressman Donald M. Payne after the film was presented to members of Congress and dignitaries last month at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center in Washington D.C., as part of the D.C. Caribbean Film Festival and Caribbean Heritage Month.

The film is planned for screening in New York City where the largest Puerto Rican populations outside of the Caribbean reside. SUGAR PATHWAYS sets the stage in the celebration of Latin-Americans and Caribbean cultural contributions to United States during Hispanic Heritage Month.

I am SUGAR PATHWAYS writer, director and producer, and it makes me proud to say this because I was born and grew up on the Caribbean island of St.Croix. My father’s great-grand parents are from Vieques who migrated to the U.S. Virgin Islands and contributed along with others significantly to the economy and culture of these islands. I identify myself as an American and a Crucian Rican –  a Puerto Rican Crucian and I believe as the poet Maritza Flores wrote and recited at the beginning of SUGAR PATHWAYS, “We are all Emigrants on this earth,” just passing through these lands.

Please visit: www.johannabermudezruiz.wordpress.com

Latinovations would like to thank Ms. Bermúdez-Ruiz for her contribution. She is a writer and producer of narrative films, music videos, and shoots high definition footage for television documentaries, and actively participates in organizations that address social issues and support independent filmmaking. Johanna has been awarded the Maffa Film Festival Best Short Documentary, San Juan Cinema Fest Humming Bird Best Short Documentary, and Image Nation Special Mention Award.

Ms. Bermúdez-Ruiz speaks nationally to students at all levels, including at Rutgers University, New York University, Hunter College, Pennsylvania State University, and recently at the Junita Guarden Elementary School to encourage youngsters to learn about film production and pursue a higher education.

Johanna is a native of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands and her film company, Cane Bay Films LLC, is based in the Virgin Islands. She has lived in London, Florida, California, New York City, and Ohio, where she completed her bachelor’s degree at Antioch College.  She now resides in St. Croix.


  1. Blanca Brown says

    Johanna I read about your amazing documentary. You have devoted so much of your life to this project. I guess one could say this is your vocation.
    I am a trustee to a small school district in the county of San Diego, CA.
    I would love to share your documentary, and your talent of filmmaking with our students.


  2. In my new book, “Ruins of a Society and the Honorable,” I speak of the foreign invasions and injustices that plagued the islands of Puerto Rico. I speak of the injustice of my uncle Jose Pereira Torres of Monte Santo Vieques, PR, who was forced out of Vieques during the US invasion of the 1940s; he was approximately 11 years old. He migrated to St Croix, Virgin Island and ran for the Senate November 07, 1978.

    In May 1979, he was accused of conspiring to participate with a radical group in sabotaging US military vehicles, charges that were later proven false and eventually dismissed. The only violation committed by Jose Pereira was when he and 21 others were arrested for civil disobedience in a restricted US Navy bombing area, which was also the same year when The Crusade for the Rescue of Vieques was founded. But the injustice against Jose Pereira and others didn’t end there. Against his will and proclamation of innocence, my uncle was labeled a communist by US officials, but Jose Pereira saw himself as a freedom fighter and not an independentistas.

    In his words, “independentistas concern themselves with too many issues beyond the problems of Vieques.” Unlike many others, I acknowledged the existence of the court and I make it clear this is not the problem. The bombardment, the injustices of our people and the forcible migration of Viequenses are my concerns. I’m here to prevent future generations from the humiliation we were all subjected to.”

    Making it clear to his family; he accused the government of torture and experiment of others while incarcerated. Angel Rodriguez Cristobal, who was also arrested with Jose, was sent to a federal prison in Florida, two weeks later he was found dead in his cell. According to prison officials he committed suicide by hanging, but reports stated he had a large gash across his forehead and a pool of blood beneath his feet where he hung in his cell.

    Jose Pereira returned to St Croix and later died of cancer. Although these inhumane practices no longer exist in Puerto Rico, the reminisce left behind by the constant years of US military exercises in bombing Vieques, still show signs of extremely high levels of radiation, lead contamination and cancer among many children throughout most of the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico.

    Sugar Pathways brought to surface in my mind the many stories told to me por mi madre, Margarita Pereira Morales, mi tio, Diego Pereira y mi tia, Maria Pereira Martinez, who is still a resident of Vieques. Johanna Bermudez-Ruiz has done a wonderful job in her documentary. I’m not only proud to say we are of the same bloodline, but extremely proud to have known her during my lifetime.

    Al Bermudez Pereira, LLC.