[News] Time for Puerto Rico to Fly and Be Free
news at freedomarchives.org
Sat Apr 16 11:56:15 EDT 2016
Time for Puerto Rico to Fly and Be Free
/April 15, 2016
Hector Luis Alamo <http://www.latinorebels.com/author/hectorluisalamojr/>
/“I suck the blood of your economy, drain your natural resources, make
you a beggar poorer in thanks—make you defenseless, powerless, homeless,
useless, speechless, foreign, more foreign, so foreign that you’ll lose
touch with families and familiarities so that you’ll lose control of
reality so that you’ll start hallucinating, wandering with no return
address, nowhere to go, boundless, without a chain to your collar, worse
than a house pet, a stray dog, in the air, like a bird, spaceless and
without wings to fly.”/
—Giannina Braschi, /United States of Banana
I’m not Puerto Rican, not like my father’s parents were. I wasn’t born
/over there/. I was born in Chicago, raised in Humboldt Park for a bit,
then shipped out to the suburbs—the diaspora of the Diaspora. I’ve never
been to the island. I don’t know all the words to /La Borinqueña/,
though I’m much more familiar with the original (/“¡Despierta,
borinqueño/ que han dado la señal!/ ¡Despierta de ese sueño/ que es hora
de luchar!”/). I’ve never explored El Morro, never climbed El Yunque,
never heard a coquí’s chirp. I don’t know what it’s like to be
/carolinense/ or /ponceño/, to grow up there, go to school there, work
there, live there. I don’t know a lot of things about Puerto Rico, but I
do know what’s arguably the most important fact there is to know: Puerto
Rico isn’t free.
Puerto Rico is a colony. Everyone knows it, and yet everyone doesn’t
know it. Or at least they choose to forget it. Puerto Ricans are the
sleepwalkers of Latin America.
/But Puerto Rico has its own government!/ cry most people.
Puerto Rico has its own government like a dog has its own bed (though
Puerto Rico’s government has twice as many fleas).
The people of Puerto Rico are under the ultimate authority of the U.S.
Congress, in which Puerto Ricans don’t have full representation; the
U.S. government made that callously clear
over a century now.
/But Puerto Rico has its own constitution! /
It’s confusing, I know, but the 1952 constitution didn’t end Congress’s
colonial rule over the island. This has been explained a thousand times
by the likes of José Trías Monge
whose long résumé made him eminently qualified to sort out the mess: not
only was he attorney general of Puerto Rico before he became chief
justice, as one of the authors of the constitution, he’s one of the
fathers of the so-called “Free Associated State.” But if you don’t
believe him, then you have to believe Nicole Saharsky, the Obama
administration lawyer who corrected Justices Sotomayor and Breyer
on the nature of Puerto Rican self-government—which, as it turns out, is
little more than that of a teenager who still receives an allowance.
*Justice Sotomayor*: Before 1952, Congress could veto Puerto Rico’s
laws. It has relinquished that right.
*Ms. Saharsky*: I don’t think that that’s right, and … it’s just not
consistent with the Territory Clause of the Constitution. …
*Justice Breyer*: It’s very interesting what you’re
saying. Remember, though, one of the provisions of the Puerto Rico
Constitution, which Congress approved and said it was a republican
form of government, is that criminal actions shall be conducted in
the name and by the authority of the people of Puerto Rico. Now,
that sounds like a delegation of authority as to source, to go back
to the Spanish system if they want. Now, if I take your view, then I
guess you have to say – and it has considerable implication –
that that doesn’t matter because Congress can take back what they
gave. Now, is that the position of the government or the executive
branch? Because that has tremendous implication. …
*Ms. Saharsky*: Well, two responses to that question. The first, I
think, is the first part of your question: this statement in the
Puerto Rico Constitution that the authority to prosecute comes from
the people of Puerto Rico and that it’s in the name of the people of
Puerto Rico. That’s been true since 1900. That was in the 1900
Organic Act; that was true in 1917. Puerto Rico is not claiming that
it was a sovereign then. So I would not rely on that. But the second
and, obviously, more weighty question you raised is the question of
could Congress revise the arrangements it has with Puerto Rico?
And we think the answer is yes.
A colony, by definition, cannot be said to have proper control of its
economy and finances, and it’s no different with Puerto Rico, an island
which has to import and export all of its goods on U.S.-built,
U.S.-owned and U.S.-operated ships. In the beginning, following the
invasion at Guánica, Puerto Rico was almost exclusively the realm of
sugar barons. Charles Herbert Allen
a Massachusetts politician and former prison commissioner, became the
first civilian governor of Puerto Rico in 1900, and for the next 16
months dedicated his efforts to transforming the island into cash cow by
cutting expenditures, raising taxes on the people and giving concessions
to the sugar monopoly. Education and social services were slashed and
the overall plight of the people went ignored by the colonial government
since, as Albizu Campos put it, “the Yankees wanted the birdcage without
The pilfering of Puerto Rico was abetted by an 11-member Executive
Council, six of whom were North Americans. All six were department heads
—including treasurer, the attorney general and the secretary of
education— while the five Puerto Ricans played only token roles on the
council. Upon resigning, Governor Allen became a Wall Street financier
for the infamous House of Morgan and, by 1913, was president of the
American Sugar Refining Company, controlling 98 percent of the U.S.
sugar refining industry. By 1930, the “Sugar Trust” owned a quarter of
all arable land in Puerto Rico, as well as its postal service, most of
the railroads and the /puerto rico/ of San Juan.
Sugar’s dominance combined with the other various monopolies
placed Puerto Rico’s economy on a precipice, and when the price of sugar
dropped at the start of the Great Depression, the Jenga tower came
crashing down. The tower had never been very towering
to begin with, as a number of hurricanes struck the island in the
three decades preceding Black Tuesday, causing severe losses in terms of
property, crops, infrastructure, and that /other/ asset—human lives.
The collapse of the sugar market and the lead-up to World War II brought
industrialization and urbanization, and later, Operation Bootstrap. A
lack of jobs was interpreted by the elite as a population problem,
requiring the forced sterilization
of at least a third of all Puerto Rican women of childbearing age by
1965. This coincided with a mass exodus from the island, with as many as
75,000 Puerto Ricans fleeing their homeland in 1953, when the island’s
population was a little over two million. The loss of so much human
potential has amounted to a second robbery committed against Puerto
Rico, one which has been more devastating than the economic theft. First
they emptied Puerto Rico’s wallet, then they siphoned off its soul.
The year 1953 is doubly significant as it’s the same year in which the
U.S. government affirmed to the United Nations that, due to its newly
granted constitution, Puerto Rico was now self-governing and no longer a
colonial possession. This was a lie, as Ms. Saharsky explained before
the Supreme Court earlier this year. Approved by Congress,
which maintained control over the island, the constitution wrapped
Puerto Rico in the terms “Commonwealth” and “Free Associated State,”
though these were merely euphemisms disguising the same old colonialism.
There’s nothing “common” about the wealth generated in Puerto Rico, and
to describe Puerto Ricans as “free” in any sense is an abuse of the word
and the people. The political status of Puerto Rico is pregnant with
such pretenses: /citizenship/, /self-government/, /elections/,
Even the term /Puerto Rican/ is a misnomer, since everything and
everybody on, under and around the island belongs to the United States.
Nothing in Puerto Rico is Puerto Rican.
Washington’s Bootstrap program failed to lift Puerto Ricans out of
poverty. Manufacturing, which had replaced agriculture as Puerto Rico’s
main economic sector, failed to live up to the hype, causing another
wave of job losses. But instead of strengthening the social safety net
and retooling the economy of Puerto Rico so that it benefited the people
of Puerto Rico instead of the profiteers, the U.S. government did the
exact opposite, applying even more “free”-market reforms to attract
outside investors. The elimination of corporate taxes and others —except
those applying to the vast majority of the population— signaled a
renovation of the Wall Street playground that was and is Puerto Rico. In
this way, the colonizers looked to ensure that, if anyone were taken
care of in Puerto Rico, it would be the business elites.
Despite what most people would have you believe, Puerto Ricans pay
taxes—a lot, actually. In 2009, three years into the island’s
depression, the U.S. Treasury Department filched more than $3.7 billion
<http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-soi/09db05co.xls> from Puerto Rico’s
taxpayers. Puerto Ricans pay into Social Security and Medicare,
while receiving only a fraction of what they would were Puerto Rico a
state. At 11.5 percent, Puerto Rico also has the highest sales tax in
the United States. Imposing obscenely high taxes on a people who then
aren’t provided the services to which their taxes entitle them amounts
to yet another, double-robbery: not to mention the fact that, since
Congress has the power of taxation and is the supreme authority in
Puerto Rico, the people of Puerto Rico are being taxed without
In the midst of the current crises, there’s a tendency to place most, if
not all of the blame on the Puerto Rican people and the Puerto
Rican government. But, again, there is no such thing as a /Puerto Rican/
government. Alejandro García Padilla is the colonial governor of Puerto
Rico much as John Winthrop was governor of the Massachusetts Bay
Colony: elected by his fellow citizens, but answering to a higher,
unelected power across the sea.
Critics claim the insular government precipitated the collapse of Puerto
Rico through corruption and general mismanagement, but keep in
mind that the governors and legislators of Puerto Rico work under the
auspices of the U.S. government. The insular government can do nothing
of which the federal government disapproves, and the only thing the feds
sanction is the draining of Puerto Rico’s resources. Puerto Rico’s
politicians are merely colonial overseers, a cadre of accomplices,
bagmen, taskmasters and getaway drivers whose sole function is to make
sure the decades-long plunder continues unabated. They administer the
anticoagulant that allows Wall Street’s bloodsuckers to have their fill
Enter Congress’s proposed oversight board
Just hours before it honored Puerto Rico’s famed 65th Infantry Regiment
the U.S. House dishonored the Borinqueneers and their people by
introducing the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic
Stability Act, otherwise known as PROMESA (as in, “I promise this won’t
sting too much”). The act would create a federal oversight board that
would effectively usurp whatever responsibilities Congress has
delegated to San Juan. The board —whose seven members would be appointed
by the president and leaders in Congress, and of which only one member
would either have residency or a business headquartered on the island—
would be in charge of Puerto Rico’s economy and finances. Governor
García Padilla, nominally the head of government in Puerto Rico, would
be an eighth, non-voting observer on the board (just as Resident
Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi is a non-voting member in the House).
The board’s primary goal will be to pay back Puerto Rico’s debt—or, more
accurately, the debt created in Puerto Rico by the U.S. government. Any
law or action taken by the /Puerto Rican/ government that conflicted
with the board’s mandate would be automatically scrapped. Mainly the
board will function as example for the Puerto Rican people on how to
effectively and efficiently govern, since, as one House speaker candidly
averred, “the people of Porto Rico have not the slightest conception of
self-government.” (I omit the specifics of who uttered this and when on
purpose; such details are trivial.)
This is what colonialism looks like. A distant power subjugates an
entire society, passes laws that increase corporate profits made on the
backs of the people in the form of public debt, and when the people
collapse under such a heavy load, the distant power makes the people pay
for the load before they can even attempt to stand. Thus, the birds are
forced to pay for their cage.
I may not be a real Puerto Rican in the eyes of many islanders, but I’m
thankful every day I’m not in their shoes. As a black Latino living in
the United States, perhaps I’m no freer than them, but at least I can
pretend. The Puerto Rican people are afforded no such illusions,
however. They feel the yoke constantly around their necks and the
lash of the whip on their backs; their chains are unadorned and cold.
Where as actual U.S. citizens follow federal elections anxiously, to
a Puerto Rican, which party controls which branch of government in
Washington is of little importance (as well it should be for U.S.
voters, but I digress). Such matters being beyond their control, Puerto
Ricans no more worry about who will be the next president than whether
the sun will rise in the morning. In fact, there is no morning for a
Puerto Rican—only night.
And yet, the people of Puerto Rico continue to delude themselves by
believing their precious little island might one day be the 51st state,
or that becoming a state is something they should wish for, or that
somehow they can make their oppression more tolerable in the interim by
modifying the current status. That many slaves cling to their own
shackles is a sad feature of the master-slave relationship, as the
master’s justification for his authority leads the slave to justify his
own enslavement. This is what Malcolm X described when he distinguished
between a “Field Negro” and a “House Negro:” the first runs away from
his master, while the second runs toward him; the first relies on
himself, the second relies on his captor. For over a century, the U.S.
master class has treated the people of Puerto Rico as the help, and
implemented policies meant to foster an entire society of House Negroes.
/How will Puerto Rico succeed without the United States?/ it’s often
asked. /What will Puerto Ricans do with independence?/ The answer is
simple: whatever they decide.
Still, if history shows us anything, it’s that the U.S. government
doesn’t free its slaves without a fight. Puerto Rican Nationalists were
beaten, imprisoned and killed for simply mentioning independence, and
their leader, Albizu Campos, was tortured to death. Owning a Puerto
Rican flag or humming a patriotic tune was made a treasonable offense in
1948. The towns of Jayuya and Utuado were bombed two years later. Oscar
López Rivera and other leaders of the FALN were imprisoned for
launching an armed struggle for liberation. In September 23, 2005, the
anniversary of the /Grito de Lares/, the “Responsable General” of the
Macheteros was killed by a hail of FBI bullets at his home
in Hormigueros—just another dead terrorist in the eyes of the U.S.
government. More terrorism has been committed against the Puerto Rican
people, however, than by them.
Puerto Rican independence is no longer an option.
It’s the only option.
And if the U.S. government won’t grant Puerto Ricans the basic
political, economic and social liberties that are the birthright of all
human beings, if the Puerto Rican people aren’t allowed to govern
themselves from the bottom to the top, if Congress insists on tightening
the colonial chains by imposing an oversight board that dilutes
the little self-government Puerto Rico pretends to have, then the people
of Puerto Rico must do whatever is in their power to secure their
liberation and establish a true democracy in their homeland. Theirs too
is the right to insurrection, the right to overthrow
unresponsive government, as outlined by the UN Declaration on the
Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples
<http://www.un.org/en/decolonization/declaration.shtml>, and the U.S.
Declaration of Independence nearly two centuries earlier, which states
unequivocally (absorb the words in bold, please):
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the
Pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these Rights, Governments are
instituted among Men, *deriving their just Powers from the Consent
of the Governed*, that whenever any Form of Government becomes
destructive of these Ends, *it is the Right of the People to alter
or to abolish it*, and to institute new Government, laying its
Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such
Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and
Happiness [emphasis mine].
The right to insurrection is a founding principle of the United States.
Many a patriot has faced the executioner for exercising this right,
from Nathan Hale to John Brown—who, on the morning of his hanging, wrote
that he was “now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will
never be purged away but with blood.” Whitman, Thoreau, Emerson and
Douglass were early champions of Brown and his sanguinary campaign, and
they certainly weren’t the last to consider Brown an American hero.
Likewise, though the U.S. government has labeled Don Pedro, Lebrón,
López Rivera and Ojeda Ríos as violent criminals, their names have long
been committed to the Puerto Rican pantheon.
Now, after over a century of polemics, the time for talk is dead. While
the pen may be mightier than the machete, it’s completely useless as a
defensive weapon. An army of writers and debaters can easily be mowed
down by a few well-armed Marines. The people of Puerto Rico are at war,
one which they’ve tried to dismiss, but one which has been waged against
them nonetheless. They’ve been invaded, robbed, extorted and silenced.
They are a caged /iguaca/ that has forgotten how to sing or fly—starved,
plucked, rattled. But fly they must, or risk becoming helpless penguins,
or worse: dodos.
The people of Puerto Rico are entitled to no more and no less than
what is owed to all people—namely, the right to self-determination
to live under a government of the Puerto Rican people, by the Puerto
Rican people and for the Puerto Rican people. It is the same right being
fought for from Chiapas to Kurdistan. It is the right demanded by the
people of Barcelona, Bilboa, Glasgow, Gaza, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Hong Kong,
Bajo Aguán, Bluefields, Araucanía, São Paulo, Pu`uhonua O Waimanalo and
Lakotah. It’s why citizens have gathered and marched in Seattle, Los
Angeles, Houston, Ferguson, Chicago, Baltimore and New York City, why
the U.S. public is currently consumed by a contentious election season.
Because people everywhere understand that, if you have no say in the
governing of the society in which you live, if you aren’t an actor but
are instead being acted upon, if you’re not a subject but are treated as
an object, then you aren’t free.
You are a slave.
bandera de lares
I may not know much about Puerto Rico, but I know what its people must do.
/*Hector Luis Alamo* is a Chicago-based writer and journalist. You can
connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo <http://twitter.com/HectorLuisAlamo>./
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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