[News] Paradise Lost: Borikén

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jun 6 10:49:25 EDT 2017


  Paradise Lost: Borikén

Andrés Castro <https://www.counterpunch.org/author/andres-castro/> - 
June 6, 2017

The New York City Puerto Rican Day Parade is on June 11th; but as a 
member of the island’s diaspora, I will find it difficult to celebrate, 
knowing of Puerto Rico’s twisted relationship with the U.S. and that the 
island’s government is going bankrupt because of it. My venting follows 
without supporting citations; so if preferred, skip this exorcism and 
scroll down to a relevant poem. In the poem’s endnotes, I mention a 
couple of highly praised books that should keep me from sounding like 
just one more conspiracy theorist; of course, nothing will stop the 
heckler armed with “alternative facts.” Supportive references and 
detractors aside, this brief personal essay is meant primarily for those 
who don’t know the sad history of Puerto Rico, as well as for those who 
do. The island is just a dot in a troubled world that, as dots go, 
remains neglected and misunderstood. Ultimately, I only wish for this 
beautiful little island nation to receive the critical analysis and care 
for its people that it deserves.

Robin in the Hood: Taking from The Poor and Giving to The Rich

No matter the many years of propaganda about Puerto Rico being blessed 
as a self-governing U.S. “Commonwealth,” it has never been autonomous 
but exploited instead. It is more widely known as “the world’s oldest 
colony;” and as we all know, colonization is not harmless: dig up Thomas 
Jefferson, his land-owning colleagues, and their people’s revolutionary 
guerrilla army to see how strongly colonial North Americans objected to 
it; for sublime hypocrisy, see how U.S. independence meant genocide for 
the Native American. Puerto Rico, known as /Borikén/ by its indigenous 
population, was recognized early as a rich unspoiled resource, 
well-positioned for free trade with much of the world, and so it was 
invaded by the U.S. in 1898 when Spain could no longer defend it. Good 
bye free trade and the charter of genuine freedom Spain had granted 
Puerto Rico shortly before being occupied. Colonization 101: create 
self-serving fictions that enable the subjugation of a people; take 
their land; profit at their expense.

The U.S. government has never allowed Puerto Rico to manage its own 
affairs, especially in terms of economic policies that would benefit its 
people more than outside interests; instead, it has been brutally raped 
for the benefit of U.S. corporations and ruling class elites. The local 
government now bankrupt, the island is bleeding to death; as expected, 
Wall Street vultures (and other lovely assorted businessmen) and their 
lawyers are swooping in for pieces of the island’s desecrated body. As a 
Nuyorican, a member of a diaspora who proudly sees his roots stretching 
back into the history of Borikén’s Native American, African, and Spanish 
cultures, it disgusts me to watch the carnage. Whatever economic 
benefits the U.S. has laid on the island, they have been little compared 
to the amount of wealth and human life extracted.

The calculated exploitation has gotten so bad that the island is 
experiencing a significant exodus and brain drain: people are leaving 
the island rather than sink with it. Regrettably, the corrupt class that 
has historically sold out the poor majority and working classes—is 
sticking around; the most articulate of them continue to craft odes to 
the status quo and have buildings named after them. The strongest voices 
for resistance were silenced—to put it mildly—by the 1960s. The 
life-long imprisonment and crippling of Albizu Campos—our Nelson 
Mandela—should never be forgotten. This is the island’s history in a 
poison capsule its people is forced to swallow. It’s hard to believe how 
thousands of lives have been destroyed and what future generations have 
in store: if only knowledge led to courageous moral evolution.


Not everyone can sympathize with those who saw a never-ending U.S. 
military occupation for what it was and fought against it. As I write 
this, the NYPD Hispanic Society has pulled out of the Puerto Rican Day 
Parade because Oscar López Rivera, labeled a “terrorist” was recently 
released from prison after 36 years and is being honored as a “National 
Freedom Hero.” Rivera was not directly responsible for killing anyone, 
but was implicated in several deaths caused by a New York City 
restaurant bombing and charged with plotting to “overthrow the U.S. 

I cannot imagine the life-long pain that comes with losing totally 
innocent loved ones because of any political agenda; this would probably 
unravel me. However, I also know that the greatest killer—by far—of 
innocent men, women, and children has always been the occupying 
state—not the colonized. Like many, I wonder what options are left to a 
captured defenseless people who can only see humiliation and death ahead 
for themselves and their families. You have probably heard that one 
man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter; a study of U.S. and world 
history confirms this, but how many people actually learn about 
imperialism and state-produced terrorism?

*More Madness*

So what can make things even worse for Puerto Rico? Please do not laugh: 
a U.S./P.R corporate and political cabal is destroying the island’s 
public education system from kindergarten to its historically rich 
university. How dare anyone read the right books or think beyond what is 
necessary to go into the service industry or work in a factory? This 
process should seem familiar since the corporate privatization of public 
schools has broken ground on the U.S. mainland. Puerto Rico has always 
been a test case for U.S. corporations and elites: unlike a strong 
full-grown Cuba, the island was simply too small, young, and isolated to 
keep from being overpowered and turned into a dependent welfare state. 
And you would think, like with every society colonized and economically 
enslaved by Western white powers, that the race of the victims matter.

*Black & White Cookies*

I read Malcolm X believed that for capitalism to work you have to 
believe in the whites’ racism against non-whites. Looking at what is 
going on in Puerto Rico and recently re-watching /Aristocrats/, as well 
as Pasolini’s startling classic /Salo: 120 Days of Sodom/, reminds me 
again that Malcolm was close to the truth but wrong. The “owners” (as my 
Irish-American hero, George Carlin, called them) of the U.S. will abuse 
and screw their own into the ground whenever profits are at stake. I am 
reading Nancy Isenberg’s /White Trash: The Four-Hundred-Year History of 
Class in America/; and I assume it will unsettle anyone who believes in 
the inherent superiority of the capitalist white male and his 
cold-blooded objectivist siren Ayn Rand. True, it helps if the one you 
want to dehumanize and subjugate looks different from you—I really have 
to stop spouting clichés.

*Hero Sandwiches*

To be clear: The pale Spanish Conquistadors, mounted on their stallions 
and protected by layers of armor, were never my heroes; I was always 
more attracted to the native Tainos and Africans who were killed and 
forced into slavery by them and yet still fought back. So, whenever I 
have heard the phrase “/Que Sera, Sera/” coming from a Latino or Latina, 
especially if they are white, it sounds repugnant. I can take it from 
others, say the glowing moon-faced Doris Day singing the phrase in the 
1950s—what did she know back then?—and she was sweet with a pretty 
voice. I am happy her mother was finally given the privilege to vote and 
wear pants before dying. It is a good thing her mother did not try to 
wear pants in Puerto Rico. In 1919, Luisa Capetillo 
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luisa_Capetillo>, a writer, anarchist, 
and one of Puerto Rico’s most respected labor organizers, challenged 
society by becoming the first woman on the island to wear trousers in 
public. Capetillo was put in jail for what was then considered to be a 
“crime.” I can look up to Capetillo. I have ridiculed my share of Puerto 
Ricans; but I can always hold in high esteem many more /Boricuas/—past, 
present, and those to come. Nationalism of any kind has never really 
left a great impression on me: whatever pride I have in a homeland, 
whether I think of the U.S. or Puerto Rico, has to do with looking at 
the lives of individuals in these places. When I go to the parade, 
because after writing this what else can I do, it will be to celebrate 
individuals—past, present, and those in the making who I know will do 
great things in the future—no matter how bleak it may look, not only for 
our island but for the U.S. and the world right now.

*Abuelo’s Last Wish: Independence*

/The Mainland: 1955-1970


Abuelo /w/as tall, skeletal-thin, with thick wavy black hair,
dark brown eyes set deep above his nose and square jowls,
shaven with marbled soap, straight razor, aseptic bay rum.
He wore Chinese laundered shirts, Bogart-grey cuffed suits,
a vested timepiece, Fedora, and brown wing-tipped shoes;
but shirtless, he would climb jerry-built wooden scaffolds
set against his old wooden two-story home in the Bronx.
Seemed his happiest days were spent gardening, painting,
or shingling the roof; maybe Sundays were best: breakfast,
/La Iglesia Christiana/, singing hymns softly on the porch.

/Oh si yo quiero viver con Cristo, Oh si yo quiero
andar con Cristo, Oh si yo quiero morir con Cristo,
Quiero serle un testigo fiel./

/Borik//é//n: /1971-1973

Yearning, he returned to a dirt road that snaked by fields,
abandoned plantations, palm trees, finally disappearing
in a lagoon. His corrugated tin-roofed shack sat atop stilts
on a stony plot of farmland fenced in by thin uneven slats
and chicken wire. Black-spotted mangoes hung from short
bushy trees; an orange-red rooster trotted around piglets;
little green lizards played tag on the brown outhouse doors;
the old goat with wise feminine eyes nibbled at the rope
that collared her. Behind a large screened porch window
/Abuelo/, shirtless, hunched over a sun-bleached workbench,
listening to an antique radio, smiled at me; his long gnarled
fingers rolling cigars…he would never get…to sell in town.

Notes: /Borik//é//n is the /pre-Columbian name given to Puerto Rico by 
its indigenous Taino people. Spain’s colony for 400 years, 8 days after 
being granted autonomy, it becomes a de facto colony of the U.S. after 
the invasion of 1898. Due to the island’s easy to occupy small size, it 
is ground zero for brutal experimentation and exploitation of every kind 
by what President Eisenhower first labeled the U.S. 
industrial/government/military complex. By 1960, U.S. Government 
subsidized corporations, banks, and ruling elites owned most of the 
island’s wealth producing land, resources—poor & working class were 
fully subjugated. The Puerto Rican Government is now bankrupt. Over 45% 
of the population lives below U.S. poverty line. On December 9, 2015, 
the GOP blocked a proposed bankruptcy bill that would allow P.R. to 
restructure its debt. Austerity schemes including cuts to public 
services and primary to higher education are being employed. Check my 
facts. Please read Nelson A. Denis’ /War Against All Puerto Ricans /and 
David Talbot’s /The Devil’s Chessboard/.

* A version of this poem first appeared in /Acentos/.

* This essay first appeared on the author’s personal blog, 

/*Andrés Castro* is a PEN member/volunteer and is also listed in the 
Directory of Poets and Writers./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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