Puerto Rico: Latin America Calls for Independence as Congress Considers Change

by Juan Antonio Ocasio Rivera


December 20, 2006


The case of Puerto Rico once again has reached climactic levels of activity and attention around the world, only to be ignored once again by mainstream US media.

In late November, the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which actually governs American territories like Puerto Rico, held hearings on the political status of the island, with a particular focus on the report issued last year by a White House working group on the issue ( http://nylatinojournal.com/home/puerto_rico_x/essay/puerto_rico_bearing_her_chains_3.html).

The report outlined some possible permanent status options, namely statehood and independence (which included a sub-option of free association). It invalidated the usefulness and relevance of Puerto Rico's current status, saying it was a temporary territorial status that eventually had to be changed.

Reducing the issue to the three traditional status options no longer seems to interest some Senators. Instead, this hearing was dominated by the report's contention that Puerto Rico's current status is only temporary, that its creation was not an act of self-determination, and that something must be done to end this territorial status. The report contends that Puerto Rico is merely a territory of the United States and even claims that the US can legally cede or give Puerto Rico to another nation.

Some in Congress are keenly aware that Puerto Rico is a colony and must be decolonized. However, they miss the mark thinking that the people must choose between independence and statehood.

How can one militarily invade a country and then ask its people what they want their future to be while they remain in occupation of that country, having violently and brutally manipulated political public opinion for decades? Fear and dependency will be the only salient factors in the outcome of that vote, not pride, dignity, and national self interest.

While these hearings were occurring, the first International Congress to support Puerto Rican Independence was coming to a close in Panama, the newest member of the United Nations Security Council. This historic meeting featured government and other political representatives from 30 countries all over the world, with a particularly strong representation from Latin America ( http://www.independencia.net/topicos/panama/cpi_panama_nov06.html#ingls).

The countries of Latin America have now realized and come to terms with the fact that Puerto Rico's inability to gain its national independence and languish in a colonial state is an issue that strikes close to home and is one that is an affront to their own sovereignty. They are finally reclaiming the archipelago as one of their own, the last bastion of colonialism in the hemisphere that needs to be moved towards freedom and democracy. To that end, these leaders and countries have committed themselves to taking a more direct and active role in advocating for and promoting the decolonization of Puerto Rico and in pressuring the United States to allow this to occur.

As part of his opening remarks, the President of Panama, Martin Torrijos, declared, “the full incorporation of Puerto Rico into the family of the Latin American and Caribbean republics has been present for over a century in the discourse of almost all political and ideological trends in our Americas.” He remarked as well that Latin America’s dreams of an independent Puerto Rico go back via a moral and cultural debt to Simon Bolivar ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Bolivar) and Jose Marti ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jose_Marti), but that until now the region has not known how to honor that debt, having been absent from that debate all this time. He exclaimed, “Puerto Rico is a Latin American and Caribbean nation…we cannot be indifferent to that discussion nor absent from it. On the contrary, we must be an active part of an adequate solution.” He declared as well that “Puerto Rico is the only Latin American nation that remains under colonial rule” and that the solution to this problem is an issue of principle and should be a continental priority. In the end, the Panamanian President expressed the will of the overall Congress by declaring that all of Latin America would offer its good offices, encourage this agreement/solution and be a guarantor of its fulfillment and sustainability.

With all this talk of independence, it is clear that the Senate of the USA still does not understand, naturally as the island's colonial master, that statehood cannot and should never be an option for decolonization. It is wrong morally and it is a violation of international law.

The only true decolonization is the reversal of the act of violent colonization and conquest and that is freedom and independence. Independence is an inalienable right and to think that there could possibly be any legitimacy in a colonized people surrendering that right under any circumstance is not only abominable, but in this case criminal.

To rest totally upon the public opinion of the electorate in Puerto Rico is erroneous and would be a tragic mistake. Ours is a people who have experienced the following violations, indicative of the brutality and abusive nature of colonialism: the forced and secretive sterilization of 30% of Puerto Rican women, the experimentation on Puerto Rican lands and forest with Agent Orange and other biological weapons, the test on Puerto Ricans lands of radioactive depleted uranium weapons, the highly brutal campaigns of repression against the independence movement, including surveillance, harassment, incarceration, bombings, torture, assassinations, and interference in electoral processes (designed to undermine any support for any change in the status quo), the attempted cultural genocide via our educational system, the forced migration of millions of Puerto Ricans to the US, the illegal expropriation of lands by the military for weapons storage and target practice all over the island but especially on Culebra and Vieques leading to human suffering and cancer and severe environmental destruction, the unjust incarceration of our freedom fighters/political prisoners, and the inexcusable political neglect that is part and parcel of the current Commonwealth system that leaves our people powerless to enact any meaningful policy initiatives to combat the very serious social ills present on the island.

The violence and manipulation engaged on against the people has produced the division that we witness today and the fear and dependency also seen today. As our movement works to overcome those colonially-manufactured dynamics, the rest of Latin America is moving towards self-determination and multi-national unity.

Latin America will not allow Puerto Rico to be swallowed up by the United States. Congress will likely be and has historically been reluctant to incorporate a true Latin American nation with a history of violent nationalist struggle into their midst, especially now that the Latin American bloc of nations has formally expressed its consideration of Puerto Rico as a sister nation and called for her independence.

Additionally, Puerto Ricans both on the island and in the US will fiercely resist statehood as they have historically resisted the immoral and demoralizing powerless status of colonialism known as the Commonwealth, a colonialism that the UN has classified as a crime and an impediment to world peace.

As Latin America moves to reclaim her forgotten sister nation, the US Senate engages in futile and unnecessary banter in its own chambers. The hearing is a case in point for Puerto Rican anti-colonialists which highlight their inability to make status changes unless authorized by Congress. The hearing is an exercise in seeking permission to become who we want to become, and the Senate will grant or not grant that permission, while the FBI continues to scare us into confusion with its violent attacks on the independence movement. This is a recipe for disaster and embarrassment.

The Senate should recognize the harm done to Puerto Rico and in particular to its political pubic opinion and begin a process of rectifying the economic dependence they fostered in order to facilitate a transition towards sovereignty.

They could conceivably work in partnership with this Latin American Congress for Puerto Rico’s Independence and with the UN's Decolonization Committee to move this process forward, showing good faith, responsibility, and thus highlight international collaboration and diplomacy at work. Let us remember that this Committee has consistently called for the US to initiate self-determination and independence for the island since the 1970s.

In an ideal world, the Senate and the Executive would also free the remaining Puerto Rican Political prisoners ( http://www.prolibertadweb.com/index.html) and order their secret police, the FBI, to cease all repression against the independence movement. Actually, under UN guidelines, the US should completely pull out of the island and allow the UN to oversee the Decolonization process so the people can freely make a decision without coercion. They could do these things.

Or they can continue to be viewed as bulwarks of colonialism, of imperialism, arrogant in their rejection of law and order, abusive and indifferent to the human rights of the people they so often violently attack and invade. They will continue to feel the verbal assault that has accompanied their disastrous foreign policies and a new pressure from a recently reborn Latin American bloc of nations.

To do otherwise, to push for a vote between independence and statehood or even a vote between independence, statehood, and Commonwealth, would be a waste of time that would:

- be manipulated by the dominant political parties in Puerto Rico with their lobbyists in Washington and with their histories of corruption, all with an eye toward remaining in power of local government and its budget

- further stratify and divide the people and an electorate traumatized by violence, political repression, and hunger - and enamored by federal grants, credit, and consumerism.

The result would be a pathetic display of circus-like competition with no option winning a clear overwhelming majority. Then Congress would again blame our division for their inaction, again shirking responsibility for the actions of its government in the terrorizing and division of Puerto Rico.

Freedom and democracy must reign in Puerto Rico. Choosing between freedom and continued colonialism (Commonwealth) and entrenched colonialism (statehood) is not democracy. Statehood for Puerto Rico would still be a colonial status, because it would mean annexing an entire nation after having invaded it. Statehood is not decolonization; it is the final stage of American colonialism and an inherently brutal and violent act.

The historic Latin American Congress is indeed an advance for the liberation of the island, as was the recent meeting of the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations, which also fully declared its support for Puerto Rico's self-determination and independence.

While the Senate lines its pockets with Puerto Rican taxpayer money (even though island residents don't pay federal taxes), the archipelago languishes in a powerless colonial condition that prevents it from addressing its very serious issues of violent crime, drug trade, immigration, economic dependence and growth, environmental destruction, land use and development, drug and alcohol addiction, education, natural resource use and protection, and family violence and mental health.

It is time for America to think outside the box and see independence as the only true empowering option. It is also time for Puerto Ricans to shed the self-defeating artificial fears which have taught them that independence means starvation and failure.

Congressional release of the territory would not be a colonial act. It would be an act of reconciliation and an act that would validate the heroic struggle of the Puerto Rican freedom movement and of basic international human rights.

For freedom lovers around the world, it would mean the consummation of the dreams of the great liberator Simon Bolivar, who 180 years ago held a summit in Panama to promote his vision of an integrated nation of Latin American countries. This great nation included Puerto Rico in its vision. It is what the progressive governments of Latin America are talking about today, and it is what the US Senate will be forced to deal with tomorrow.

They have a chance now to make it right, if they truly believe in freedom and democracy. To do otherwise would be to further disgrace themselves, their people, and the ideals which framed their Republic.