By Franklin D. López
Journalist, Writer, Businessman & Political Prisoner
The beginning of this American Paradox started in the office of newspaper publisher and tycoon William Randolph Hearst. With his control of newspapers in San Francisco and New York Hearst was competing for influence and circulation with another newspaper tycoon Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the New World. Their competition was fierce and promoted the publishing of unfounded and false stories to incite public opinions in promoting their business interests and political policies objectives.
Hearst was the prime mover of the Spanish American War of 1898. He used his papers in every conceivable way to spark the war against Spain. He sent Frederic Remington, an artist hired by Hearst to provide illustrations to accompany a series of articles on the Cuban Revolution, soon became bored with seemingly peaceful Cuba and wired Hearst on January 1897: “Everything is quiet. There is no trouble. There will be no war. I wish to return.” To which Hearst’s alleged reply was: “Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” Then, the war ship Maine was blown by a massive “unknown” explosion in Havana harbor and the Spanish American War began.
It was a short war. It started in April and ended on December 10, 1898 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Spain sold the Philippines for $20 millions; Cuba became a protectorate and Puerto Rico and Guam were ceded to the United States.
The treaty gave the United States Congress absolute control of the new territories. After 2 years of military governors Puerto Rico was given civilian control of the governments with the Foraker Act and in 1917 the Jones Act granted American citizenship. During the first 25 years the United States Supreme Court issued a series of opinions in the so called Insular Cases in which the citizens living in Puerto Rico were labelled “aliens” “not fit for the Anglo-Saxon culture” and through judicial fiat legalized segregation and discrimination. Francis Torres writing for the Brown University Political review said: “The recent memory of the Civil War and Reconstruction led some to believe that the relationship between Americans and the peoples of these new territories would be based upon the newly established concept of political equality between racial groups on the mainland. However, these notions were thrown out the window in the wake of popular social Darwinism and the nationalistic mythos of Manifest Destiny. Under this ideological framework, American views of their new subject populations leaned towards the paternalistic and racist.”
It is true that Puerto Rico was an abandoned and neglected colony by the decaying and powerless metropolis of Spain. When the United States assumed control of Puerto Rico roads, schools, hospital, the University of Puerto Rico and many other infrastructure and public works were built to begin a process of social, economic and political development. The overwhelming majority of the citizens of Puerto Rico lived under abismal levels of misery and poverty. Just take a photographic tour of the pictures in the National Archive of that time period. www.archive.gov
Nevertheless since the granting of citizenship American citizens in Puerto Rico have contributed to our Nation in many forms and ways. Let’s see the most outstanding:
1- More than 275,000 have served with dignity and honor defending liberty democracy in all major conflicts of the 20th and 21st century. Thousands have given their lives for the causes of democracy and liberty denied to them.
Dozens of Air Force, Naval and Army facilities in an Island 100 miles by 35 miles, including use of two populated islands with live target practice and multiple intelligence gathering & listening posts.
The other side of the coin
1- Since conquering Puerto Rico, the United States government, particularly Congress, established an apartheid and segregated policies towards American citizens residing in Puerto Rico. Federal laws provides full benefits to Americans living in the states and a different standard in the territory.
On July 25, 1979 the Carter Administration, pressed by Puerto Ricans who supported his candidacy in 1976, ignored the pressures from The White House and the State Department and crossed the street into the United Nations to denounce the colonial nature of the “commonwealth status!” As a direct result the White House issued the Alternative Future Presidential Executive Order. This was the beginning of a path to be followed by future presidents to maneuver the status question into a bridge to nowhere. But it was a beginning on the end of “commonwealth” colonial status. It was also the 1st time that the presidency made an official policy statement “guaranteeing” the right self-determination to choose between independence, statehood or the so called commonwealth. President George h.W. Bush issued a memorandum on November 30, 1992, to heads of executive departments and agencies establishing the current relationship between the Federal Government and the commonwealth of Puerto Rico. This memorandum directs all Federal departments, agencies, and officials to treat Puerto Rico administratively as if it were a State insofar as doing so would not disrupt Federal programs or operations. On December 23, 2000, President William J. Clinton signed executive Order 13183, which established the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status and the rules for its membership. This executive Order outlines the policy and functions of the Task Force in identifying the options for Puerto Rico’s future status and the process for realizing an option. On April 30, 2001, President George W. Bush amended executive Order 13183, extending the deadline for the Task Force to forward a report to the President until August 2001. President Bush signed an additional amendment to executive Order 13183 on December 3, 2003, which established the Task Force co-chairs and instructed the Task Force to issue reports as needed, but no less than once every two years. President Barack Obama validated the Executive Order en a Task Force was re-appointed an issued a report.
The Obama Administration Inter Agency Committee on Puerto Rico clearly stated that Puerto Rico’s economic quagmire is tied to it’s political status. On March 11, 2011 it released its report and the first recommendation made was the following:
“The Task Force recommends that all relevant parties—the President, Congress, and the leadership and people of Puerto Rico—work to ensure that Puerto Ricans are able to express their will about status options and have that will acted upon by the end of 2012 or soon thereafter.” Obama in multiple letters to the colonial governor and political leaders said “is to to you to decide. You vote and I will act.”
All of these carefully planned intervention by presidents from Carter to Obama, even though they are better than nothing, were hollow policies initiatives with great sound bytes and lip service labels! There more things “change”…the more they remain the same.
Soon there after on November 6, 2012 the People of Puerto Rico in a historical plebiscite voted on two questions:
1- Whether to remain a colonial territory under the “commonwealth status.” For the first time in its history the People spoke clearly with 54 per cent rejecting the present non incorporated colonial territory. So the United States has a territory that has rejected the colonial status and does have the consent of the govern.
2- The second question asked the People’s preference in favor of independence, statehood (political equality) or free association. The People again expressed their preference by voting for statehood with 61 per cent of the vote.
We voted two and half years ago. Even though, President Obama issued the Lexington Policy of Nation building first for his second term Puerto Rico is seating in the back of the bus. Washington through its web of control and “persuasive perversions” maintains out of the political discussion agenda the issue of the right of self determination of 3.6 millions American citizens. This is no longer benign neglect of a Nation sequestering the final destiny of a People. It is gross negligence and violations of the Charter of the United National, the United States’ Constitution and the right to pursue its final status.
The present crisis facing the territory is a massive un-payable public debt together with high unemployment, real estate deflation, the largest non performing loans portfolios of all colonial banks in recorded history and a massive population exodus. Today Puerto Rico is the place in all of the Americas with the highest cost of living and taxes. Maintaining a policy of passivity and non intervention, while the Island’s family structure is dismembered by the massive population exodus, is a crime against humanity!
The U.S. Census projected that by 2050 the population of Puerto Rico will decrease to 2.3 millions. The same amount when “commonwealth” and the Constitution were adopted in 1952. The number of American citizens leaving the Island for 2015 is 120,000. The tax base and government revenues is shrinking fast. Jet Blue has increased their flights from the Island to Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Jersey. All “battle ground states!” Therefore if Washington does not react Puerto Ricans will give a bankrupt and nearly empty archipelago to the United States.
The Gallup Organization made two polls in Puerto Rico in 1990 and 1991 and asked the American citizens living in the territory, what would they do if the Island was granted Independence or Free Association (Associated Republic). Ninety two per cent said that they would move to the United States. This is not surprising. Polls made by Frank Luntz for the campaign for Governor of Dr. Pedro J. Rosselló revealed that 97% treasure their American citizenship the most. So, those states that Puerto Ricans love the most should be prepared for the tidal wave of population from the territory to a neighborhood near you.
The United States owes the People of Puerto Rico reparations for all its colonial abuses and for extending it’s regime of apartheid and segregation for 117 years. Giving us billions in welfare and subsidies programs is not a substitute for our right to be equal. We have paid a very high price of 117 years of colonial rule. There is an admission bill introduced by Resident Commissioner Pedro J. Pierluisi to sponsor a Federal plebiscite asking for a vote on statehood yes or no. That’s the democratic path to follow to resolve this American Paradox! Latin America, the Caribbean and the World are watching how the United States treats this issue affecting the lives of 3.6 millions American citizens of Hispanic origin. It will reveal if the United States has changed its policies of force and imperialism and has truly become a beacon of democracy, liberty and equality. Passivity is not an option. The reparation is to grant political equality and end the racist, segregated and apartheid colonial territory. The time to act is now. History will judge the decision makers.Equality is the soul of liberty. Denying it is a human right violation!