Some Comments on Puerto Rico's Situation Today

September 25, 2007

(Lois recently spent several days in Puerto Rico and was an unofficial NACLA delegate to the April 16th rally there).

Sunday, April 16 marked the hundredth anniversary of Jose de Diego, a Puerto Rican leader who is in the forefront of the struggle for independence under the American protectorate (1898-1918). It was the occasion for a march and rally called by the Movement for Puerto Rican Indenendence which drew some 10-15,000 people from all parts of the island. Senor Juan Mari Bras called upon the crowd, which stood listening in the hot sun, to boycott the plebiscite this July 23, to oppose military conscription in the U.S. army, to be vigilant against the exploitation of copper resources by U.S. companies and to escalate their efforts for independence in the coming months.

The Plebescite

Puerto Rican ties to the U.S. date back to 1898 when U.S. armed forces invaded the island and then set up a colonial government to rule in 1900. Bestowed with a local legislature, the real power was funneled through a presidentially appointed Governor and his executive council. After the first world war, the Jones Act was enacted granting North American citizenship to Puerto Ricans; it did not, however, alter the administration of Puerto Rican affairs by the executive council. Under Law 600, passed b the U.S. Congress in 1950, the "Free Associated State" was created. The Puerto Ricans were permitted to write a local constitution subject to revision and amendment by the U.S. Congress. Under this arrangement, Puerto Ricans still do not participate in any federal election. 'Xs they are not represented, neither are they taxed. It is still true that all laws passed by the U.S, Congress are in full force in Puerto Rico. The United States government still exercises at will the right to expropriate land and the judicial system is tied by U.S. district courts.

There is very little that the "Associated State" is "Free" to do. This July 23, a plebiscite will be held in which the Puerto Rican electorate ,will be asked to chose among the alternatives of the resent commonwealth status", independence and statehood. The call for this plebiscite which was rushed through the local legislature in record time under heavy pressure from Washington last December 23, 1966, is being opposed by the majority of the independence and statehood forces. Some of the reasons for the campaign for non-participation in the plebiscite are: 1) it is anti-democratic and includes a colonial formula -the present status-- for ratification; 2) the process is controlled by the electoral machinery of the government so that a free choice without political and economic pressures on the electorate will be impossible; 3) only six months tire was allotted to inform the electorate of the alternatives; the plebiscite law as approved grants the right to vote to thousands of North Americans and other non Puerto Rican residents, which should be a decision for Puerto Ricans. Thus, while it is the U.S. government's intent to make it seem as if the plebiscite is the solution to the political problem of Puerto Rico, such a vote is meaningless.

The case of Puerto Rico was brought before the Special Committee of 24 on Implementation of Declaration of Granting Independence in the United Nations to determine whether Puerto Rico is or is not a self-governing territory. On April 19, 1967, after to discussions, the question was tabled indefinitely, thus acquiescing to a US. motion that the question of Puerto Rico not be discussed by the Special Committee of 24.

That the independence forces seek is the right to self-determination which entails the transfer to Puerto Rico of the sovereignty it now lacks, Without any reservations from the authority of the United States Congress.

The Military

One of the results of the Jones Act was the beginning of the drafting of Puerto Rican youth in the armed services. Several years before the beginning of the Second World War, Puerto Rico became the seat of the Military Department of the Antilles and of the Tenth U.S. Naval District. Puerto Rico began to be the "Gibraltar of the Caribbean". Strategically located to serve as a base of operations for U.S. military action against any Latin American country, Puerto Rico wJas used as a base of operations against the Dominican Republic in 1965. Today, the US. military establishment maces use of human and natural resources for its own ends The U.S. armed forces for example, make unilateral decisions about the use of Puerto Rican territory and now control 14% of the arable land in Puerto Rico. The U.S. operates no less than nine important military bases. The US Armed forces have become the largest landlord, controlling roads, hospitals, ports and airport facilities, weather stations, waterways and other services.

The United States has expropriated 22,000 of the 33,000 acres of the island of Vieques, an integral part of Puerto Rico, once Puerto Rico's largest cattle rising center and producer of a good part of the meat for the main Island. There were two sugar mills on Vieques, which have since been moved to Santo Domingo. Agriculture has become so limited that most of the young people have migrated to the main island. All of the area .round Vieques is restricted and aircraft are instructed to keep within a certain distance of the island. Every year thousands of marines and army paratroopers practice landing operations and maneuvers. Claridad, a Puerto Rican newspaper, recently reported (Feb. 19, 1967) that U.S. Green Berets have occupied part of the rain forest preserve of Luquillo, Where they are being trained in counterinsurgency techniques against Latin American liberation movements as others have been trained for combat in Vietnam. Confirmation of this allegation was given by Lawrence Hill, of the U.S. Forest Service in Puerto Rico. He revealed that half of the reserve would be utilized for their maneuvers.

The compulsory military service, in existence since 1917, is beginning to be strongly resented by wide sections of the Puerto Rican people. During the Korean War, the only unit con nosed of Puerto Ricans was entirely wiped out. Today, while the Puerto Ricans compromise one per cent of the population of the United States, over 35% of the youth drafted by the Johnson administration are Puerto Rican. This does not include drafted Puerto Ricans who reside in the US, proper. On Sept. 23, 1966 (the 98th Anniversary of the first proclamation of the Republic of Puerto Rico), more than 700 Puerto Ricans signed a declaration affirming their refusal to serve in the armed forces of the U.S. under any circumstances. The law requiring Puerto Rican youth to serve is a test of the shaky foundation which defines the US.-Puerto Rican political relationships

The Economy

Puerto Rico is considered by protagonists of current U.S. foreign policy as the glowing example of an underdeveloped country executing a successful self-help program called "Operation Bootstrap," with integral US. co-operation. As a model for Development, it is of rime importance to examine closely . The Commonwealth government propaganda shows that the economy is the fastest growing in Latin America, that the annual gross national product has reached $2.65 billion (topped only Brazil and Argentina) and that the per capita income has been raised from $121 in 1940 to $900 in 1965. Actually, there has been very extensive infiltration of North American capital in every aspect of growth -- industry, commerce, and services. Whereas in 1929 U.S. capital invested as 27% of the total investment, and the Puerto Rican share was $73, this has now been reversed. Today about 80% of capital invested is U.S. and only 20% Puerto Rican. Far from having achieved economic autonomy, the declared government policy has resulted in a concentration of Puerto Rico's wealth and control outside of the island. In the past month the independence forces have tried to warn their fellow citizens that Puerto Rican mineral wealth in the form of rich copper veins is about to be given away to two of the world's largest mining companies -- American Metals Climax, Inc. and Kennecott Copper Corporation.

Puerto Rico is an investor's paradise because it offers 1) a ten year tax exemption for new companies, 2) a wage rate which is one-third that on the mainland, and, 3) a relatively unorganized labor force. Annual profits of the initial investment on the average run about 28%. The growing monopolization is also accompanied by inflation, affecting the price of land, housing, rent, clothing, transportation and food. Through the so-called "free" trade with the United States, Puerto Rico pays more for at least half the articles imported from the U.S. than they would pay in other markets and it sells goods exclusively to the U.S which might be sold for higher rices on the world market.

Even with the 1,100 manufacturing plants established under "Operation Bootstrap," the population still cannot support itself. Unemployment and public charity define the lives of a substantial proportion of the population. In January 1966, the Puerto Rican unemployment rate was up to 30% (according to H.C. Barton, Jr. Director of the Economic Council of Puerto Rico's House of Representatives), 5% above unemployment level in the U.S. during the great depression. Pearly a third of the population (700,000) receives surplus food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and some 446,466 people receive assistance from the Public Welfare Division. Behind the impressive figures of a new average annual family income of $2100, Herman Miller (El Imparcial, March 17-23, 1966) revealed that only one third of the families have incomes above the average; that the bottom fifth of the families survive on 2% of the national income ($400 a year), inile the top one fifth enjoy sixty per cent of the distributed income. One must add that close to one million Puerto Ricans have left Puerto Rico for the slums of the American cities in the past two decades in search of employment opportunities.

The MPI Mobilization

The small group of observers from the United States who participated in the April 16 rally in Puerto Rico were impressed by the numbers of people who turned out on April 16. It was the largest demonstration of support for independence since April 1965 when some 70.000 people turned out at the funeral of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, the nationalist leader. It belies the government hone that this movement will not row. It would be erroneous to suggest that these numbers represent more than a minority of the 2.6 million Puerto Ricans living on the island, but the demonstrations do indicate the potential strength of a nationalist sentiment. The largest proportion of those marching were under thirty. The youth constitute the greatest number of Puerto Ricans and it is they who feel the greatest dissatisfaction.

It is the youth who are asked to die in Vietnam and who bear the brunt of the unemployment and other deprivations created in the "developing" economy. It is with them that the hone for reshaping Puerto Rico's destiny lies.

Tags: Puerto Rico, statehood plebiscite, military draft, investment

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