i’m not Spanish, i’m Puerto Rican!

(or what people ought to know about Puerto Rico)

August 29 – September 23, 2011

as part of the September 23rd Cultural Resistance

Dedicated to those individuals who take up the long and hard task of self-education

            i do not claim to speak on behalf of Puerto Ricans, whether raised/living outside of Puerto Rico like myself, or raised/living in Puerto Rico as part of a population now outnumbered by Puerto Ricans living throughout the 50 U.S. states alone. i can only claim to speak on behalf of myself, and hope that what i share in writing is respectful to the process of liberation that all humanity, including Puerto Ricans, must engage in if they are to develop their capacity to ensure by themselves, as much as they can, their well-being, safety, and progress as people—and i mean this in both the individual and collective sense. By a process of liberation that ensures peace, i mean a process that allows people to not only learn about the things in the world that affect their lives, both human and of the larger environment, but to also learn how to take an active role in shaping the effects of these things on their lives. Liberation, in my sense, means both freeing oneself from a certain, usually oppressive, restraint, and freeing oneself in order to take on more active roles in society, roles that are independently taken up by people that find dignity in combining personal with community/global development. On an intellectual level, what i’m trying to get at is that the liberation of countries, and of their people, is not merely a political idea, but the result of a never-ending process where every person in society participates in building cultures within the larger human culture. This is a process of mutual support, where every person and people respects the freedom of every other person and people. Of course, in order for this process of mutual support to run smoothly, the ideals and ways of living of one person or people must not prevent another person or people from expressing their own ideals and ways of living. That is called oppression. When a person is denied their culture, that is an act of oppression that can make any person fired up with a spirit of resistance. This is why when i am called Spanish in my community i quickly fire back, “i’m not Spanish, i’m Puerto Rican!” And the same goes for many other Puerto Ricans, even when called American in some cases, even though the almost 4 million Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens and are also Latin American. A people’s culture is a people’s culture, and every one of them deserves respect and demands self-respect.

i respect myself as a Puerto Rican. Especially after studying Puerto Rican history to a certain degree, i have become proud of the spirit present in our history, the human spirit of freedom. i know that, though Puerto Rico is a colony in one sense, in many other senses the culture has resisted oppression enough to survive and thrive in a very strong way. My hope in this writing is to do many things in a brief time. i hope to give some general history of Puerto Rico and it’s people, and to present some ideas that people can think about and use to form their own views on the Puerto Rican culture and its future. The main thing i would like to stress right now to all reading, especially those who do not know much about Puerto Rico, is that Puerto Rico is not Spanish. It is not Spanish any more than it is African, Taíno (the native pre-Columbus people), or any other culture that throughout the country’s history has contributed ideas and customs in any number of ways. Puerto Rico is Puerto Rican, ever since it fully developed under Spanish colonial control, and through to this day after 113 years of U.S. colonial control. Puerto Rico is a small blip on the map, but it has a big lesson of resistance for the world, and it will continue to be a big support to the human process of liberation, for in many respects in terms of the issue of colonialism it has a large mountain to climb and strengthen from. My hope is that this writing supports the human struggle against oppression and for liberation. And to be clear, the liberation i support includes freedom for both societies and the individuals that make them up, and this kind of individual/collective freedom requires critical dialogue, not violence, as the foundation for conflict resolution, planning, and all other types of social activity. It is this process of critical dialogue that promotes solidarity and limits the want, or even need, of division, which promotes distrust and, ultimately, violence. In order to feel liberated one must experience the meaning of freedom for themselves, and this experience, this self-knowledge, cannot be granted or imposed on anyone. At the same time, in order to understand oneself as a unique person, the unique identity of other people must be respected and understood as well, because there can be no “I” without a “You”. Thus, people are truly free when their freedom is recognized within the freedom of all others. i hope this writing supports this process of learning and mutual teaching, for that is what it is.

Where Is Puerto Rico?

Although Puerto Rico is often thought of as an island, it is actually a group of many islands—it is an archipelago. The largest island, known as Puerto Rico, contains all but about 10,000 of the 4 million members of the population who otherwise reside in the smaller islands of Vieques and Culebra, both off the east coast of Puerto Rico.[1] Two other islands of the Puerto Rican archipelago are Mona, an island off the western coast east of the Dominican Republic with a residence of park rangers that conduct research and manage visitors, and Viejo/Old San Juan, the historic colonial district considered a part of the main island of Puerto Rico and where today the supreme court, governor’s mansion, in addition to churches, museums, and other tourist venues can be found. These groups of islands known as Puerto Rico are located on the northeastern edge of the Caribbean. This location in the Caribbean, as i will briefly explain, has come with both pros and cons.

Throughout the Caribbean there is an abundance of animal and plant life, and while the Caribbean lies in the tropical region of the Western Hemisphere, the weather one experiences can vary depending on your location. To use Puerto Rico as an example, roughly 240 plant species alone are endemic (unique) to Puerto Rico, 26 of which are found only in the El Yunque National Forest near the eastern coast of the main island. In addition, there are 16 endemic bird species, and 40 endemic amphibian/reptile species. Like most islands, most of the mammal population in Puerto Rico is non-native, 13 species of bat making up the entire native mammal population on land, with human-introduced horses, cattle, dogs, cats, and, more recently, macaques, making up the rest of this population. Perhaps the most popular of all the animals in Puerto Rico is a tree frog, known as the Coquí for the sound they make, that consists of 17 different species, the most recent of which was scientifically discovered in 2005. Off the coasts of Puerto Rico, however, there is a greater diversity of mammals that include manatees, dolphins, and whales, including the Humpback whale species that breed in these waters during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter. These waters off the coast of Puerto Rico include three main habitats known as mangroves, reefs, and seagrasses, where some 670+ fish species can be found in addition to more than 20 species of shark. Needless to say, the diversity of animal life (non-mammal in particular) on the lands of Puerto Rico are consistent with the diversity found on other islands, with a number of species being unique to Puerto Rico. Animal life in the surrounding waters is also consistent with the entire Caribbean region, whose tropical temperatures support such diversity. Plant life on Puerto Rico and in surrounding waters is equally diverse owing to the tropical environment. Together, the flora and fauna of Puerto Rico make it a site of considerable biodiversity, making it no surprise that a number of the small islands, such as Desecheo, and regions of Puerto Rico are protected as part of conservation efforts, and respected as part of the Puerto Rican natural experience.[2]

Despite rare tragic events that might have taken place in Puerto Rico’s history, not to mention the prevalence of insects such as mosquitoes that may carry diseases, the flora and fauna of Puerto Rico has largely helped in providing food, shelter, and pride to the Puerto Rican people—pride as is the case with the Coquí that is considered a national symbol. All of those benefits provided by the natural environment are due mostly to Puerto Rico’s location in the tropical region of the Caribbean, with a considerable support from those introductions made by humans. The location of Puerto Rico, however, has also had tragic consequences owing to natural occurrences experienced in the Caribbean. The most common natural occurrence that one may experience are the hurricanes that begin in the Atlantic Ocean and travel westward. These hurricanes, once revered by the Caribbean’s native people as a force of nature they named huracan, are fierce tropical storms that have a number of times devastated Puerto Rico and it’s people. In 1899, for example, Puerto Rico experienced the longest-lived Atlantic hurricane of recorded history, which sustained tropical storm strength winds or greater for 28 days. While as a hurricane it did much damage to Puerto Rico over the two-day period of August 8-9, the incredible 28 days of rain that came after caused extreme flooding that destroyed much of the crops that were developed. In addition, up to 3,400 are estimated to have been killed, and thousands left without food, shelter, or work. That hurricane is known as the 1899 San Ciriaco hurricane. The next hurricane of comparable strength was the San Felipe Segundo hurricane of 1929, in which 300 are said to have died in addition to hundreds of thousands being left homeless after the category 5 storm system. Despite this inevitable occurrence of hurricanes, Puerto Rico experiences an average temperature of 80 degrees in its lower elevations, and 70 degrees in the higher elevations of the mountains that cover much of the central region of the main island. Mountains make up about 60% of Puerto Rico’s land and are concentrated east to west along the center of the island, while coastal plains lined with beaches and a karst region in the north with cenotes, sinkholes, and caves account for much of the rest of Puerto Rico’s land.

A second extreme threat Puerto Ricans face from their environment is due to their location on the Caribbean tectonic plate. Just north of Puerto Rico lies the Puerto Rico Trench, an area marked by the boundary of the eastward moving Caribbean plate and the westward moving North American plate. As these plates move against each other, at depths that reach the deepest points in the Atlantic ocean (8,000 metres/26,247 ft), earthquakes can occur, which then can produce tsunamis. In Puerto Rico’s recorded history, there have been 4 strong earthquakes, in 1670, 1787, 1867, and 1918. The earthquake of October 11, 1918, which also produced a tsunami that reached up to 20 feet in height, resulted in about 116 deaths as well as 4 million dollars of damage. Along with hurricanes, these earthquakes are the major natural threat to the people of Puerto Rico, and, just like the flora and fauna of the islands, they both are due to the particular location of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. The more specific location in the Caribbean that Puerto Rico is located in is called the Greater Antilles, which is also comprised of the islands of Cuba, Haiti/Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. While Puerto Rico is a Caribbean nation, it is at the same time an Antillean nation. Even more, it is also a Latin American nation. This fact connects Puerto Rico not only with others in the Caribbean, but also with others in all of the Americas south of the U.S.A. This cultural fact is important to understanding the Puerto Rican people’s culture, for it is a unique result achieved through the Latin American experience that began when Spain first colonized lands in the Americas in 1492.

The endangered Puerto Rican Parrot

Grass Coqui

Coral Reef off Puerto Rico’s coast

A view of the mountain town of Utuado

1899 San Ciriaco Hurricane

Hurricane Georges, 1998

Earthquake in Puerto Rico, 2010

What Is Puerto Rico?

So what is Puerto Rico? Is it Caribbean? Is it Antillean? Or is it Latin American? The honest answer is that it is all of these. The more careful answer, of course, is that Puerto Rico is Puerto Rican. Now, when i say the more “careful” answer, i not only mean the more obvious answer, but i also mean the more culturally sensitive answer, for after all, the people of Puerto Rico have a cultural identity with a uniqueness not found anywhere else. This identity, the history that produced it, and the fact of Puerto Rico being a specific geographic territory, is what gives us the ability to say, irrefutably, “Puerto Rico is a nation.” The seeds for this identity were first planted in the Puerto Rican soil at some unknown time during the first settlement of people who came from the Orinoco River area in South America around the year 2000B.C. A second settlement of people, also from the Orinoco River area, began around the year 500B.C. While these two historic settlements are understood today only through archaeological evidence, the third and final of the large settlements of Puerto Rico, that began on November 19, 1493 with the arrival of Spanish colonialists who eventually brought other Europeans as well as Africans, is understood through a number of perspectives and was the final catalyst for the process that would create the Puerto Rican identity. As briefly as i can, i want to now elaborate on this process, to give importance to the initial formation of a unique Taíno culture in Puerto Rico and to explain the position that colonialism has forced the Puerto Rican identity into.

As was just stated, the first people to settle in Puerto Rico did so beginning around the year 2000B.C. It is known through archaeological evidence that these people came from the Orinoco region of South America, making their way north up the Lesser Antilles island chain starting from Trinidad when it was still connected by lower sea levels to the mainland. Evidence supports that they almost only inhabited the coastal areas, suggesting that their population size was considerably small. Although less is known about this, it is also suggested that by the year 1000B.C. these first inhabitants of Puerto Rico were not only firmly settled, but had long established a frontier with people west of Puerto Rico who had begun inhabiting the two larger islands of Hispañola and Cuba beginning around the year 4000B.C. from their origins believed to be in the Yucatan region of Central America. It is uncertain how much these two people[3] interacted, but there are archaeological sites with artifacts from both cultures, proving that there was exchange between them. Nevertheless, the culture each group represented was clearly not native to the islands they came to inhabit, and it was not until many years later, beginning around the year 600A.D., that a distinct form of social relationships (not to mention new art forms) began to take on the characteristics that we describe as Taíno today. The people that underwent this transformation, supported by their island environment, were mainly the descendents of a third group of people that constituted a second wave of settlers from South America as early as 500B.C.

This third group of people to settle in the Caribbean are known as the Saladoids. These people began settling the islands of the Lesser Antilles and made their way to the Greater Antilles, beginning around the year 500B.C. Very little is known about their interactions with the existing inhabitants of the islands, but what is known is that this new group of people, for the first time in the Caribbean, brought with them the technologies of pottery and agriculture. It is not known whether the Saladoids drove out the previous inhabitants, incorporated them, or coexisted with them, but archaeologists suggest that each, to different degrees, may have taken place. Nevertheless, while archaeologists maintain the survival of certain aspects of each people’s culture, the Saladoids are believed to have replaced the Ortoiroids, and to have pushed back to the western-half of Cuba the archaic Casimiroids. During this long process, which lasted until about 900A.D., Saladoid culture began to evolve locally through the influence of the environment and what cultural aspects they integrated from the previous inhabitants.

The years 600-1200A.D. are believed to be when the distinct Taíno culture was produced in the Caribbean. It is during these years that a greater sophistication of settlement has been observed, where smaller autonomous villages began to ally themselves into the larger regional communities that would persist and grow into the time of Columbus in 1492. It is estimated that some of these groupings could contain as many as 100 or more villages with a combined population in the tens of thousands. A unique social and spiritual life was firmly in place by the turn of the first millennium A.D., with communities being built around ancient burial mounds that later became the sites of ceremonial plazas and ball courts, which seem to be first created in Puerto Rico. By the time of Columbus and the Spanish colonialists, the people of the Caribbean had virtually formed a new civilization, with its own myths and creation stories, that had a considerable amount of cultural diversity within its territory. For example, Taíno on Hispañola and Puerto Rico are commonly referred to as the classic Taíno, with two other groups of Taíno being referred to as Western and Eastern Taíno. The main difference between the classic Taíno and the two others is the prevalence of ceremonial plazas and ball courts, and especially the stone collars associated with the ball games, in their areas, in comparison to the relative absence of these things in western and eastern locations where a more ceramic-based culture persisted.

The evolution in the Caribbean of the Taíno people is of great importance for Puerto Rican history, not to mention for the history of the other Caribbean islands. Possibly the largest influence the Taíno has had on the Puerto Rican people is in the survival of names for locations, items, and other experiences. The spirit of the hurricane, called huracan, was well known; El Yunque rainforest derives its name from the Taíno; tobaco, the Taíno word for cigar, became a prized commodity; and even the word Boriken, the name the Taíno gave the island and its inhabitants, is used to this day. More importantly, the ancestry and memory of the Taíno continue in the present population of Puerto Rico. This is because when the Spanish first colonized the Caribbean in 1492, Puerto Rico in 1493, they did not bring women with them—rape of the native women became an occurrence, as did consensual relationships, however uncommon those might have been. In terms of the current struggle of Puerto Rico against colonialism and for freedom, it was the Taíno who really began this struggle. Descendants of the process whereby the Caribbean was inhabited (from around 4000B.C. to about 1200A.D. when a Taíno culture was distinct), which included a kind of colonization process when the Saladoids displaced the Ortoiroids beginning around 500B.C., the Taíno survived the brutal colonialism of the Spanish. Although their language did not survive in whole, as was the fate of their culture, their humanity was kept intact by those who later came to live in Puerto Rico and who supported the long process of developing a second distinct island culture, one that would be known as Puerto Rican.

As i have hinted, when the Spanish colonialists arrived to settle Puerto Rico in 1493, they came with a clear plan from the Spanish crown to take control of the lands for Spain, and to convert what natives they could to Christianity. From the Taíno perspective, there were mixed reactions and probably a corresponding number of views as to how to welcome the newcomers. One thing that is certain is that very quickly the Spanish, by order of their government, set up a system of enslaving the natives, called repartimiento, that became the basis for forcing the natives to mine for golds, dive for pearls, and otherwise do the labor Spanish colonialists preferred not to do themselves. This system, along with diseases brought by the Spanish, resulted in the almost complete decimation of the native population, to the point where writers of history, until recent decades, claimed the native population became extinct. We know that this is not true, for many natives fled their villages and became maroons within the islands’ interiors.[4] This population of Taíno, as well as all others that rebelled, especially after the 1511 drowning in Añasco, Puerto Rico of a Spanish soldier that served as a test of their immortality, became the first defenders of the unique identity that was created in Puerto Rico. As they fled to the mountains, and as their numbers shrank by way of disease, fatal work exhaustion, and suicide, the Spanish found themselves in need of more slaves for the labor they required in order to exploit riches for the Spanish crown. This influenced the Spanish to introduce the slave labor of Africans to the Caribbean, expanding the already existing slave trade initiated by the Portuguese beyond Europe and Africa. By this time there were already Spaniards, notably Bartolome de las Casas, who had spoke out against the mistreatment, the genocide as las Casas called it, of the Taíno. No doubt there were likely individuals who later spoke out against the slavery of Taíno and African alike, but nevertheless, the place for Africans in Puerto Rico would become either the plantation, or the mountains, where they would join Taíno maroons in the struggle for freedom, defined by a process of liberation that at that point mainly consisted of becoming a maroon and creating a self-determined society.

It is not my intention to elaborate too much on this history. What i do want to stress is how the Puerto Rican culture, and nation, came to be. From 1493, when the first Spanish settlement on Puerto Rico was established, until 1898, when the U.S.A militarily invaded and occupied Puerto Rico[5], the territory was under complete Spanish control. As just explained in the previous paragraph, the remaining members of the Taíno population, joined with escaped African slaves and probably other poor or sympathetic Europeans, had great reasons to resist the Spanish colonial enterprise that decimated their languages and cultures. Because the Spanish crown favored its Spanish residents, it should seem as no surprise that they would also favor Spanish-born subjects in Puerto Rico, which would then translate to a disfavor and oppression of native-born subjects in Puerto Rico, regardless of race, though race still played a certain role. As the native-born Puerto Rican population inevitably developed an identity based on their unique experiences in Puerto Rico, an identity that integrated the remnants of the Taíno language and culture and that has traces of existence by the 1700’s, they also developed the cultural divide between themselves and Spain. As this divide grew, the self-identity of Puerto Ricans grew, until finally a uniquely Puerto Rican spirit, the synthesis of various Taíno, African, and European roots, began to take shape. From this beginning of the Puerto Rican spirit, the Taíno legacy of anti-colonial struggle is very clear through the carrying over of this tradition by native-born Puerto Ricans that began to see their interests as not aligned with those of Spain. While the presence of anti-colonial and pro-independence views increased over time, very little organization occurred on a scale that might challenge the control of Spain over the territory, until the 1860’s.

It was on September 23, 1868, as the story goes, that the Puerto Rican nation was born—it’s father was Ramón Emeterio Betances, and the revolutionary struggle that he led was undoubtedly it’s mother. On that day, anywhere up to 600 people, mostly Creoles, rose up in arms in revolt against Spanish colonialism. This event is known as El Grito de Lares because it was in the mountain municipality of Lares that the independent Republic of Puerto Rico was proclaimed in unison with the unfurling of a newly designed revolutionary flag, knitted by Mariana Bracetti. Unfortunately, the leader of the revolution, Dr. Ramón Emeterio Betances, had sent a ship with reinforcements, including weapons, that was seized by the Spanish before it could reach its destination. In addition, the leaders of the revolutionary cell in the town of Camuy, where the revolution was supposed to begin, were arrested just over a week before the rebels had planned to begin the revolt. These arrests led the rebels to move up the revolt to an earlier date, which, combined with the loss of reinforcements, produced the tactical failure of the revolt. Nevertheless, the revolutionary Republic of Puerto Rico lasted in Lares for about a week, with Spanish authorities finally claiming complete victory over the rebellion on October 10, 1868. By that time some 475 rebels had been captured and imprisoned in Arecibo where they were all later given a death sentence but later released in 1869 when the prisoners were given amnesty. Although a tactical failure, the strategy of resisting colonialism to obtain independence did not fail, for the impact of El Grito de Lares was felt all over the island and resulted in a heightened consciousness on behalf of native-born Puerto Ricans. It was on the day of that revolt that Puerto Ricans proclaimed, “We are Puerto Rican”, and made very clear that a mature political identity had been developed after more than a century of having fully developed a unique cultural identity. After that point, the Puerto Rican culture became fully aware of itself, rising in arms to obtain the dignity of self-government.

El Grito de Lares was a great turning point in the history of the people of Puerto Rico. As already stated, it is when the culture that had been developed through a synthesis of Taíno, European, and African roots openly declared it’s desire to determine the nature and destiny of their reality by rising up in arms against Spanish colonialism and for political independence. Worth noting is the fact that the leader of el Grito, Betances, had written the year before a proclamation he titled “The 10 Commandments of Free Men.” The first on this list is the abolition of slavery. This first commandment puts Betances, and el Grito, within the historical tradition of struggle begun by the Africans who rebelled against Spain with the Taíno. For this reason, it is clear from the start that the Puerto Rican culture, its identity, is closely tied to the spirit of resistance that existed from the beginning of what became the Puerto Rican society. El Grito followed a historic trajectory and was not a shot in the dark. The nation that was to be formed, the Republic of Puerto Rico, had its own flag[6], a national anthem penned by Lola Rodriguez de Tió, and a number of official positions such as president, minister of the interior, minister of the state, minister of the treasury, etc. To state it once more, though the rebellion was a tactical failure, it was a major success in that it firmly set the example of anti-colonial resistance, of the revolutionary spirit, in the people. In the years following el Grito de Lares, before the U.S. occupation in 1898, there were smaller pro-independence protests and skirmishes with Spanish authorities in Las Marías, Adjuntas, Utuado, Vieques, Bayamón, Ciales, Toa Baja, and Yauco.

The event that later took place in Yauco in 1897 deserves a brief mention for its importance. In this event, known as the Intentona de Yauco, the second and last of the major anti-colonial revolts under Spanish rule, some 150 rebels were arrested after a couple days of revolt. While noteworthy because of this, the Intentona de Yauco is also remembered as that event which saw for the first time the current flag of Puerto Rico unfurled on its land. This flag, designed after the Cuban flag, was created for use in the Republic of Puerto Rico the rebels wished to create. Developed in 1892 New York, this flag was the initiative of Puerto Rican exiles that had formed a Puerto Rican committee within the Cuban Revolutionary Party that was also based in New York. The revolt in Yauco was quickly stopped by Spanish authorities, with one reason once again being the fact of having to move up the date of the revolt due to snitches compromising the safety of its leaders. Clearly, the independence movement did not achieve a level of organization secure enough to ensure a successful anti-colonial revolution. Having faced a number of disheartening setbacks beginning with el Grito de Lares, the stage was set for the invasion and occupation of Puerto Rico by the U.S.A. after the Spanish-American war.

Besides the presence of revolutionary cells and organizations, the struggle for independence also took place in the political arena. Politics in Puerto Rico, on the eve of the U.S. occupation and up to now, was dominated by three tendencies. One tendency was obviously independence, another was for full incorporation into Spain, and a third for an autonomous relationship with Spain that gave Puerto Ricans increased local government. The autonomous movement, interestingly, became a movement participated in by members of all three of these tendencies, with some autonomists favoring eventual independence, others eventual incorporation into Spain, and yet others for a permanent autonomous relationship with Spain. This fact is the result of the Puerto Rican people being overwhelmed by the powerful politics of Spain and realizing the strength there is in unity. While the future political reality of Puerto Rico was not agreed on, it was agreed that the colonial status of Puerto Rico must at the very least be changed. This movement achieved its aim, an autonomous government of Puerto Rico (still under Spanish control), in the months before the U.S. occupation. Thus, when Puerto Rico was invaded in 1898, it had a complex system of politics in existence that had a long formational process.

The politicians of Puerto Rico would then adjust their tendencies to reflect the new colonial rulers. The three general tendencies remained, but this time with one of the three supporting the annexation of Puerto Rico to the U.S. as a state. Some Puerto Ricans welcomed the U.S. as those who helped remove Spanish sovereignty from Puerto Rico, while others welcomed them because of the rhetoric the invading military commanders used to quiet down the roused up public. Nevertheless, the independence sector continued its activities, albeit in small bands, with a notable resistor to be found in José Maldonado Román, who led a band of rebels that continued their attacks on wealthy Spanish plantation owners in addition to harassing the new U.S. military authorities. He is considered a folk hero by many and was given the nickname “Aguila Blanca.” As politicians maneuvered their ideologies in response to the new rulers and with the intention of reestablishing a following, it was these small acts of resistance that continued the pro-independence tradition. It would not be for a number of decades that the independence movement would reassert itself to the new rulers as a force to be reckoned with, a force with a following and history that is directly tied to the identity of the Puerto Rican culture.[7] As i will now briefly outline, this failure to achieve independence through revolution, and the consequences these failures entailed, are the main reasons why Puerto Rico remains a colony under U.S. control today.

Ceremonial ball court (Batey) in Caguana, Puerto Rico

Taíno stone collar worn during ball games

Statue depiction of Taíno drowning colonialist Diego Salcedo

Arturo Schomburg, self-described Afroborinqueño who pioneered the research/study of African descendants in the Americas

Dr. Ramón Emeterio Betances, father of the nation, leader of El Grito de Lares

Mariana Bracetti and the revolutionary flag of Puerto Rico raised in Lares

La Intentona de Yauco, where the current Puerto Rican flag was first raised

Commemoration of El Grito de Lares, East Harlem, NY, 2010

Why Is Puerto Rico A Territory And Not A U.S. State?

If it is not already clear why Puerto Rico continues to be a colonial territory, i will now in this section give an explanation according to my own understanding. The main reason why the U.S. was reluctant to give Puerto Rico independence was, and is, because it has a number of benefits to be gained by controlling it as a colony. These benefits became intensified at the start of World War I when the strategic location of Puerto Rico from a military perspective was realized. Of course another reason for wanting to control Puerto Rico was because of its possibility to act as a source of labor for U.S. companies eager to increase and/or expand its production. The fact of Puerto Rico having a different culture and language not only influenced the U.S. to immediately begin an “Americanization” project, but also to announce the racist rhetoric that would prevent U.S. politicians from seriously considering the annexation of Puerto Rico to the U.S. as a state. These are obvious answers to the question of why Puerto Rico continues to be a colonial territory and has not achieved independence, let alone statehood. However, this is not what i would like to elaborate on. Instead, i would like to focus on what prevented the native independence movement of Puerto Rico from achieving its historical objective of successful anti-colonial revolution.

Under Spanish colonialism, pro-independence revolts were aggressively stopped, and any pro-independence sentiment was seen as treason against the Spanish government. Also having an interest in maintaining Puerto Rico as a colony, the U.S. acted no differently. From the very beginning, any assertion of the Puerto Rican culture was seen as a political threat by the U.S. to their rule. It goes without saying that those bandits and rebels seen or thought to be attacking U.S. interests were imprisoned if not killed. In fact, the flag of Puerto Rico, the current flag for the island, the creation of independence supporters, was outlawed during the first 54 years of the occupation, and anyone seen displaying it was subject to punishment. There was no hope for successful revolution in the early years, the revolutionary movement having been defeated at Lares and Yauco, and being forced to disperse, go underground, and even experience exile. For years the forces of independence would regroup and restrategize, and there was not much large-scale activity by them. The reawakening of the Puerto Rican revolutionary spirit seems to have been completed in earnest by the arrival of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos as the president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party in 1930. A Harvard law educated man of color born about five years before the 1898 U.S. invasion, Albizu Campos would experience racial discrimination in the U.S. army, being honorably discharged with the rank of First Lieutenant in 1919, then go on to join the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party in 1924, quickly becoming its vice president.

As leader of the Nationalist Party, Albizu Campos turned it into the vanguard organization advocating independence in Puerto Rico. The radicalism he and the party became known for had its influence in the repression handed out by the U.S. to those who resisted its rule. For example, after the imposition of English as the mandatory language of instruction in schools shortly after the invasion, teachers, students, parents, and even politicians put up resistance. This resulted, during the years 1913-1915, in a number of student strikes that resulted in many children, including pre-teens, being arrested and even given life expulsion. Another example can be found after the imposition of U.S. citizenship in 1917, which the U.S. used to enforce a system of compulsory military recruitment of Puerto Ricans into the then First World War. This resulted in the imprisonment of over 200 Puerto Ricans that were opposed to their compulsory recruitment. It was in this climate, in 1922, that the Nationalist Party was first founded, and it was in this climate that Albizu Campos strengthened his passion for the independence of Puerto Rico from the tyranny of U.S. colonialism. Albizu Campos recognized the process of criminalizing the Puerto Rican resistance to colonialism, and so he began to speak out with greater energy and with a stronger focus on the mission that would be undertaken by the party. After becoming the party’s president in 1930, he began his emphasis on supporting the values of courage and sacrifice in the context of the anti-colonial struggle.

Albizu Campos and the Nationalist Party entered, for their first and last time, into the 1932 colonial elections. Even though the party was not victorious, it was clear in any case that the Nationalist Party was going to focus its influence outside of the colonial administration, influencing instead the people directly by organizing them and raising their consciousness. Albizu Campos, as a speaker, was perfect for this task, and was later given the nickname ‘el maestro’ for his ability to bring out a sense of self-awareness and duty in the people. His influence was irrefutable, and in 1933 and 1934 he was chosen independently by workers to be their representative during a strike against the Puerto Rico Railway and Light and Power Company, and then against the U.S. sugar industry. His leadership led to a couple of successful general strikes throughout the island, but unfortunately he was unable to really connect these workers’ movements with the Nationalist movement in support of independence. Nevertheless, Albizu Campos served his role, continued his independence propaganda as an effective and respected speaker, and asserted his position as leader of the Puerto Rican resistance movement. This would lead, in 1935, to the Chief of Puerto Rican Police, Colonel Francis Riggs, ordering a police operation that would result in the shooting deaths of four Nationalists conducting a meeting on the University of Puerto Rico campus in Río Piedras. From this point on, members of the Nationalist Party faced extreme repression that included imprisonment and death.

After what became known as the Río Piedras Massacre, Albizu Campos and the Nationalist Party called for a boycott of every election held under U.S. colonial rule. Seeking justice for the cold murders of their fellow Nationalists, Hiram Rosado and Elias Beauchamp assassinated Colonel Riggs the next year in 1936. Immediately captured on the scene of the assassination, they were both taken to police headquarters where they were executed by police without trial. Soon after, the U.S. Federal Court in San Juan ordered the arrest of Albizu Campos and several other Nationalists for seditious conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government in Puerto Rico. In another case of injustice, a jury of ten Americans and two Puerto Ricans found the defendants guilty, only after a second trial was called for by the judge who was not satisfied with the initial 7 to 5 not guilty verdict achieved by a jury of seven Puerto Ricans and five Americans. The next year, in 1937, a second massacre took place when a peaceful protest organized by the Nationalist Party in Ponce resulted in 19 deaths and over 200 injuries when police opened fire on the unarmed protestors. This number includes two police officers that were killed by the uncontrolled police fire. With their leader Albizu Campos in jail, along with several other high-ranking members of the Nationalist Party, the Puerto Rican independence movement went into a stage of temporary decline. Acts of resistance persisted, with many Nationalists being imprisoned, but this resistance was largely unorganized, much of it being destruction of government property the most common being U.S. post office boxes.

While the 1930’s saw the deadliest repression by colonial authorities against the independence movement, led by the Nationalist Party, repression in general did not cease in the 40’s. What really persisted was the specific targeting of Nationalists for imprisonment. Many were imprisoned for resisting the military draft, with about 48 Nationalists being arrested for this reason between 1940 and 1945, and another six in 1948.[8] From 1941 to 1943, seven protestors not associated with the Nationalist Party were arrested for resisting the draft and threatening the judge that sentenced the most people to jail for resisting the draft. The last of the major arrests of the 1940’s was when 5 of the 1948 student strike leaders were expelled from the University of Puerto Rico, charged, and sentenced to two months in jail for causing disturbances. That same year a law was passed that would come into full use for the 1950’s wave of repression. Known as the Gag Law, it would be used to imprison individuals for merely expressing anti-government remarks, whether through writing or words. More than just another means to repress the Puerto Rican revolutionary movement, the Gag Law was a deliberate effort to silence the Nationalist Party, whose leader had returned to Puerto Rico in 1947 after having been in jail since 1937, shortly before the Ponce Massacre. His return, and the support he regained for the Nationalist Party, was seen as an immediate threat to the colonial regime, and so the law was put into place in the event that Nationalist fervor got out of control.

To little surprise, and despite being tortured in jail by means of radiation experimentation, Albizu Campos returned with an incredible resolve to undo the setbacks faced by the independence movement after the more than 13 years of deliberate repression and murder of Nationalists by the U.S. government. Even before his first arrest in 1937, Albizu Campos had begun the Nationalist tradition of honoring its martyrs and heroes, especially those from El Grito de Lares, who under Albizu Campos had come to symbolize the courage and sacrifice necessary to free the Puerto Rican nation from colonialism. Honoring the Lares revolutionaries every September 23, it was on that day in 1950, in Lares, that Don Pedro would make one of his most passionate speeches, one that really spoke to the outrage Puerto Ricans felt towards the actions of the United States. The pain in his speech is felt throughout, for example when he says, “One cannot give a speech easily while this tyrant has the power to tear the sons right out of the hearts of Puerto Rican mothers to send to Korea, into hell to be killed, to be the murderers of innocent Koreans, to die covering a front for the yanqui enemies of our country, to return insane to our own people.” Filled with passion, Albizu Campos cited the fact of the illegal cession of the autonomous government of Puerto Rico by Spain to the United States, saying, “…and here the yanquis have been at war 52-years against the Puerto Rican nation, and have never acquired the right of anything in Puerto Rico, nor is there any legal government in Puerto Rico, and that is uncontestable, one would have to knock to pieces all the international rights of the world, all the political rights of the world, to validate the invasion of the U.S. in Puerto Rico and the present military occupation of our national territory.” Clearly, the so-called Gag Law was not stopping Don Pedro from speaking out against the injustice of colonialism. If anything, the Gag Law served to further enrage and strengthen the determination of the freedom loving people in Puerto Rico. On the eve of a piece of legislation that in 1952 would reestablish the colony by giving it a new name, turning it into a so-called Commonwealth government whose ultimate powers still resided in the U.S. Congress—a law that would “draw a blind over despotism”—Don Pedro ended his speech stating, “all this has to be defied, only as the men of Lares defied despotism, with the revolution.”

Not long after his speech on September 23, 1950, on October 30, Don Pedro’s call to revolution was answered. This uprising, as it is commonly called, is the most important collective act in support of Puerto Rican independence since the Grito de Lares of 1868. While i can easily devote some length to writing about it, i will instead stay focused on using events in Puerto Rican history to help explain why Puerto Ricans have not yet achieved their independence through revolution. This uprising of 1950 actually took place in a number of towns throughout the island, but was most notable in the mountain town of Jayuya. It was in Jayuya that a women named Blanca Canales led a group of Nationalists into town where they burned down the post office and cut telephone lines, Canales then leading them to the town square where she raised the [second] revolutionary flag of Puerto Rico, made a speech, and declared, for the second time in history, the Free Republic of Puerto Rico. They engaged in small battles with the police who were later reinforced by the U.S. National Guard, who attacked the town by air with bombs[9] and on land with artillery. Despite this, the rebels held Jayuya for three days. A second uprising occurred in Utuado, where some 32 Nationalists fought against the police. After being reduced to 12 men, they retreated to a house that was then attacked by planes using 50 caliber machine guns. The nine men who survived were taken into custody by the National Guard who first took them to the town plaza to be humiliated by being stripped of their clothes, then to the police station to be lined up and gunned down. Only five survived, and those with serious wounds, in what became known as the Utuado Massacre. A third location of the uprising was in the capital of San Juan, where there were attempted attacks on the U.S. Federal Court House and the governor’s mansion known as La Fortaleza. With uprisings also occurring in Peñuelas, Mayagüez, Naranjito, Arecibo, Ponce, and elsewhere, the Revolution of 1950 would result in the death of over 20 Nationalists. In the period immediately following the uprising, over 1,000 individuals were arrested, mostly Nationalists but also including other independence supporters and communists that were simply rounded up. The Nationalists received the harshest sentences, some receiving up to 400 years. In addition, 67 other individuals were arrested for specifically violating the Gag Law put into effect in 1948. After this insurrection there were two final large protests by Puerto Rican Nationalists trying to bring attention to the issue of colonialism in their country, the November 1, 1950 insurrection-related attempt in Washington on the life of then president Harry Truman, and the March 1, 1954 shooting in the House of Representatives chamber.

Above i have purposely focused on the repression of Nationalists during their time under the leadership of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, who would be arrested during the 1950 revolution and again after the 1954 U.S. capitol shooting, subjected to further torture, finally passing away, a martyr, in 1965. There are a few reasons for doing this. First of all, the Nationalist Party under Albizu Campos represented the resurgence/continuity of the revolutionary spirit that produced El Grito de Lares in 1868, which defined and cemented the Puerto Rican cultural and national identity. Second of all, the party was the first major source of anti-colonial resistance under the new U.S. colonial regime, in a time after the activists and politicians of the island seem to have accustomed to the specifics of this new regime. Third of all, the repression the party faced, as the vanguard of the independence movement, clearly shows the policy of repression that was designed and put to use by the U.S. authorities. Thus, between 1898 and 1958, hundreds of Puerto Ricans were jailed for political reasons, countless others killed, forced into exile or hiding, and even into abandoning the historic revolutionary movement for the freedom of Puerto Rico. Resisting the draft, facing harassment, resisting the cultural domination of English-only policies in schools, surviving the economic hardships produced by colonial monopolies, all led to the weakening of the Puerto Rican revolutionary movement’s ability to complete their historic mission. Again, my purpose was not to focus on why the U.S. has not granted independence to Puerto Rico, for those reasons are clear, as are the reasons as to why Puerto Ricans have not been able to achieve independence through the colonial political system. Instead, i focused on outlining the repression the independence movement, spearheaded by the Nationalist Party, faced. This repression, at different times and in different ways, took away the influential leaders in support of independence that could have successfully educated and organized the Puerto Rican people to lead a victorious revolution, achieving their liberation. The fact is, then and ever since, the U.S. has had a clear policy of neutralizing leaders and preventing revolutionary groups from getting themselves off the ground.

Later murders of activists by police and government agents would include Antonia Martínez Lagares (March 4, 1970), Angel Luis Chavonnier and Eddie Ramos (January 11, 1975), Santiago Mari Pesquera (March 24, 1976), Juan Rafael Caballero (October 13, 1977), Carlos Soto Arriví and Arnaldo Darío Rosado (July 25, 1978), Carlos Muñiz Varela (April 28, 1979), Angel Rodríguez Cristóbal (November 11, 1979), and most recently Filiberto Ojeda Ríos (September 23, 2005). Other leaders of the independence movement would pass away in their older age, such as Juan Antonio Corretjer (January 19, 1985), and the more recent Lolita Lebron (August 1, 2010) and Juan Mari Bras (September 10, 2010). Yet other participants in the struggle would face incarceration for a number of years: 14 members of the U.S.-based FALN would be imprisoned from their capture in the early 80’s until 1999, except for 3 who were not given immediate release, 1 of which, Oscar Lopez Rivera, remains in prison today; 14 members of the Puerto Rico-based Macheteros would be arrested in a massive operation in 1985, and after two were charged with seditious conspiracy they were released in 2004.[10] Nevertheless, U.S. repression continues, most notably through the use of the federal grand jury, with another two members of the Macheteros being captured in 2008 and earlier this year. Today, there are thus 3 recognized Puerto Rican political prisoners in U.S. jails.

Clearly, the policies of repression enforced by Spanish and then U.S. authorities succeeded in neutralizing certain leaders and in generally slowing down the revolutionary movement for independence in Puerto Rico. From the start, any display of cultural assertiveness was criminalized, showing the understanding U.S. authorities seemed to have of the connection between the Puerto Rican cultural identity and the spirit of the revolutionary struggle for liberation. The granting of independence or statehood was never a goal of the U.S., because the people are too foreign to incorporate, and because the benefits to be gained from Puerto Rico are too great. By repressing the revolutionary movement, the U.S. was able to maintain its colonial grip and continue extracting profit from the island and its people. In this colonial context of repression, it was too difficult for the movement, and the Nationalist Party, to gather the support it needed to achieve liberation. This continues to be the case to this day, for although Puerto Rico is not free, there still exists a revolutionary movement in addition to a more general movement for independence. This will likely continue to be the case for as long as Puerto Rico remains, politically, a colony. The important point to stress here is that even after hundreds of years of Spanish colonialism, and, up to now, 113 years of U.S. colonialism, the Puerto Rican culture retains its distinct identity. As long as this identity exists, as long as there is a Puerto Rican culture and people, there will continue to be movements for Puerto Rico’s independence, not only because self-determination is an international right, as is the struggle for self-determination, but because it is the natural thing to do. Our lived environment (social, political, economic, natural, etc.) influences the production of our identity, and our pride/dignity in having a self-awareness of this identity forces upon us the self-respect that requires resistance to attacks and the oppression of our culture. The Puerto Rican nation’s struggle for independence is a historical and natural process that began with the Taíno, but more specifically with the important event of El Grito de Lares in 1868, the event that on September 23rd crystallized our culture.

Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos

Albizu Campos after his tortured exposure to radiation in prison

Elias Beauchamp saluting shortly before his execution by police without trial

Outbreak of the Ponce Massacre

Scene of the 1950 attack on La Fortaleza

Brooklyn, NY born Dr. Olga Viscal Garriga, spokesperson for Nationalist Party branch in Río Piedras, on trial in 1950; sentenced to 8 years for refusing to recognize the authority of the U.S. over Puerto Rico and not cooperating in her trial

Blanca Canales, leader of the Jayuya Uprising

Mural for Antonia Martinez Lagares, UPR student killed in 1970 on campus by police

Santiago Mari Pesquera, murdered in 1976; son of Juan Mari Bras

Carlos Soto Arriví and Arnaldo Darío Rosado, murdered in 1978 by police

Carlos Muñiz Varela, murdered in 1979

Angel Rodríguez Cristóbal, murdered in 1979

Filiberto Ojeda Rios, murdered in 2005

Puerto Rican political prisoners incarcerated as of 2011: Oscar Lopez Rivera, Avelino Gonzalez Claudio, Norberto Gonzalez Claudio

Is Puerto Rico Ready For Independence?

So, considering that the Puerto Rican people have naturally yearned for their independence for countless generations, and considering that the colonial environment has so dominated the Puerto Rican experience, one might ask whether Puerto Rico is ready for independence. i will now address this question. However, i must also admit that the question is not one i can easily answer since it clearly shows no confidence in the Puerto Rican people’s ability to determine the content and context of their lives, of their destiny. At the same time as this feeling is experienced by me, i am reminded about my humanity and sense of solidarity with other freedom loving people of the world. So, for this reason, despite my disliking of the question “Is Puerto Rico Ready For Independence?”, i will also go on to say a few things on my philosophy of liberation at it has been influenced by my being Puerto Rican. No doubt, being Puerto Rican, and knowing the history of our struggle, i have a unique understanding of what liberation means for the world, so in a way i look forward to briefly making these statements.

To ask the question of whether Puerto Rico is ready for independence is to miss the entire point of the goal of human liberation. True, the point of the Puerto Rican revolutionary movement is to gain the liberation from colonialism that would allow Puerto Ricans to manage their own affairs, to analyze and modify these affairs according to their understood needs, to determine their own destinies with the satisfaction of knowing that they are part of the free world as they do so. Of course this implies that the Puerto Rican people will have to take on great national responsibilities, managing aspects of local life down to the detail to the best of their abilities. However, the liberation of Puerto Rico should not mean the isolation of Puerto Rico. Becoming an independent nation should not be synonymous with removing oneself from the arena of world affairs. Anyone who supports independence for Puerto Rico that feels this way, without doubt, has likely had episodes of pessimism and doubt where they even posed to themselves the very question, “Is Puerto Rico ready for independence?” This is because in Puerto Rico there exists a great amount of dependency on the United States, particularly economically. This dependence, which was enhanced over the years by U.S. corporate monopolies and enforced by the U.S. military, is the main obstacle to independence. The process of breaking this cycle of dependence is the great task of the Puerto Rican nation, and it is a process that must be undertaken honestly, for we must be truly confident in our newfound ability of self-determination. This process must not be isolating, for there are a great number of people throughout the world with a desire to support Puerto Rico’s liberation if they could. Truly, as long as there are Puerto Ricans ready to undertake this task of self-determination, who are willing to humble themselves in joining, as just one part, other freedom-loving people, Puerto Rico will always be ready for independence.

The question people should be asking is, “Are YOU ready for Puerto Rico’s independence?” As a part of the world, people everywhere ought to involve themselves as much as they can in the liberation of Puerto Rico. In fact, freedom-loving people are already doing so. The revolutionary/progressive movements of the world ought to [continue] support[ing] each other, for each has the potential for unique contribution. This idea of solidarity is important for people such as those in Puerto Rico, for it saves them the time of having to recreate the wheel over and over as they take over management of aspects of society formerly under complete colonial control. In areas such as production, support can be received from other people able to give support, and who understand the revolutionary ideal of solidarity for what it is, the giving of aid without promoting the dependence of those receiving it. Real solidarity supports independence, for it is not concerned with taking over aspects of another’s life, but merely with playing ones own part in developing the well-being and potential of others. It is this type of solidarity that will be needed to put Puerto Rico back on its own feet. More importantly, it is this type of solidarity that should come to define the new world we create as people progress through the human struggle for liberation. This new, free world must include an independent Puerto Rico, for the idea of freedom dictates that the people of Puerto Rico, who constitute a distinct cultural nation within a specific geographic territory, obtain the full status of nationhood in all aspects of society. With that said, it should be clear that Puerto Rico is ready for independence to the extent that the freedom-loving people there and everywhere desire such a status. It is silly to think that Puerto Ricans would want, and should be allowed to, manage every aspect of their lives themselves when circumstances, such as natural disasters, may demand the use of solidarity. To turn down this solidarity is to isolate, which is to divide, which is to invite internal and external dispute, leading eventually to violence. The question of whether Puerto Rico is ready for independence is one that the Puerto Rican and world community must put to rest by supporting the historic struggle of the Puerto Rican liberation movement, in the interest of world liberation.

William ‘Guillermo’ Morales, former political prisoner who escaped from custody in 1979 and now lives in Cuba in exile

Victor Manuel Gerena, Puerto Rican who led the $7 million expropriation of a Wells Fargo Facility in Connecticut for the Macheteros on Albizu Campos’ birthday; he was never captured and is still “on the run”

Pedro Archuleta (a Mexican activist), Andres Rosado, Luis Rosado, and Julio Rosado refused to testify in front of a Federal Grand Jury investigating the FALN in 1978

What Should Puerto Rico Do?

Here is yet another question i feel uncomfortable asking and that, like the previous, i will somewhat skip over by answering a similar and related question. In my opinion, there is not much Puerto Ricans should be doing that people throughout the world should not be doing themselves. The process of world liberation from oppressive vices, from discrimination, from exploitation, from hatred, etc., is a process that must occur everywhere people are located, and on all levels. Whereas solidarity is necessary, it is also necessary to constantly raise our own potential to support liberation, as much as we can. We owe it to those who may come to count on our solidarity to never take more than the necessary break from educating ourselves, and from becoming more capable individuals. Whereas solidarity may be necessary in some instances, as may be the case in Puerto Rico’s situation, it is common knowledge that every kind of human activity can not only be improved, but also learned. Where solidarity may be necessary in one activity one day, the next day knowledge may be sufficient enough in the people that formerly needed aid to take up that activity themselves. The more people can learn to manage their own affairs, their own activities, the less others will need to give support, and the more time everyone will have to be creative in whatever way they choose. Less time will be spent on collaboration to raise the level of all to that of those able to give the best assistance, and more time will be allowed to nurture the creative spirit in each location. In other words, i do believe that as people become more experienced in managing their own affairs, they also become more efficient, which translates to less time spent on necessary responsibilities and more time for other human ventures vital for peace of mind, namely creativity.

Obviously i am talking about teaching and learning. Although i do not live in Puerto Rico, i do not feel an inability to suggest that what Puerto Ricans should do is what everyone in the world should be doing: learning to become free individuals within a free society, and teaching others to become free by allowing them to experience the freedom that is supported through acts of solidarity. Solidarity is thus, in a sense, a codeword for a mutual process of education where everyone involved is both a teacher and a learner, sharing and spreading the means for liberation. For this reason, i recommend a reflection by all on the true meaning of education, the true use for it as something that, placed in our lives, can allow us to do those things we need to do in society to ensure freedom and well-being. Education should do this, for if we cannot learn how to perform any human activity (and this is not the case) then we will inevitably be faced with the threat of dependency again. Beyond this, education must also by necessity raise our moral consciousness, for it is the raised consciousness that understands the pride and dignity to be achieved from helping others stand on their own feet, to live off their own work. A high moral standard prevents the rise of division and violence, and initiates the victory of solidarity and peace. True education is a process that develops our potential at the same time that it increases our awareness of our potential and of how we can apply it—it is a process that develops mind, body, and spirit through the sharing of knowledge and experiences.

It seems only natural to me that this educational process also has the potential to serve as an organizing tool for the greater process of liberation. In short, the topic of oppression can be looked at from any number of perspectives, with liberation, or rather the means for overcoming the particular form of oppression under discussion, being the final lesson in that topic. Whatever activity people are unable to do, or unable to do well, should become a topic of discussion involving everyone involved in that activity and who also are affected by that activity. i do not mean that these discussions should take place in schools, in specifically designated classrooms, but i do want to suggest that they take place “on the spot”, whenever and wherever the issue arises. In other words, i support the idea that the people of Puerto Rico, and of the world, get together on a local basis to begin critical dialogues about the reality of their lives. My support goes to this process of education being the practice of freedom by everybody wherever they are, addressing their local issues in connection with the global process of liberation from oppression. While i support the idea of a single Puerto Rican nation, i also view that nation, just as i do the whole world, as being comprised of individuals living socially in interconnected communities. Each community of the world is a community because it has its own set of relationships between people, yet they are all connected, some more than others. It would be against the ideal of freedom if one community were to oppress another by somehow controlling the affairs of that other community. For this reason, i stress the importance of education and using its ability to raise the consciousness and potential of the individuals that make up communities. For this reason, i support the liberation process as local efforts connected through the global struggle. My logic is that the more we can raise ourselves as individuals, the more we can liberate our communities, putting our communities in a better position to support our nation’s collective effort towards world liberation. My belief is we should take responsibility as individuals for consciously putting effort into the well-being of our society, focusing on the local level where people are.

In terms of the tactics of the Nationalist Party under its leader Pedro Albizu Campos, i do believe they were right in raising the consciousness of the Puerto Rican people using the example of the Lares revolutionaries. First of all, the patriots at Lares exemplified the continuity of the anti-colonial struggle in that island, and second of all by using those examples they supported more than the raising of the people’s consciousness, influencing instead its transformation into a revolutionary consciousness. This is what is needed in order to secure liberation, the birth of revolutionary consciousness through personal and collective transformation. History has shown the insurrectionist tactics of the Nationalist Party to be ineffective in achieving Puerto Rican liberation. Taking into consideration Gandhi’s logical belief that a people of sufficient revolutionary moral strength can never be dominated, i am against the idea of violence as a solution and am for personal transformation. Of course, as Puerto Ricans walk the liberating path of revolutionary transformation, U.S. and other governmental authorities may use violence to slow or stop this process, necessitating the use of self-defense, which both natural law and myself supports. Self-defense will always be necessary under oppression, and in fact, international law gives non-self-governing colonial nations the right to fight for their liberation even using armed struggle. Nevertheless, the free world i envision will have no need for self-defense because there will be no violence, there will be constructive cooperation between all without the disunity that would lead to impulses for violence. The reality is, one may very easily measure the progress in society by considering how much violence and oppression still exists, and how much they have been overcome. The point of liberation is to eliminate oppression by practicing freedom, and this is an educational process, not a violent one.

Attack on National Guard airplanes in Puerto Rico by Los Macheteros, 1981

What Does All This Have To Do With Us In The U.S.?

Some living in the U.S., particularly those not of Puerto Rican descent, may still at this point ask what all this has to do with them. They ask this question in face of the fact that it is the U.S. that holds Puerto Rico as a colony. Of course i do not expect high-ranking individuals of the U.S. government to read this writing of mine (and if they do, that’s nice), and so “common people” may say that their influence over the colonial issue is so small that there is nothing they can do. That is simply not true. And anyway, there are other issues being faced and fought in Puerto Rico that not only deserve our attention, but that are directly connected to issues that face us here (and the issue of Puerto Rican colonialism should affect us all emotionally anyway). For example, there is an issue in the University of Puerto Rico schools related to its attempted privatization by the government and the rise in tuition fees at the same time that university officials are refusing to be open about the function of its spending and the extent of its holdings. This same issue is being faced by students in the U.S., particularly in the City University system of New York, whose student struggle has even seen the creation of a group called NYwithUPR that focuses on connecting the two struggles. Other solidarity groups have been created in New York to make the connection between people’s movement, such as NY Contra El Gasoducto, which gives direct support to the movement in Puerto Rico against the construction of a natural gas pipeline that would go through the central mountains, and which connects it to the movement against fracking (a process to extract gas) taking place in upstate NY and throughout the country. In addition, support groups have also formed for teachers and workers that at different times in the past few years have conducted strikes.

As a Puerto Rican, New York City in particular, but also other cities like Chicago and states like California, offers a great opportunity to engage in various protests, demonstrations, organizations, etc., that are in direct support of issues facing Puerto Rico. Within the United States, in the seat of the empire, there are plenty of opportunities to bring attention to such issues, and this is whether by joining already existing demonstrations or by creating new ones. The potentially revolutionary task of education is also important in the U.S., with one point i want to stress being that as of 2010 there are officially more Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. than on the island of Puerto Rico. It seems more important to me now than ever to ensure that educational programs exist for Puerto Ricans in the U.S. to learn about their island, to learn about their history, and to learn about the forces in government and society that led themselves and their family to the present moment. For example, the majority of Puerto Ricans during the largest migration to the U.S. between the years 1940 and 1960 moved to the U.S. because of economic hardship on the island and also because of the political climate of repression. This is an important thing to recognize as a Puerto Rican, but i must add that it should also come with an understanding of the discrimination faced in the U.S. by Puerto Ricans, and how the hardships they faced here produced certain other effects, one being the often unattainable dream of making enough money to move back to Puerto Rico in retirement.

For people not of Puerto Rican descent, i stress that you take the opportunity to learn about the largest colony currently held by the United States.[11] i also want to stress the process of mutual education and state that i see an important task in those not of Puerto Rican descent helping to teach Puerto Ricans their history if they are not knowledgeable of it. Puerto Ricans must take responsibility for learning their history, for understanding the formation of their culture, and knowing how all of that affects their present reality, but i see no issue whatsoever in other people taking part in this process, for their own benefit as well of Puerto Ricans. In other words, education around the topics of colonialism and decolonization, what decolonization means in terms of national liberation, can be the basis for conscious people organizing their own struggles within the movement for Puerto Rican and human liberation. Having brought up the word decolonization, i must stress here my belief that the ultimate success of decolonization depends on how broad in public and community life the revolutionary character is developed. For the U.S. to decolonize Puerto Rico by granting it independence would be nice and a cause for minor celebration, but the real victory can only be achieved by the efforts of the Puerto Rican people, for if oppression continues to exist among the people, that would mean only their own domination of each other, i.e. the replacing of U.S. rulers with themselves. It is this that i believe Puerto Ricans and non-Puerto Ricans alike should take into consideration when supporting the process of liberation, for while demonstrations, protests, etc., may be called for at times, it is the education, the raising of revolutionary consciousness, that will be the deciding factor in world liberation. Of course demonstrations, protests, etc., can have an educational effect, and so i stress that we place education as an explicit part of all of these activities that we take part in.

At some point the United States will have to openly recognize the independence of Puerto Rico, and so our full independence may be granted by this open declaration. However, our full liberation as Puerto Rican people will only occur when we recognize ourselves as participants within the global struggle against oppression, when we take on the responsibility of practicing freedom for the sake of those around us. As i have tried to describe, this struggle is a historic one that has its roots in Taíno anti-colonialism and its ultimate fruit in El Grito de Lares. Because liberation from colonialism has yet to be achieved, this revolutionary spirit is still present, by necessity, in the Puerto Rican culture. As Pedro Albizu Campos rightly said, “La nación la representan quienes la afirman, no quienes la niegan/The nation represents those who affirm it, not those who deny it.” In order to affirm our identity, we must have self-respect for it and demand for it the respect of others, and this requires us to develop an understanding of our identity and to share this understanding with others out of dignity. As i have tried to describe, efforts in the past to affirm our identity have often been met with extreme repression by colonial authorities, a repression that has weakened movement leadership and left the struggle with much ground to cover. We must not abandon this process, but must readjust our struggle according to the reality of our times and the capabilities of our people. The liberation of Puerto Rico is a historic mission that must and will be accomplished, for as long as proud Puerto Ricans exist there will be the desire to achieve the freedom that all dignified people strive for. Education must be present throughout the process of organizing this world revolution, that is, if we are to develop the consciousness and capabilities that will bring forth a new age of solidarity that is defined by peace among the people of the world.

And this is not an impossible task. Human history has plenty of examples where people overcame forms of oppression, and the Puerto Rican people are one of those. It was the movement of Puerto Ricans on the island and in the U.S., supported by non-Puerto Ricans, that succeeded in stopping the U.S. Navy use of the island of Vieques for weapons testing and troop exercises. Besides that, it is the Puerto Rican people who have maintained their unique identity despite hundreds of years of colonial domination. Truly, we have much to be proud of, both us Puerto Ricans and any other witness to the consistent struggle of Puerto Ricans. Knowing this history, i cannot deny myself. Once again, i’m not Spanish, i’m Puerto Rican!

NY rally in support of UPR student strike; 2011

NY Contra El Gasoducto protest rally in Manhattan; 2011

Where Can I Get More Information?

The first source i would recommend is Wikipedia, simply for its accessibility. Use Wikipedia as a starting point for your own research. Also, the following books were helpful as a reference as i wrote this essay; you may want to consider checking these out:

  • The Tainos: Rise and Decline of the People Who Greeted Columbus, by Irving Rouse
  • The Archaeology Of The Caribbean, by Samuel M. Wilson
  • Puerto Rico Under Colonial Rule: Political Persecution and the Quest for Human Rights, edited by Ramón Bosque-Pérez and José Javier Colón Morera
  • America’s Colony: The Political And Cultural Conflict Between The United States And Puerto Rico, by Pedro A. Malavet

More of my writings, including two previous essays as part of the September 23rd Cultural Resistance, can also be found on writetofight.wordpress.com.

_____________________

[1] “Puerto Rico” here will usually refer to the entire group of islands, but, as in this case, may also refer to only the largest of the group of islands, the so-called “main island.”

[2] The richness of Puerto Rico’s flora and fauna (plants and animals) is too large to expand upon here. i purposely focused on endemic species not found anywhere else, and i encourage those interested to study this aspect of Puerto Rico more thoroughly.

[3] The first settlers of the Caribbean islands, coming from the Yucatan circa 4000B.C., are known as the Casimiroids; the second settlers of the Caribbean islands, coming from South America circa 2000B.C., are known as the Ortoiroids.

[4] Present-day DNA evidence also proves Taíno biological survival in the Puerto Rican population.

[5] This was after the U.S.A. defeated Spain in the Spanish-American war, resulting in a treaty in which Spain would cede Puerto Rico, and other lands such as Cuba and the Philippines, to them.

[6] This first revolutionary flag, the flag of the Republic of Puerto Rico, is now the flag of the town of Lares.

[7] In reality, Puerto Rico has two histories, one of repression that belongs to the colonialists and their allies, the other of resistance and revolution that belong to the people. The second history is the true history of Puerto Rico, as determined by the origins of its culture.

[8] At least four cases of Nationalists residing in New York being imprisoned for resisting the draft has also been confirmed.

[9] This is, i believe, the second and only instance where U.S. planes bombed towns within its own territories, Stateside or elsewhere.

[10] The FALN and Macheteros were/are revolutionary organizations formed in the 70’s that, influenced by the extreme repression faced by generations before them, embraced a form of clandestine armed struggle that supported the public mass movements. The latter are still active.

[11] Let’s not forget Hawaii, which was militarily colonized, the unincorporated territories of Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, or the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.


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