Posts Tagged ‘University of Puerto Rico’

The Crisis at the University of Puerto Rico: Updates, February 12, 2011

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

From: V. Alba
Familia
Yesterday the people of Puerto Rico held a massive demonstration of support of the student strike at the University of Puerto Rico. Estimates by diverse long time , experienced activists ranging from upwards of 10,000 to as high as 25,000 people describe the gigantic outpouring of support for the student demands that fuel the strike.

The march which began at about 2:30 PM in the Plaza of Rio Piedra made its way to the edge of the UPR campus. From there the march made its way around the entire campus. I personally marched about 1/4 mile back from the front of the march. Reaching the top of the incline of the broad avenue and looking back all that one could see was an ocean of humanity which stretched from sidewalk to sidewalk on this four lane wide roadway as far as the eye could see.

The march then went into a highway were an 11 minute (1 minute for each campus of the UPR) sit down act of peaceful civil (dis)obedience was held. The police stood by unable to stop the action and relinquished their role to blocking the traffic.

The end to the Police presence on campus has been a central demand of student strikers, Their acts of acknowledged torture, unnecessary excessive violence and sexual assaults particularly on female students culminated with the UPR presidents letter to the police commissioner, asking for the police withdrawal from campus before he resigned.

The yet to be determined, massive number of people who marched the march, the young and grey haired, parents , children, workers and activist spoke for a nation.

The campaign that the students of the University of Puerto Rico have been waging is amongst the most responsible, intelligent, and effective student campaigns. It has become an example to be studied and emulated by other student movements around the world as well as the labor, environmental and other social movements in Puerto Rico.

The student movement of the UPR is providing one more reason why the education of the UPR must be fought for and won

By Gloria Ruiz Kuilan | gruiz@elnuevodia.com
El Nuevo Dia (February 12, 2011)

translated from Spanish by NiLP

With the sounds of Pleneros, batucada and slogans to protest the presence of the police in Rio Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico, thousands of people marched today through the streets of Rio Piedras in support of students in the demonstration dubbed “I love the UPR.”

At about 2:30 p.m. coming out of the Plaza de la Convalescence, in the center of town Rio Piedras, was the mass demonstration led by the leadership of the Puerto Rican Association of University Professors (APPU), students and members of various political organizations, professional, civic and community organizations.

Notable was the participation of students accompanied by parents or relatives who sympathize with the claim of the university community to leave the uniformed Rio Piedras campus.

Beatriz Miranda, mother of a student of this campus, said she participated in the march “to let them know (the government) that these guys are not alone.

This is an outrage against the students,” said the woman, who lives in Bayamon.

The march went around the campus and went through the main access points to the Rio Piedras campus, where police officers were stationed, who were the target of call to leave by the protesters.

***

University of Puerto Rico president resigns

The Associated Press (February 12, 2011)

The president of the University of Puerto Rico has resigned amid student protests against a new fee. Jose Ramon de la Torre submitted his resignation letter on Friday, a day after dozens of students clashed with police on campus. He said he was stepping down for personal reasons. De la Torre spokesman Peter Quinones provided a copy of the letter.

Sen. Eduardo Bhatia said in a statement that de la Torre’s departure does not solve the university’s problems and demanded that police leave campus. Bhatia also requested that the island’s governor and university officials meet with students. Students have organized several protests against an $800 yearly fee imposed to reduce the system’s budget deficit.

Reforzada de policías la UPR para recibir estudiantes

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Igual que en Vieques, el Gobierno de Puerto Rico utiliza a la policía – en este caso, contra los estudiantes de la UPR – para defender los intereses de los que buscan controlar y privatizar los recursos del país, incluyendo la educación universitaria!.

POLICIA BORINCANO, LUIS FORTUÑO NO ES TU HERMANO!
Vieques es la UPR!…. la UPR es Vieques!
rrabin/nmedina cprdv

Reforzada de policías la UPR para recibir estudiantes
Harán cumplir la prohibición a manifestaciones

Rubín confirmó que a partir del lunes aumentará el despliegue policial en la UPR. (archivo)

Por Gloria Ruiz Kuilan / gruiz@elnuevodia.com

Mañana, cuando comienzan las clases en la Universidad de Puerto Rico (UPR) Recinto de Río Piedras y los estudiantes se proponen hacer una manifestación en el campus, aumentará la presencia policial, dijo el teniente coronel de la División regional de San Juan, Juan Sergio Rubín.

Además, adelantó que los miembros de la Uniformada -que incluirá la Fuerza de Choque- ímpedirán que se violente la resolución de la rectora Ana Guadalupe que prohibe las manifestaciones dentro del recinto riopedrense. “Vamos a estar preparados -en términos de los miembros de la Fuerza- para cualquier cosa que surja allí”, dijo Rubín en entrevista telefónica con este diario. “Vamos a usar allí todos los recursos que estén disponibles, la Unidad de Operaciones Tácticas y otros recursos”, continuó. Respondió en la afirmativa al preguntársele si tras el receso de clases y con el inicio del segundo semestre, aumentarán el despliegue policial en el Recinto de Río Piedras.

Sin embargo, por razones de estrategia no ofreció cifras. Rubín recordó que estudiantes portavoces del Comité de Representación Estudiantil (CRE) anunciaron la semana pasada que realizarán una manifestación denominada “Entra y Sal Pa’ Fuera”, de la cual no dieron detalles, pero a la que invitaron a todo el país. “El lunes tienen este tipo de actividad que ellos no han dicho si es una pacífica. Simplemente le han dado un nombre y nosotros nos estaremos preparando para cualquier situación que surja”, dijo Rubín. “Nosotros vamos a hacer valer la resolución de la rectora. Ellos conocen que obviamente hay una prohibición de la Rectora en términos de cualquier tipo de manifestación y nosotros vamos a hacer valer la resolución de la rectora”, sentenció cuando se le cuestionó si habrá arrestos.

Responden los estudiantes
Los portavoces del CRE, Xiomara Caro y Waldemiro Vélez, opinaron que el alza en presencia policial en la UPR sólo demuestra el “carácter represivo del actual gobierno”. “No es sorpresa. La presencia de la Policía lo único que hace es crear mayor inestabilidad”, dijo Caro. “Las manifestaciones siguen en pie. Hay que continuar con más razón porque entendemos que el aumento policial es una manera de intentar callar nuestro punto de vista, que es defender la universidad. No nos podemos dejar amedrentar”, señaló la estudiante de Derecho. Mientras, Vélez dijo que una vez más se violenta la política institucional de la UPR de no confrontación en la que no se cree, “pero sí en la macana y no en el diálogo”. “Se gasta $1.5 millones en horas extras para la Policía, pero no hay dinero para la universidad”.

http://www.elnuevodia.com/reforzadadepoliciaslauprpararecibirestudiantes-882998.htmlz

El Nuevo Día / Puerto Rico
Noticias
06 Febrero 2011

Open Letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder from Puerto Rican Academics

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

December 16, 2010

Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr. Attorney General of the United States
The United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Mr. Holder:

As Puerto Rican scholars teaching in the United States we have decided to write to you in order to express our deep concern with regard to recent developments at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). For the past months, the University has experienced a continuing conflict that began last semester with a call for a strike by the students in response to an increase in academic tuition and related to fears about the future of public higher education on the island. Unfortunately, university administrators, professors, and students have not been able to negotiate a satisfactory agreement. The whole process has recently culminated in the intervention of Governor Luis Fortuño and the deployment of a massive police presence on the main university campus at Río Piedras and on other campuses in the system, including a private security contractor and fully armed SWAT units.

On December 13, Chancellor Ana R. Guadalupe banned all meetings, festivals, manifestations, and all other so-called large activities on the Río Piedras campus for a period of thirty days. In our view, this represents a clear breach of fundamental constitutional rights. The justifications given by the Chancellor are that this measure is required in order to keep the campus open and to return it to normal operations. Furthermore, professors and workers are being asked (under the threat of punishment) to continue working despite the intense volatility caused by the police presence on campus.

We remain very concerned that such use of force may in fact increase the potential for violence and continued tension, especially if the guarantees of freedom of speech, association, and assembly have been revoked. Both the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico guarantee these rights. Moreover, this week the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico (which, without the opportunity for serious public debate, was recently restructured by the government of Luis Fortuño in order to ensure a clear majority of judges in his favor) declared, in a disturbing resolution, that strikes will be prohibited at all UPR campuses effective immediately.

We the undersigned write to you as scholars and citizens because of the potentially lethal conditions that we have described and that prevail at the UPR. That is why we urge you to intervene in order to:
1. Guarantee the constitutional rights of freedom of speech, association, and assembly as stipulated by both constitutions and to see that the conflict is conducted under the strictest observation of human and civil rights for all parties involved.
2. Procure the immediate withdrawal of all state and city police, private contractors, and other non-UPR security personnel from the University of Puerto Rico system currently under occupation.
3. Call all parties to meet and have a truly productive dialogue.

Respectfully yours,
[Institutional affiliations for identification purposes only. Please respond to primary contacts.]

1) Agnes Lugo-Ortiz, The University of Chicago [Primary contact] lugortiz@uchicago.edu
2) Ivette N. Hernández-Torres, University of California, Irvine [Primary contact] ivetteh@uci.edu
3) Luis F. Avilés, University of California, Irvine [Primary contact] laviles9631@sbcglobal.net
4) Aldo Lauria-Santiago, Rutgers University [Primary contact] alauria@rci.rutgers.edu
5) Arcadio Díaz-Quiñones Emory L. Ford Professor, Emeritus, Princeton University adiaz@princeton.edu
6) Aníbal González-Pérez, Yale University anibal.gonzalez@yale.edu
7) Luis Figueroa-Martínez, Trinity College Treasurer, Puerto Rican Studies Association (PRSA) Luis.Figueroa@trincoll.edu
8) Roberto Alejandro, University of Massachusetts, Amherst ralejand@polsci.umass.edu
9) Harry Vélez-Quiñones, University of Puget Sound velez@pugetsound.edu
10) Ismael García-Colón, College of Staten Island, CUNY Ismael.Garcia@csi.cuny.edu
11) Áurea María Sotomayor-Miletti, University of Pittsburgh aureamariastmr@yahoo.com
12) Antonio Lauria-Perricelli, New York University al71@nyu.edu
13) Wanda Rivera Rivera, University of Massachusetts, Boston Wanda.Rivera-Rivera@umb.edu
14) José Quiroga, Emory University jquirog@emory.edu
15) Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor lawrlafo@yahoo.co.uk
16) Daniel Torres, Ohio University torres@ohio.edu
17) Pablo Delano, Trinity College Pablo.Delano@trincoll.edu
18) Denise Galarza Sepúlveda, Lafayette College
galarzad@lafayette.edu
19) Richard Rosa, Duke University rr49@duke.edu
20) Eleuterio Santiago-Díaz, University of New Mexico esantia@unm.edu
21) Ilia Rodríguez, University of New Mexico ilia@unm.edu
22) Ramón H. Rivera-Servera, Northwestern University r-rivera-servera@northwestern.edu
23) Gladys M. Jiménez-Muñoz, Binghamton University-SUNY gjimenez@binghamton.edu
24) Luz-María Umpierre Poet, Scholar, Human Rights Advocate LUmpierre@aol.com
25) Sheila Candelario, Fairfield University candelariosheila@hotmail.com
26) Edna Acosta-Belén, University at Albany, SUNY eab@albany.edu
27) Efraín Barradas, University of Florida at Gainsville barradas@LATAM.UFL.EDU
28) Kelvin Santiago-Valles, Binghamton University-SUNY stgokel@binghamton.edu
29) Víctor Figueroa, Wayne State University an7664@wayne.edu
30) Juan Duchesne Winter, University of Pittsburgh juanduchesne@yahoo.com
31) Pablo A. Llerandi-Román, Grand Valley State University llerandp@gvsu.edu
32) Irmary Reyes-Santos, University of Oregon irmary@uoregon.edu
33) Arnaldo Cruz-Malavé, Fordham University cruzmalave@fordham.edu
34) Ileana M. Rodríguez-Silva, University of Washington imrodrig@uw.edu
35) César A. Salgado, University of Texas, Austin cslgd@mail.utexas.edu
36) Jossianna Arroyo, University of Texas, Austin jarroyo@mail.utexas.edu
37) Francisco A. Scarano, University of Wisconsin, Madison fscarano@wisc.edu
38) Jaime Rodríguez Matos, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor jaimerod@umich.edu
39) Cecilia Enjuto Rangel, University of Oregon enjuto@uoregon.edu
40) Elpidio Laguna-Díaz, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey elplag@optonline.net
41) Lena Burgos-Lafuente, SUNY, Stony Brook lenabu@nyu.edu
42) Ramón Grosfoguel, University of California, Berkeley grosfogu@berkeley.edu
43) José Francisco Buscaglia Salgado, SUNY, Buffalo Director of Program in Caribbean Studies jfb2@buffalo.edu
44) Francisco Cabanillas, Bowling Green State University fcabani@bgsu.edu
45) Lisa Sánchez González, University of Connecticut lisa.m.sanchez@uconn.edu
46) María M. Carrión, Emory University mcarrio@emory.edu
47) Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey Director Institute for Research on Women yolandatrabajo@optonline.net
48) Agustín Lao-Montes, University of Massachusetts, Amherst oxunelegua@yahoo.com
49) Jason Cortés, Rutgers University-Newark jasoncor@andromeda.rutgers.edu
50) Nelson Maldonado-Torres, Rutgers University President, Caribbean Philosophical Association nmtorres7@gmail.com
51) Daín Borges, The University of Chicago dborges@uchicago.edu
52) Edna Rodríguez-Mangual, Hamilton College emrodrig@hamilton.edu
53) Ricardo Pérez Figueroa, Eastern Connecticut State University PerezR@easternct.edu
54) Licia Fiol-Matta, Lehman College, CUNY lfiolmatta@earthlink.net
55) Frances R. Aparicio, University of Illinois at Chicago franapar@uic.edu
56) Luis E. Zayas, Arizona State University lezayas@asu.edu
57) Hortensia R. Morell, Temple University hmorell@temple.edu
58) Milagros Denis-Rosario, Hunter College mdenis@hunter.cuny.edu
59) Víctor Rodríguez, California State University, Long Beach vrodrig5@csulb.edu
60) Madeline Troche-Rodríguez, City Colleges of Chicago mtroche05@yahoo.com
61) Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo, Washington State University clugo@wsu.edu
62) Jorge Luis Castillo, University of California, Santa Barbara castillo@spanport.ucsb.edu
63) Rosa Elena Carrasquillo, College of the Holy Cross rcarrasq@holycross.edu
64) Juan Carlos Rodríguez, The Georgia Institute of Technology juan.rodriguez@modlangs.gatech.edu
65) Susana Peña, Bowling Green State University susanap@bgsu.edu
66) José R. Cartagena-Calderón, Pomona College Jose.Cartagena@pomona.edu
67) Amílcar Challu, Bowling Green State University achallu@bgsu.edu
68) Carlos J. Alonso, Columbia University calonso@columbia.edu
69) Carmen A. Rolón, Providence College CROLON@providence.edu
70) Amy Robinson, Bowling Green State University arobins@bgsu.edu
71) Consuelo Arias, Nassau Community College ecarias@att.net

Puerto Rican Scholars in Canada Who Also Subscribe to this Letter
72) Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández, University of Toronto rgaztambide@oise.utoronto.ca
73) Néstor E. Rodríguez, University of Toronto nestor.rodriguez@utoronto.ca
74) Gustavo J. Bobonis, University of Toronto gustavo.bobonis@utoronto.ca
cc: Thomas E. Pérez, Assistant Attorney General, United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division
Luis Gutiérrez, Congressman, Illinois 4th District
Nydia Velázquez, Congresswoman, New York 12th District
José Serrano, Congressman, New York 16th District American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Luis Fortuño, Governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner in Washington
José Ramón de la Torre, President of the University of Puerto Rico
Ygrí Rivera de Martínez, President of the Board of Trustees (Junta de Síndicos), University of Puerto Rico
Ana R. Guadalupe, Chancellor of the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus

QUEER LATINO TESTIMONIO

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Barnes & Noble Bookstore (Upper Westside)
2289 Broadway at 82nd Street
New York City

Join Us!

Thursday, Oct. 25 at 7:00 p.m.

QUEER LATINO TESTIMONIO, KEITH HARING, AND JUANITO XTRAVAGANZA

Hard Tails

Author Arnaldo Cruz-Malavé will be joined in a reading from his new book by Jorge
Merced, Associate Artistic Director of Pregones Theater, and will sign copies.

In the tradition of the Latin American testimonio, Queer Latino Testimonio is the story of Juan Rivera, a.k.a. Juanito Xtravaganza, a Latino runaway youth who ends up homeless in the streets of New York in the late 70s and becomes partner of the internationally famous 1980s Pop artist Keith Haring during some of the most frenetically productive years of his brief life, as told to the author and retold by him. A hybrid text–part testimonio, part linguistic and cultural analysis, and part art criticism–this is also a history of New York Latino neighborhoods during this
period of devastating disinvestment and gentrification, as well as a personal, heart-felt meditation on the art of listening and the ethical limits of representing queer Latino lives.

Praise for Queer Latino Testimonio, Keith Haring, and Juanito Xtravaganza

“A story of the abject, an urban cultural history, and a literary meditation, Queer Latino Testimonio is a glorious assemblage of voices, images, rhythms, and sensualities of the turbulent last two decades of twentieth century New York City. A stirring portrait of the upheavals, deaths, and hopeful futures of bodies under siege. A marvelous piece of scholarship!”–Martin F. Manalansan IV, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and author of Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora

“Narrated with sensitivity and style, Queer Latino Testimonio reminds us that the greatest of our cultural icons are never simply isolated geniuses, but instead reflections of the messy, funky, difficult, exasperating and exciting realities of everyday life. In a word, the book you hold in your hands is legendary!”–Robert F. Reid-Pharr, Professor of English, CUNY Graduate School, and author of Once You Go Black: Choice, Desire, and the Black American Intellectual

“A thrilling biography of a character that is both real and imagined, and a fresh vision of what Cultural Studies can become.”–Mayra Santos-Febres, Professor of Hispanic Literatures, University of Puerto Rico, and author of Sirena Selena

“An alluring, uncompromising tale of tails in the waning years of the age of x-travagance, and the dawn of the age of AIDS.”–Rubén Ríos-Avila, Professor of Comparative Literature, University of Puerto Rico, and author of La Raza Cómica.

Event is free and open to the public, but subject to change. Please call ahead to confirm. 212-721-5282

Cultural Survival, Political Resistance and Sustainable Development in Contemporary Puerto Rico

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

A Seminar and Discussion presented by Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture

Tuesday, October 7, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Hostos Art Gallery
Hostos Community College/CUNY
450 Grand Concourse (at 149 St.)
The Bronx

Admission is free. To register, call 718-518-4455

Transp: IRT 2, 4, 5, Bx1 & Bx19 to Grand Concourse & 149 St.

. . . a bilingual (English-Spanish) one-day seminar on the effects of development and globalization on traditional cultures in Puerto Rico focusing on the recent history of the coastal communities of Loíza and Piñones and the island of Vieques. The participants represent a cross section of leaders in the struggle for cultural and environmental survival: educators, cultural activists and advocates of alternative strategies for development.

The seminar serves as an introduction to BomPlenazo 2008, the Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture’s biennial celebration of Afro-Puerto Rican culture. This year, the festival will focus on the bomba and plena music and dance traditions as they are practiced in the communities of Loíza and Piñones, two of the principal centers of Afro-Puerto Rican culture.

Founded by runaway slaves and freedmen in the 19th century, Loíza and its neighborhood of Piñones, with their beautiful coastline and coconut groves, have become a symbol of cultural tenacity as many loiceños have bravely resisted development efforts that threaten their cultural traditions and the beauty of their communities.

This seminar will also focus on the recent history of Vieques, the struggle to end naval bombing of the island and the implementation of a strategy for sustainable development. The island’s recent history, characterized by military and economic assaults, mirrors that of Loiza and Piñones.

Program

8:30–9
Registration, coffee

9–9:30
Welcome and Introductory Remarks
Juan Flores, Ph.D., moderator, Professor, Black and Puerto Rican Studies, NYU
The Hon. José Rivera, New York State Assemblyman

9:30–10:30
Piñones & Isla Verde, the Historical Context
Juan Giusti, Professor, University of Puerto Rico

10:30-10:45
Break

10:45-11:45
The Struggle for Piñones: Political & Economic Aspects
Maricruz Rivera Clemente, President, Corporación Piñones se Integra

11:45-12:45
The Struggle for Vieques: Post Navy Bombardment
Robert Rabin, Director, Museo Fuerte Conde Mirasol, Vieques

12:45-1:30
Lunch

1:30-2:30
The Role of Popular Action in Environmental Preservation
Alberto de Jesús, a.k.a., Tito Kayak, Environmental Activist

2:30-3:30
Microenterprises: A Strategy for Sustainable Development
Nilda Medina, Director, Incubadora de Microempresas Bieke

3:30-3:45
Break

3:45-4:00
Observations and Conclusions
Juan Flores, Professor, Black and Puerto Rican Studies, NYU

4:00
Acto Cultural

Raúl Ayala
This seminar was made possible by a legislative initiative grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation through the offices of New York State Assemblyman José Rivera. It is an integral part of the Hostos Creative Campus Project, a collaboration between the Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture and the Hostos Community College/CUNY Humanities Department. The creative campus project has been funded by the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Creative Campus Innovations Grant Program funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Puerto Rico Strikes

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

By Yolanda Rivera
From the October 30, 2009 issue | Posted in International | Email this article

A STRIKING ISLAND: More than 200,000 Puerto Ricans joined a general strike Oct. 15.

puertorico.jpg

PHOTO: SEIU INTERNATIONAL, FLICKR.COM

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO—In 1934, the year of the largest sugarcane workers’ strike in Puerto Rican history, Antonio S. Pedreira, a wealthy writer and educator, described Puerto Ricans as lazy and irresponsible: “To be lazy, in our country, is self-repression, lack of mental activity and freewill […] We are squatting before our future.”
Seventy-five years later, the attitudes of Puerto Rico’s ruling elite appear unchanged. Faced with widespread opposition to plans by Gov. Luis Fortuño to fire tens of thousands of public-sector workers and privatize government services, members of the governor’s staff have called workingclass Puerto Ricans “ticks” “garrapata” and terrorists and told them to accept privatization and layoffs because “such is life.”

Fortuño, leader of the Partido Nuevo Progresista (the equivalent of the Republican Party), was inaugurated Jan. 2, 2009. In his first 10 months in office he has fired more than 23,000 public-sector workers despite promising during his campaign that he would not make layoffs. His announcement on Sept. 25 that he was firing nearly 17,000 workers spurred labor, student, religious and community groups to organize a general strike on Oct. 15.

Fortuño’s administration reacted by stoking tensions. Top law-enforcement officials including the justice secretary and police superintendent threatened to charge strikers with terrorism if they disrupted traffic at the island’s ports. Independent observers such as the American Civil Liberties Union described the government threats as “dangerous” and “sowing fear.”

The week before the general strike, 10 campuses of the University of Puerto Rico closed their doors to prevent student protesters from using the facilities to mobilize. During democratic assemblies that gathered record numbers, students had already closed the main university campus in solidarity with fired government workers, including teachers, janitors and other service employees.

Despite the official intimidation, the demonstration and walkout went ahead Oct. 15, drawing an estimated 200,000 people and shutting down most businesses, schools and government activities on the island.

During the protest, numerous workers said the massive layoffs were part an effort to “sell the island,” — to destroying public services in order to justify privatization and provide subsidies to companies owned by associates of the governor.

One marcher carried a sign calling the governor “Fortocho,” a mix of Pinocchio and Fortuño. Another had a picture of the governor as a chicken with the question, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” referring to an unemployed worker who threw an egg at the governor during a press conference a few weeks earlier. Others chanted: “So, where’s Fortuño? Fortuño is not here. He’s selling what is left of this country.”

Many people showed their dissatisfaction by scrawling anti-privatization messages on buildings. Others wore masks of the governor’s face while they brandished fistfuls of money. After the march, students blocked the country’s largest highway and kept it closed until the police and some conservative leaders pressured them to abandon their efforts.

With a population of 3.5 million, Puerto Rico has been a U.S. colony since 1898. About 48 percent of the population lives under the poverty level and government layoffs, which represent about 12 percent of the public sector workforce, are projected to push the unemployment rate to 17 percent.

The firings were made possible by Law 7, which passed in March. It allows Fortuño to unilaterally dismiss public-sector workers, overriding labor laws that previously prohibited such actions. Union contracts are no protection either, as Law 7 effectively voids any job protections they may contain. What’s more, Law 7 clears the way for firing more public-sector workers by allowing for “Public-Private Alliances” — a euphemism for handing over government functions to private corporations.

While the governor and pundits claim the mass layoffs are necessary because the government is “too big” and is facing a $3.2 billion budget deficit, Puerto Rico is slated to receive more than $5.7 billion in funds from the U.S. stimulus package passed earlier this year. Fortuño also claims that private companies provide better services and that public-sector workers earn too much. Previous governors used the same justification for prior rounds of privatization that ended in disaster.

Pedro Roselló, governor from 1992 to 2000, privatized health services and sold hospitals. While insurance companies fattened their profits by delaying payments and services, enabling them to earn interest on public funds, the population has seen co-pays increase and intolerable delays in basic and urgent care, as in the case of cancer patients. Moreover, government officials under Roselló reportedly stole money from an organization that provided services for AIDS patients. In 1998, Roselló also sold Telefónica de Puerto Rico, a public telephone company, an action that triggered an enormous two-day general strike.

The following governor, Sila Calderón, the first female governor in the island (2000 to 2004), outsourced billing services in the Public Water Authority to ONDEO, a French company, which failed to meet the terms of its contracts but was paid $540 million. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, the governor from 2004 to 2008, privatized testing services in the Department of Education and signed numerous contracts for millions of dollars with charter school organizations while denying salary increases to public school teachers. The independent teachers union, Federación de Maestros, staged a successful strike and won salary increases.

Puerto Rican workers have also seen massive layoffs in the private sector as the economy has been in recession for more than four years now. The governor claims privatizing public services will create 200,000 new jobs by 2013. The government’s development plans include promoting medical tourism; privatizing much of the public energy authority; displacing poor communities to build expensive apartments and shopping malls; and a luxury resort, casino and marina on a former U.S. naval base. Few believe Fortuño’s promises, however, given the mass layoffs he claimed would never happen.

Laid-off workers have few options. Even if they manage to land a job, an abysmal rate of private-sector unionism, less than 3 percent, means few protections. Private companies will not recognize decades of service in the public sector, offer health insurance or match government salaries.

Meanwhile, despite promises of state support, fired workers wait in unemployment lines so long that people arrive the day before their appointment at the Labor Department to claim benefits; their only alternative is accepting a government offer of $2,000 to leave the island.

While a large number of Puerto Rican workers and students are resolved to fight the government’s policies, the movement is divided. The ruling elite are banking on this. Following the general strike, Fortuño’s Chief of Staff, Rodríguez-Ema, said, “I know we will prevail since the movement is divided.”

The most conservative unions and political organizations are allies of the former ruling party (Partido Popular Democrático, the equivalent of the Democrats). The conservative unions, some of which seem most concerned with not losing union dues, are affiliated with large U.S. unions, such as the SEIU. These unions are mostly organized under Law 45, instituted in 1998, which allowed for unionizing public-sector workers while taking away their right to strike. Many of these workers had previously been in more militant labor “associations.”

Conservative and moderate groups are interested in getting concessions from the government even if this means reducing working hours for all public-service workers or eliminating the government’s contribution to the workers’ health insurance. During the 1998 strike against the sale of the public telephone company, leaders in some of these unions and organizations demobilized a mass-based movement that put up to 500,000 people in the streets. They negotiated a truce with the government, and the telephone company was finally sold.

While the Oct. 15 mobilization marked a big step forward, halting and reversing privatization will require a still higher level of struggle. Independent unions, such as the university non-teaching employees union, called for a workers’ party during the march. The Federación de Maestros, the teachers’ union that held a strike under the former administration; the union of electric company workers; and political organizations such as la Organización Socialista Internacional and the Movimiento Socialista de Trabajadores called for organizing from below. These unions and political groups, together with other community organizations and university professors (Asociación Puertorriqueña de Profesores Universitarios), have supported calling a general strike in the future.

Yolanda Rivera is a member of the Organización Socialista Internacional. Lee Sustar contributed to this report.

Island crisis could fuel more Puerto Rican migration to U.S.

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

by Jorge Duany, Ph.D., Guest Writer
Orlando Sentinel (Oct 15, 2009)

The signs of Puerto Rico’s acute socioeconomic crisis are everywhere.

The Island’s economy is expected to decline by 5.5 percent this year. Local consumer debt reached almost 23 billion U.S. dollars in 2008. The unemployment rate was 16.5 percent in July 2009. Since 1996, 45,000 manufacturing jobs have been eliminated. For the first time in years, the poverty rate increased during the current decade. The massive layoffs by the Commonwealth government have caused public dismay. Many people are extremely worried about keeping their jobs and paying their bills, taxes, insurance, and mortgages.

One of the traditional strategies in the face of economic difficulties in Puerto Rico has been emigration. An increasing number of Puerto Ricans is seriously considering that alternative, despite the recession of the U.S. economy.

During the current decade, at least one-quarter of a million Puerto Ricans has moved to the continental United States. According to the Puerto Rico Community Survey, nearly 428,000 residents of the Island relocated to the mainland, while about 224,000 returned from abroad between the years 2000 and 2007. According to the Puerto Rico Ports Authority, the net passenger movement to the United States totaled around 297,200 persons between 2000 and 2009. In 2008, 51.6 percent of all persons of Puerto Rican origin lived outside the Island.

Aside from the massive resurgence of the Puerto Rican exodus, the latest census statistics confirm the migrants’ changing settlement patterns. In 2008, the state of Florida had the second largest number of Puerto Rican residents (744.4 thousand), after New York (1.1 million). Between the years 2000 and 2007, five of the ten leading destinations of Puerto Rican migrants were in Florida: Orange, Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, and Osceola counties.

During the same period, 38,257 residents of the Island resettled in Orange County, the center of the Orlando metropolitan area, which has displaced Philadelphia and Chicago as the second concentration for Puerto Ricans in the U.S. mainland. Other popular destinations for the migrants are Hamden County, Massachusetts; Philadelphia; the Bronx in New York; Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut.

On average, contemporary Puerto Rican migrants are younger, better educated, more skilled, and more likely to be bilingual than the Island’s population. Still, it is exaggerated to characterize the entire new migrant flow as a “brain drain,” since the bulk of the migrants has a secondary education and a blue-collar or service job.

At the same time, a growing proportion consists of highly qualified professionals, including medical doctors, engineers, nurses, and teachers. Among the main motivations for this continuous exodus are the gaps in wages, working conditions, and opportunities for professional development on the Island and in the United States. Furthermore, many migrants are seeking a better “quality of life,” referring especially to public services, housing costs, safety, and tranquility.

Finally, the most recent census estimates allow a comparison between the living conditions of Puerto Ricans on and off the Island.

In 2008, Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate was 14.8 percent, compared to 10 percent for Puerto Ricans in the United States, 9.3 percent in Florida, and 10.4 percent in Orlando. The median income for Puerto Rican households on the Island ($18,190) was less than half than in the United States ($39,039), Florida ($41,892), and Orlando ($39,778). In turn, Puerto Rico’s poverty rate (45 percent) was much higher than for Puerto Ricans in the United States (24 percent), Florida (17.5 percent), and Orlando (16.2 percent).

Given such wide discrepancies in employment opportunities, income levels, and other economic indicators, the new migrant wave will probably persist, until living conditions on the Island improve substantially. Let’s hope that happens soon.

Jorge Duany is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. He is currently the Wilbur Marvin Visiting Scholar at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University. He earned his Ph.D. in Latin American Studies, with a concentration in anthropology, at the University of California, Berkeley. He also holds an M.A. in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago and a B.A. in Psychology from Columbia University. He has published extensively on Caribbean migration, ethnicity, race, nationalism, and transnationalism. His most recent coedited book is “How the United States Racializes Latinos: White Hegemony and Its Consequences” (2009).

PRdream mourns the passing of State Senator Olga Mendez, 1926 – 2009

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Olga MendezBorn in 1926 in Mayaguez Puerto Rico, her academic accomplishments are trumped only by her extensive work in public service. After earning her bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico, Mendez earned a Master’s Degree in Psychology from Columbia University, followed by a PhD in Educational Psychology from Yeshiva University.

Early in her career, Mendez was a strong advocate for improving social services in the community, and became a dynamic leader in the organization of voter registration drives throughout the country. She was elected Senator to the New York State Legislature in 1978, becoming the first Puerto Rican woman to hold the honor in the State of New York.

Mendez was elected as a delegate for the Democratic Conventions of 1980, 1984, and 1988. During her time in the New York State Senate, she served as Secretary of the Minority Conference in 1984, and in 1993 earned the honor of becoming the first Puerto Rican woman to be chosen as Chairperson of the Minority Conference.

In 2004, PRdream honored Senator Olga Mendez when she left office with a reception and performances by Teatro Circulo and El Trio Nueva York at its gallery then on East 106th Street.

NiLP FYI: Puerto Rican Nationalism and Statehood

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Note: The Natural Resources Committee approved the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009 on the future political status of Puerto Rico last week. This bill was submitted by the island’s resident commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi, who is a member of the pro-statehood New Progressive Paty (PNP). The other three Stateside Puerto Ricans in Congress have not endorsed this bill.

According to this proposal, voters would choose between keeping the island’s commonwealth status, adopted in 1952, or to opt for something different. In the latter case, a second plebiscite would let them decide whether they wanted statehood, independence or independence with a loose association to the United States.

Two of the island’s main parties oppose the proposal as having a pro-statehood bias, and a similar bill that the committee approved in October 2007 has since died. Last week’s committee debate marked the 68th time that the House has debated a bill related to Puerto Rico’s status. Puerto Ricans voted to maintain the island’s current status and rejected statehood in nonbinding referendums in 1967, 1993 and 1998.

Residents of the U.S. Caribbean commonwealth are barred from voting in presidential elections, and their Congressional delegate cannot vote.

We have reprinted below an interesting analysis supporting the statehood position that we thought would be helpful in promoting further debate on this status issue. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of NiLP on this subject and we will seek disseminate commentaries on the other status options.

—Angelo Falcón

Puerto Rican Nationalism and the Drift Towards Statehood
by Arienna Grody, Research Associate
Council on Hemispheric Affairs (July 27, 2009)

Near the Caribbean islands of Hispaniola and Cuba lies another, smaller island, the inhabitants of which have never experienced sovereignty. The arrival of Christopher Columbus [Colón] to its shores in 1493 heralded an era of enslavement and destruction of the native Taíno population at the hands of the Spanish colonial system. Four centuries later, the decadence of the Spanish royalty had significantly weakened the once-formidable imperial structure. The Spanish-American War of 1898 became the capstone of the demise of the Spanish empire and the Treaty of Paris ceded control of several Spanish-held islands to the United States. Of the territorial possessions to change hands in 1898, Puerto Rico is the only one that persists in a state of colonialism to this day.

“Puerto Rico has been a colony for an uninterrupted period of over five hundred years,” writes Pedro A. Malavet, a law professor at the University of Florida who has studied the subject extensively. “In modern times, colonialism – the status of a polity with a definable territory that lacks sovereignty because legal [and] political authority is exercised by a peoples distinguishable from the inhabitants of the colonized region – is the only legal status that the isla (island) has known.” Puerto Rico’s legal and political status has not, however, precluded the development of a national ethos. On the contrary, Jorge Duany, a professor of anthropology at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras, explains that Puerto Ricans “imagine themselves as a nation [although they] do so despite the lack of a strong movement to create a sovereign state.” Furthermore, this perception of a unique Puerto Rican identity had already developed and become established under Spanish rule. Puerto Rican cultural nationalism has persisted through various stages of history, through drives for independence and efforts at assimilation. This puertorriqueñismo is apolitical. In fact, some of the strongest cultural nationalism is exhibited by Puerto Ricans living in the United States.

Nevertheless, the lack of association between puertorriqueñismo and sovereignty, or even of a clearly mobilized independence movement with widespread support, does not diminish the necessity of finding a just and permanent resolution to the question of the status of Puerto Rico.

American Imperialism Called to the Colors

In 1898, the United States won Cuba, Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico from Spain. As U.S. troops invaded Puerto Rico, they proclaimed that their intentions were to overthrow the ruling Spanish authorities, thereby guaranteeing individual freedoms for the inhabitants. However, as Michael González-Cruz, an assistant professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, writes, “the occupation and recolonization of the island did not improve basic rights such as health or labor conditions but rather reinforced the barriers that increased social inequalities among the population.” Although the U.S.’ initial promises of liberation and democracy won the support and assistance of many anti-Spanish Puerto Ricans, it soon became clear that “the United States’ interest in conquering land did not extend to accepting the colonized people as equals.”

Far from promoting the democratic republican ideals associated with the U.S.’ own independence movement and its aftermath, the new colonial regime on the island promptly instituted military rule. It “sought to consolidate its military and economic authority by repressing any activity that might destabilize it or threaten its economic interests.” U.S. military forces protected landowners against the tiznados, or members of secret societies dedicated to the independence of Puerto Rico, rendering the landowners dependent on their presence and rejecting any movement towards sovereignty for the island. Additionally, the period was marked by media repression and censorship as “journalists were systematically pursued, fined and arrested for reporting on the behavior of the troops of the occupation.” These were the first signs that island residents were not going to be treated as the equals of mainland Americans, but they were by no means the last.

The Insular Cases

According to writer, lawyer and political analyst Juan M. García-Passalacqua, the Insular Cases – the series of Supreme Court decisions that ultimately determined the relationships between the United States and its newly acquired territories – “made it clear that the paradigm was the governance of the property of the United States, not of a people.” This point is illuminated by the fact that the Insular Cases primarily addressed tax law. In De Lima v Bidwell (1901), the Court determined that Puerto Rico was not a foreign country – at least for the purpose of import taxes. But in Downes v Bidwell (1901), it held that the island was not part of the U.S. per se. Malavet points to the fact that it gave Congress “almost unfettered discretion to do with Puerto Rico as it wants” as the biggest flaw in the Downes decision.

The decision was neither undisputed nor unqualified. For example, Justice Edward Douglass White concurred, but on the condition that “when the unfitness of particular territory for incorporation is demonstrated the occupation will terminate.” Justice John Marshall Harlan II (best known for his dissent in Plessy v Ferguson (1896)) dissented emphatically, arguing that “the idea that this country may acquire territories anywhere upon the earth, by conquest or treaty, and hold them as mere colonies or provinces, – the people inhabiting them to enjoy only such rights as Congress chooses to accord them, – is wholly inconsistent with the spirit and genious, as well as with the words, of the Constitution.”

Despite these warnings, however, Congress (with the assent of the Supreme Court) continued to construct Puerto Rico as a dependent colonial possession, a status from which, more than a century later, the island has yet to escape. The civilian government introduced under the Foraker Act (1900) was appointed primarily by the president of the United States. The Jones Act (1917) can be said to have bestowed or imposed U.S. citizenship on Puerto Ricans. But this citizenship does not include the full rights guaranteed to citizens in the fifty states. In the case of Balzac v Porto Rico (1922), the Supreme Court held that personal freedoms, while considered a constitutional right on the mainland, were not legal entitlements on the island because of its status as a territory merely “belonging” to the United States, rather than as an “incorporated” territory. Malavet maintains that Balzac “constitutionally constructs the United States citizenship of Puerto Ricans as second class,” affirming Congress’ colonialist agenda and denying Puerto Ricans both the right to self-determination and the option to assimilate on equal grounds.

Americanization

Before Puerto Rico’s destiny to be a colonial possession indefinitely had been sealed, the United States instituted a policy of Americanization, centered on linguistically assimilating the islanders by establishing English as the language of public school instruction. Malavet has described this Anglo-centric agenda as “the most obvious effort to re/construct Puerto Rican identity,” which was made possible by the early view of Puerto Ricans as “overwhelmingly poor, uneducated people who could nonetheless be ‘saved’ by Americanization.” As Amílcar Antonio Barreto, Associate Director of Northeastern University’s Humanities Center, points out, clearly “an implicit assumption underlying Americanization was the presumed superiority of Anglo-American socio-cultural norms and the concurrent inferiority of Puerto Ricans.”

Americanization, although focused primarily on English language instruction to facilitate assimilation, included persecution of the independence movement. Significantly, Puerto Ricans, who had developed a national identity under Spanish rule, rejected the efforts at forced cultural substitution. According to Barreto, the Americanization project “endow[ed] the Spanish language with a political meaning and a social significance it would not have held otherwise,” laying the foundation for a cultural nationalism centered on the Spanish language and heritage.

Economic Dependence

Not only was the U.S.-imposed government unresponsive to cultural demands of the population, it allowed American corporations to control the island’s economy and exploit its resources, effectively plunging it into long-term dependency.

One of the most fateful decisions the government made was to promote sugarcane as a single crop. The dominance of sugarcane production undermined the coffee and tobacco economies in the mountain areas, allowed sugar corporations to monopolize the land and subjected workers to the cane growing cycle, forcing them into debt in the dead season and exacerbating the problems of poverty and inequality already present on the island. Furthermore, “the island became a captive market for North American interests.”

The economic policy of the early 20th century was a disaster for Puerto Rico. Its accomplishments were limited to widening the gap in Puerto Rican society, intensifying poverty on the island and creating the conditions of dependency on the United States from which it has yet to escape.

The Independence Movement

The American indifference to Puerto Rican cultural objectives, political demands and economic needs led to an initially determined drive for independence. One of the most prominent figures of the independence movement was Pedro Albizu Campos. A lawyer and a nationalist, he gained recognition when he defended the sugar workers’ strike of 1934.

The 1934 strike was a response to the wage cuts imposed by U.S. sugar corporations. Faced with a reduction of already marginal incomes, the workers organized a nationwide strike that paralyzed the sugar industry. Albizu Campos took advantage of his position as the primary advocate of the strikers to link the workers’ demands to the struggle for independence.

Albizu Campos based his argument for independence on the fact that Spain had granted Puerto Rico autonomy in 1898, before the Spanish-American War and before the Treaty of Paris. Therefore, he contended that Spain had no right to hand over Puerto Rico to the United States as war plunder. Unfortunately for Puerto Rico, autonomy does not equate to sovereignty. Sovereignty is not a condition that Puerto Rico has ever experienced. But there has been a significant push for an independent Puerto Rico. Nevertheless, this movement has been consistently and violently repressed.

In 1937, a peaceful protest in support of Puerto Rican independence was organized in Ponce. Shortly before the demonstration was to begin, then Governor General Blanton Winship revoked the previously issued permits. Police surrounded the march and, as it began, opened fire on the activists, leaving 21 dead and 200 wounded. The Ponce Massacre is one of the better known examples of the use of violence to silence the independence movement, but by no means was it an isolated event.

Assimilationism

The United States, despite its disregard for the Puerto Rican people, placed a high premium on the use of the island for military purposes. This was highlighted by the location of both the Caribbean and South Atlantic U.S. Naval Commands in the 37,000 acre naval base Roosevelt Roads, which closed in 2004.

The obvious alternative to independence is statehood, an option which entails a certain degree of assimilation. González-Cruz posits that “the extreme economic dependency and the U.S. military presence provide favorable conditions for Puerto Rico to become a state.”

As Governor of Puerto Rico in the 1990s, Pedro Roselló of the Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP) proposed instituting a form of bilingual education, allegedly because of the advantages associated with both bilingualism and speaking English, but more plausibly to boost the island’s chances of becoming a state. In 1976, President Gerald Ford declared that it was time for Puerto Rico to become fully assimilated as the 51st state. But there was strong opposition, not only from island independentistas, but from American politicians, some of whom were determined to refuse Puerto Rico admission to the union without instituting English as the official language of the island.

In the 1990s, there was lingering xenophobic objection to Puerto Rican statehood as well as echoes of the linguistic intolerance exhibited in the 1970s. The American intransigence on language and assimilation is likely what pushed the Roselló government to try to institute bilingual education on the island.

“Because of the uncertainty of the status question, the proannexationist government [...] steered the island toward a neoliberal model in which statehood would not generate additional costs for the United States,” writes González-Cruz. They catered to the U.S. Congress as much as possible in order to try to direct the future of the island toward full incorporation into the United States.
However, this assimilationist push for statehood, embodied by the proposed education reforms was flatly rejected by the population. The Partido Independentista Puertorriqueña (PIP), may have never been able to garner more support than what it needs to barely survive, but assimilation is also perceived by many modern islanders as contrary to the needs, desires and interests of the Puerto Rican people.

Puertorriqueñismo

Puerto Ricans favor neither independence nor assimilation in crushing numbers. They are reluctant to forego the benefits of U.S. citizenship and unwilling to give up their identity as Puerto Ricans. Malavet argues that “cultural assimilation has been and positively will be impossible for the United States to achieve.” This is because Puerto Ricans perceive themselves as “Puerto Ricans first, Americans second.” Yet, in spite of this apparently strong nationalist sentiment, Puerto Ricans reject legal and political independence. In the words of Antonio Amílcar Barreto, “Puerto Ricans are cultural nationalists [but] the island’s economic dependency on the United States [...] outweighs other considerations when it comes to voting.”

“Culturally speaking, Puerto Rico now meets most of the objective and subjective characteristics of conventional views of the nation, among them a shared language, territory, and history,” writes Jorge Duany. “Most important, the vast majority of Puerto Ricans imagine themselves as distinct from Americans as well as from other Latin American and Caribbean peoples.”

This cultural nationhood emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries. As more Spaniards were born in Puerto Rico, they developed a distinct criollo cultural identity, inextricably linked to the island. Towards the end of the 19th century, the criollos began to push for greater independence from the distant fatherland. In March 1898, the first autonomous government was established under Spanish rule. Despite its imperfections, the autonomous charter indicated the growing nationalist sentiment on the island. Unfortunately, the United States invaded the island before it was ever granted independence.

Nevertheless, this criollo culture was sufficiently strong and entrenched to withstand the onslaught of the Americanization effort. One side effect of the attempted imposition of American culture and values was the development of a puertorriqueñismo largely defined in terms of anti-Americanism. Rather than simply creating a unique Puerto Rican identity, early nationalists defined Puerto Ricanness strictly in contrast to Americanness. Thus, “Puerto Rican nationalism throughout the 20th century has been characterized by Hispanophilia, anti-Americanism, Negrophobia, androcentrism, homophobia, and, more recently, xenophobia,” writes Duany. To a large extent, this accounts for the rejection of English (or even bilingualism) in favor of Spanish, which is perceived as an important part of contemporary Puerto Rican identity. Even Puerto Ricans living in the United States are often not considered real Puerto Ricans by island nationalists.

Nationhood

Duany describes a nation as “a ‘spiritual principle’ based on shared memories and the cult of a glorious past, as well as the ability to forget certain shameful events.” It is not inextricably linked to statehood. As legal scholar and political leader of the Puerto Rican independence movement Manuel Rodríguez Orellana explains, “Even before the phenomenon of the political unification of nations into states, the French were French and the English were English. Michelangelo was no less Italian than Mussolini.” It is this separation between the concepts of nation and state that allows Puerto Ricans to assert their Puerto Rican nationalism without demanding independence, instead defending their U.S. citizenship.

Although Rodríguez Orellana describes puertorriqueñismo as a “political act on the colonial stage,” it has generally lost its political undercurrents. As Rodríguez Orellana himself says, “the daily life of Puerto Ricans runs, consciously or unconsciously, along the track of their national identity.” Puerto Ricans are always Puerto Ricans. This is not a political act, but a cultural fact. Although independentista intellectuals like the relatively early and highly influential scholar Manuel Maldonado-Denis worry that “the colonization of Puerto Rico under the American flag has meant the gradual erosion of [Puerto Rican] culture” and argue that “Puerto Rico is a country that is threatened at its very roots by the American presence,” the evidence is to the contrary. In fact, migration “has produced an affirmation of puertorriqueñismo as a nationality in the continental United States that is stronger and may be more important than the development of it on the island.” Puerto Ricans clearly continue to exhibit a strong sense of cultural identity and nationalism in spite of their failure to connect it to independence.

A Century of Colonialism

In the words of Maldonado-Denis, “Puerto Ricans are a colonial people with a colonial outlook,” meaning that neither the Puerto Ricans on the island nor Puerto Ricans in the United States have yet achieved “a true ‘decolonization,’ either in the political or in the psychological sense of the word.” In spite of Puerto Rican complacency and in spite of the fact that the United States has managed to design “a process of governance that hides Puerto Rico in plain view,” the colonial relationship that persists between the two polities cannot last forever. 111 years after the acquisition of the island, the time to decide the future of Puerto Rico is overdue.

The Future of Puerto Rico

Malavet identifies the three legitimate postcolonial alternatives for Puerto Rico as independence, non-assimilationist statehood and “a constitutional bilateral form of free association,” arguing that “it is unconstitutional for the United States to remain a colonial power [...] for a period of over one hundred years.” The territorial status is only valid as a temporary, transitional status. It must lead to either independence or incorporation.

Given the unacceptability of Puerto Rico’s current colonial legal and political status, the question becomes: what is the best viable option for Puerto Rico?

Independence

García-Passalacqua writes that, “with the reemergence of all sorts of nationalisms, [sovereignty] has become the logical aspiration of any and all peoples in the new world order.” There is no reason why this wouldn’t be true for Puerto Ricans. The $26 billion drained from the island by U.S. corporations each year is sufficient justification to push for separation from the United States. The unequal treatment of island residents, embodied by the phrase “second class citizenship,” provides further grounds for dissociation from the imperial power. Additionally, Puerto Ricans self-identify as a nation.

There appears to be no reason for Puerto Rico to continue as anything other than an independent nation-state. In this vein, then Governor of Puerto Rico, Anibal Acevedo Vila, spoke before the UN General Assembly last year, accusing the Bush administration of denying the island its right to chart its own course and demonstrating a sense of frustration with the aimless direction in which the United States has dragged Puerto Rico. This seems to imply preference for autonomy, if not sovereignty. But while Puerto Ricans certainly insist upon their autonomy, there is no such consensus on independence – that option has never garnered more than five percent of the vote in any of the status plebiscites.

Statehood

Puerto Ricans are not ready to give up their ability to hop across the blue pond on a whim. Despite the fact that the United States continuously exploits the island – its resources and its people – , most Puerto Ricans perceive the benefits of their relationship to the United States as outweighing the costs.

Puerto Rico is “consistently losing its ability to achieve self-sustaining development, and the current economic course” makes it less likely that there will ever be “any significant degree of political and economic sovereignty.” Furthermore, the presence of U.S. military bases on the island reduces the likelihood that the Pentagon would easily let go of the valuable strategic outpost. The greatest opposition to Puerto Rican statehood would come from xenophobic American politicians arguing that Puerto Ricans are inassimilable.

This combination of factors could tilt the balance in favor of statehood over independence. Because Puerto Ricans perceive their economic interests as being tied to their connection to the mainland, they are likely to opt for a status that allows them to maintain the current relationship virtually unaltered. While the majority of island intellectuals may advocate independence, it is important to note that the majority of islanders are not intellectuals.

A New Proposal

Last month, Pedro Pierluisi presented a new bill in the Committee of Natural Resources in the U.S. House of Representatives, seeking authorization from Congress to allow Puerto Rico to conduct a series of plebiscites to determine the preferred future status of the island. However, the bill does not commit Congress to act on the results of the plebiscites and, although it presents Puerto Ricans with and opportunity to choose a reasonable permanent status, it also allows them to perpetuate themselves in an unacceptable state of colonialism indefinitely.

Malavet writes that “perhaps the biggest harm perpetrated by the United States against the people of Puerto Rico can be labeled ‘the crisis of self confidence.’ This form of internalized oppression that afflicts the people of Puerto Rico leads them to conclude that they are incapable of self-government. Under this tragic construct, Puerto Ricans believe that they lack the economic power to succeed as an independent nation – that they lack the intellectual and moral capacity for government.” This U.S.-imposed inferiority complex will almost certainly lead Puerto Ricans to vote against independence if given the option. They have consistently expressed no desire whatsoever to be categorized as a sovereign state.

Because Puerto Ricans do not connect their cultural nationalism to sovereignty and because of the island’s extreme dependency on the United States, the most likely eventual outcome for Puerto Rico will be statehood. Although this is not necessarily the ideal status for the island, it is undeniably preferable to its current second-class existence. What is most important is that the island ceases to be a territorial possession. In the words of Manuel Maldonado-Denis, “colonialism as an institution is dead the world over. Puerto Rico cannot – will not – be the exception to this rule.”

The Hope of a Nation

With any luck, Congress will pass Pierluisi’s bill (or a more forceful version that pushes for change) and Puerto Ricans will be given the opportunity to vote on their future. In spite of the strong cultural nationalism that permeates contemporary Puerto Rican society, the economic benefits of statehood are likely to be the most influential factor in a status vote.

Statehood entails a certain degree of assimilation. For instance, Puerto Rican athletes will now have to compete for spots on the U.S. Olympic team before heading to the international event. This absorption into the United States certainly erodes the sense of Puerto Rican nationhood as Puerto Rico is no longer able to represent itself as a specific entity on a world stage. However, this should not hugely effect the continuation of a thriving Puerto Rican culture distinct from American culture.

Moreover, there are definite advantages to becoming a state, not least the expansion of Medicare and the ability to vote. If the territory joins the Union, it will be nearly impossible for the U.S. to rationalize the perpetuation of the poverty currently found in Puerto Rico.

And if the population decides that the economic benefits of statehood do not outweigh the cultural costs, perhaps the shock of losing their Olympic team will spark a widespread Puerto Rican independence movement.