When the U.S. invaded Puerto Rico 117 years ago, Gen. Nelson A. Miles declared that:
“We have come to bring you protection, not only to yourselves but to your property, to promote your prosperity, to bestow upon you the blessings and liberal institutions of our government…and to give the advantages and blessings of enlightened civilization.”
Gen. Nelson A. Miles
Aside from assuming that Puerto Rico was not “civilized” or “enlightened,” these words were supplemented with the following, on the floor of the U.S. Senate:
“A heterogeneous mass of mongrels make up their citizenship…they are incapable of self government…savages addicted to head-hunting and cannibalism.” (U.S. Senator William B. Bate; April 2, 1900)
“God has made us adept in government so that we may administer these savages and senile peoples.” (U.S. Senator Albert J. Beveridge; January 9, 1900)
On February 22, 1899, the New York Times contributed this to the discussion:
“Porto Ricans are uneducated, simple-minded and harmless people who are only interested in wine, women, music and dancing.”
As late as 1940, the prestigious Scribner’s Commentator offered this insight into the Puerto Rican character:
“All Puerto Ricans are totally lacking in moral values, which is why none of them seem to mind wallowing in the most abject moral degradation.” (Scribner’s Commentator, pp. 7-8, March 1940)
The U.S. then proceeded to rob the entire island.
This was the “moral” thing to do since, after all, Puerto Rico was a colony full of headhunters and cannibals.
Today, as we celebrate the independence of the U.S. – the “leader of the free world” – it is useful to consider some other words, as well…the words of Don Pedro Albizu Campos.
His words are highly appropriate to this July 4th occasion.
“Man is essentially free, because the spirit which gives him life is essentially free…For this reason neither the United States nor any other empire on earth can deprive us of the right to govern the land on which we were born.”
These words are self-explanatory. They are also consistent with the founding principles of the United States of America: that government exists with the consent of the governed, and all men (and women) are created equal. Don Pedro believed in these principles, and spent 25 years in prison for his belief.
“Washington reduces our people into impotence, so that we become pariahs in our own country.”
Don Pedro predicted accurately.
Through the Insular Cases, the Foraker Act, the Hollander Act, the Law of Cabotage, a 40% currency devaluation, the theft of farmland, Public Law 53 (the Gag Law), secret FBI files on 100,000 Puerto Ricans, the arrest of 3,000 Puerto Ricans in November 1950, the bombing of two towns (Jayuya and Utuado) in broad daylight, the Ponce Massacre, the Rio Piedras Massacre, the Utuado Massacre, the torture and “disappearance” of political prisoners, and a Police Chief who declared “War Against All Puerto Ricans,” the U.S. did a thorough job of bending the island to its imperial will.
“La Fortaleza has passed to the rank of hotel, and Muñoz Marín has become the head waiter of that hotel…Our politicians have become parasites, living off the blood of the people, deceiving them every four years to steal from them, to deride them, to enter castles and poison themselves with morphine and rum.”
On June 10, 1948, Public Law 53 was passed: which made it illegal to say a word, sing a song, whistle a tune, or express anything against the U.S. government. It also made ownership of a Puerto Rican flag a felony, punishable by ten years in federal prison.
Don Pedro was furious. He realized that the First Amendment rights of the entire island had just been abrogated, in order to shut one man up…him. The very next day, on June 11, he delivered a scathing radio speech in the town of Manatí. He assailed the governor for his opium habit, but he also said something very accurate. For nearly seventy years, politicians have continued to bleed the island, steal from their own people, deceive them every four years…
And after feasting at this fabulous restaurant, they now present the people of Puerto Rico with the check…a $73 billion public debt.
“According to the United States, owning one man makes you a scoundrel, but owning a nation makes you a colonial benefactor.”
Don Pedro was right again.
As recently as June 1 – just one month ago – Ann Coulter published Adios, America in which she shrieks, on every page, that Latinos are not entitled to the same rights as black people.
Specifically, she writes that “the entire edifice of civil rights and discrimination law was meant to address the black experience in America, not to reward any loser with resentments…Huge social welfare programs were created – for blacks. Affirmative action policies and racial quotas were created – for blacks.”
According to Coulter, since immigrants are not descendants of American slaves, then “Why do we owe other countries anything? Our racial guilt is over slavery. America didn’t have any colonies…what do we owe the Third World?”
This is ridiculous…crazy…Ann Coulter needs some medication, correct? Perhaps she does, but that is not the point. Her book is a New York Times Best Seller. Out of 9 million books in the Amazon sales system, Adios, America is currently #53 in total sales. Even Donald Trump tried to incorporate the book into his cynical campaign.
Clearly, many people are listening to this racist message. They still hold it in their hearts.
“A nation such as the U.S., with enormous national and international problems, does not have time or attention for us. Puerto Rico must present the U.S. with a grave crisis, in order to receive any attention.”
Don Pedro tried to create this “grave crisis” with a Nationalist uprising in 1950. This “grave crisis” also exists today, with a $73 billion public debt and no clear resolution in sight.
Over the past five days, all of the following U.S. publications have written urgently about Puerto Rico:
New York Times
Wall Street Journal
Los Angeles Times
Al Jazeera America
New Yorker Magazine
Again, Don Pedro was absolutely correct.
The U.S. does not have time or attention for us…until we become a serious “problem.”
Ironically, due to this $73 billion public debt, Puerto Rico has succeeded in becoming a “problem” to the U.S. For a brief moment in time, Puerto Rico finally exists in the eyes of the American public. The economic condition of the island has become a serious concern to the U.S. government – but only for a moment. The minute that the $73 billion debt is “resolved,” everyone will go back to their daily routine – and Puerto Rico will be forgotten.
And so…as we celebrate “Independence Day” on the U.S. mainland, we might take a few moments to reflect on the wisdom of Don Pedro.
All of his prophecies came true.
Puerto Rico stands in a profound historical moment.
What are we going to do about it?