23. PUERTO RICO: THE REVOLUTION AT OUR DOORSTEP

In August of 1987, the United Nations Committee on Decolonization voted to ask the United States to immediately remove itself from Puerto Rico and to recognize the Puerto Ricans' right to self-determination and independence. This was the 11th time the U.N. committee made this request. And, each time the request was ignored by the United States government and by the U.S. press.

In 1898, Puerto Rico won its autonomy from Spain and was well on its way to becoming an independent nation. That is until July 25, 1898, when the United States invaded the island. After three years of resistance by the Puerto Rican people, the U.S. military might prevailed and Puerto Rico became a U.S. colony. In 1952, it became a "commonwealth," but the colonial pattern, with 90 percent of the country's industry in U.S. hands, continues to this day.

Puerto Rico is rife with social and environmental problems, many of them stemming from its status as an American colony. One independence group claims that "forty percent of Puerto Rican women have been sterilized as part of a deliberate U.S. strategy to depopulate the island." Unemployment drives many Puerto Ricans to seek work in the U.S. Many others left their homes in order to accommodate the seven military bases there. Military recruiters prey on desperate youth experiencing 75 percent unemployment. Bombing practice on the island of Vieques destroyed the local fishing industry there. And while Puerto Rico has eight federal "emergency list" toxic dump sites, no U.S. environmental laws apply there. The U.S. is in violation of the Treaty of Tlateloco, which prohibits the storage of nuclear arms in Latin America, by storing nuclear weapons in Puerto Rico.

Unfortunately for Puerto Rico, its importance to the U.S. is not limited to its industrial development but rather to its critical position as a U.S. military base. Currently 13% of Puerto Rico is controlled by the U.S. military. Roosevelt Roads, the largest U.S. naval base outside the continental U.S., is located in Puerto Rico. And, when the U.S. military is forced to leave Guantanamo, Cuba, and Panama in the 1990's, the military importance of Puerto Rico will increase significantly.

The Puerto Rican people are resisting by every means they can from demonstrations protesting U.S. war games, to protests over plans to strip-mine mineral-rich Puerto Rico, to militant occupations of U.S. military controlled-land, to armed actions.

As a result of the growing struggle for independence, the U.S. has intensified its repression. FBI surveillance, the use of grand juries to imprison activists, and a deliberate media portrayal of Puerto Rican independistas as terrorists are all designed to destroy the movement for self-determination. It was recently revealed that the Puerto Rican Intelligence Division, a unit known for its closeness to the FBI, maintains a 74,000-person "subversives list" which includes not just those affiliated with armed actions but lawyers, writers, and others who engage in serious dissent.

Given the ongoing repression and the increasing dissension, it may well be that our next Vietnam is not Nicaragua, but our very own "Commonwealth" -- Puerto Rico.

SOURCES:

NORTHERN SUN NEWS, October 1987, "Puerto Rico: A long freedom struggle," by Melinda Power, p 5; UTNE READER, Jan/Feb 1988, "Puerto Rico: Revolution at doorstep?," by Chris Gunderson, pp 13-14.