Mis publicaciones


Kicking off the Bootstraps: Environment, Development, and Community Power in Puerto Rico. For the series “Society, Environment, and Place.” Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1996. Winner of CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries Outstanding Academic Book Award, 1997.


“Soberanía en la libre asociación, ¿mito o realidad?” Rebelión, 25 mayo2019. https://www.rebelion.org/noticias/2019/5/256379.pdf También publicado en BlogAntiimperialista https://antiimperialistammxix.wordpress.com/2019/05/25/soberania-en-la-libre-asociacion-mito-o-realidad/ . Publicado primero en dos partes en los boletines del Movimiento Ñin Negrón, abril y mayo de 2019. Parte II: https://movimientoninnegron.wordpress.com/2019/05/22/soberania-en-la-libre-asociacion-mito-o-realidad-parte-ii/ y Parte I: https://movimientoninnegron.wordpress.com/2019/04/21/soberania-en-la-libre-asociacion-mito-o-realidad/

«Γιάνκηδες ή Πορτορικανοί; Η στιγμή της αλήθειας για τη χρεοκοπημένη αποικία των ΗΠΑ.» («Yankees or Puerto Ricans? The moment of truth for the debt-ridden US colony.») Dromos Tis Aristeras, No. 354, 08 Abril 2017. https://www.e.droos.gr/giankides-oi-portoricanoi/ 

“Υποσχέσεις τέλος! Εκλογές στο Πουέρτο Ρίκο, την «Ελλάδα της Καραϊβικής» (“Promises are over! Elections in Puerto Rico, the “Greece of the Caribbean.” ) Dromos Tis Aristeras, No. 334, 19 November, 2016. http://www.e-dromos.gr/

“Transcript: interview with Déborah Berman Santana on crises in Puerto Rico and Greece.” Dialogos Media Radio. http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=6459

“Retorno a Grecia: el “Puerto Rico del Mediterraneo a un año del ‘Óxi’ (No)” Compartir es Vivir / Le Monde Diplomatique Puerto Rico, No. 56, p. A-11, September 2016 http://www.compartirpr.org/ 

« Wall Street vultures descend on debt-ridden Puerto Rico. » (with Michael Nevradakis). Mint Press News, August 18, 2016. http://www.mintpressnews.com/wall-street-vultures-descend-debt-ridden-puerto-rico/219562/

“Oscar in Greece, the ‘Puerto Rico of the Mediterranean’ “ La Voz del Paseo Boricua, July 2016. http://www.lavoz-prcc.org/2016/08/oscar-in-greece-the-puerto-rico-of-the-mediterranean/  

“Puerto Rico Update” submitted to Dromos tis Aristeras, July 2016 http://www.e-dromos.gr/

“Puerto Rico: what’s happening in the Greece of the Caribbean?” In Greek: Πουέρτο Ρίκο: Τι συμβαίνει στην «Ελλάδα της Καραϊβικής»; Ektos Grammeis, Εκτός Γραμμής, July 2016

“Puerto Rico la Grecia del Caribe, ¿Grecia el Puerto Rico del mediterráneo?” El Post Antillano, 28 Octubre 2015. http://www.elpostantillano.net/economia-solidaria/15756-deborah-berman-santana.html

“Puerto Rico’s debt crisis: Greece isn’t alone in struggling against austerity.” (with Michael Nevradakis). 19 October 2015.

“Deborah Santana: we need a new philosophy!” Interview in Dromos tis Aristeras, Part 2. 6 October 2015, p. 14. http://www.e-dromos.gr/debora-santana-xreiazomaste-mia-diaforetikh-filosofia/

“Deborah Santana: Puerto Rico is a territory…” Interview in Dromos tis Aristeras, Part 1, 26 September 2015, p.15. http://www.e-dromos.gr/debora-santana-to-puerto-rico-einai-ena-edafos/ 

“David contra Goliát: la lucha de Oakland contra Goldman Sachs y sus lecciones para Puerto Rico.” Claridad Edition no. 3096, August 2-8, 2012, pp. 26-27.

“Puerto Rico, la soberanía y la libre asociación.” Exégesis, 24:70, pp. 45-50, December 2011.

“Struggles for ex-Base Lands in Puerto Rico.” Special Issue, U.S. Military Bases Abroad, Peace Review, Summer 2010 (Vol 22, No 2), pp. 158-163.

“No somos únicos: el ‘status’ desde Manila a San Juan.” Exégesis 23:66, pp. 49-61, January 2010.

“No somos únicos: el estatus desde Manila a San Juan.” Published in the newspaper Claridad in four parts between May 5-26, 2010.

“Vieques, La Lucha Continúa: Reflections on 10 years since the death of David Sanes.” La Voz del Paseo Boricua. April 2009. http://boricuahumanrights.org/2009/04/09/vieques-lalucha-continua-reflections-on-10-years-since-the-death-of-david-sanes/

“Salazar puede lograr justicia en Vieques.” Invited Op-Ed article, El Diario/La Prensa, (NewYork’s largest Spanish-language daily newspaper), Tuesday, December 30, 2008, p. 21.

“El impacto ambiental del militarismo.” Revista AlterNativa 2:1, pp. 18-19, enero-agosto 2007.

“La lucha inconclusa de Vieques.” Invited Op-Ed article, El Diario/La Prensa (New York’s largest Spanish language daily), April 19, 2007. http://www.eldiariony.com/noticias/detail.aspx?section=63&desc=OPINION&id=1623484

“¿Puede Puerto Rico ser un país independiente?” Educational brochure based on my article “Geographers, colonialism and development strategies: the case of Puerto Rico (Urban Geography 1996). La Nueva Escuela, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 2006.

“Desarrollo, ambiente y la doctrina de la ‘no-viabilidad’.” Revista AlterNativa 1:2, pp.22-25, agosto-diciembre 2006.

“La lucha continúa: challenges for a post-Navy Vieques.” CENTRO 18:1 pp. 109-123, Spring

“Vieques después del cese de bombardeo militar: La Lucha Continúa.” Biekesí 5:1, pp. 23-25,

“Jim Blaut, ¡Presente! Puerto Rico: Theory, Solidarity, and Political Practice.” Antipode: a
Radical Journal of Geography 37:5, pp.1023-1026, November 2005.

“Global ethics and the activist geographer: a personal view.” Ethics, Place and Environment 6:1, March 2003.

“Resisting toxic militarism: Vieques vs. the U.S. Navy.” Social Justice 29:1-2, pp.37-47, 2002

“Vieques, Puerto Rico, in focus: environmental and health impacts of Navy training.” Co-authored with Nazario, Cruz María, and John Lindsay-Poland. In Bullard, Robert (ed.)
People of Color Environmental Justice Summit 2002. Atlanta: Clark Atlanta University,
October 2002.

“Isla Kaho’olawe, Hawai’i: Lecciones para Vieques.” Ecoisla, August, 2002.
http://indymediapr.org/news/2004/02/1523.php English version: http://cndyorks.gn.apc.org/caab/articles/vieques235.htm

“Health in Vieques: a crisis and its causes.” Co-authored with Nazario, Cruz María, and John Lindsay-Poland. Vieques Issue Briefs, No.3, June 2002. San Francisco: Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Vieques: is it needed by the Navy?” Co-authored with Shanahan, John, and John Lindsay-Poland. Vieques Issue Briefs, No.2, February 2002. San Francisco: Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean

“Environmental impacts of Navy training.” Vieques Issue Briefs, No.1, November 2001. San Francisco: Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean.

“The western lands of Vieques: community revival or colonial land grab?” Puerto Rico Update: Disarming the US Military Hub in Puerto Rico. Quarterly published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean. No.30, Summer 2000. Updated version published in Que Ondee Sola 28:9, pp.12-14 (November 2000).

“No somos únicos: the status question from Manila to San Juan.” Special Issue: 1898-1998, Part 2. CENTRO XI:1 (127-140), Fall 1999.

“Puerto Rico’s ‘Operation Bootstrap’: colonialist roots of a persistent ‘model’ for ‘third world’
development.” Revista Geográfica No.124, 1998.

“Some more weapons for defeating the enemy within.” In Our Own Voices 1:8, 1998.
“Geographers, colonialism, and development strategies: the case of Puerto Rico.” Special
issue: environmental racism. Urban Geography XVII:5, 1996.

“El desarrollo económico, la lucha ambiental y el poderío comunitario en Puerto Rico.” mines 
17:2, 1994.

“Colonialism, resistance, and the search for alternatives: the environmental movement in Puerto Rico.” Race, Poverty and the Environment VI:1, 1994.

“Los cambios en el gobierno de Estados Unidos desde la perspectiva de la comunidad hispana.”
In Revista De PRISA, April 1993.

“The Puerto Rican environmental movement: a brief overview.” El Bienteveo Libre,
November/December 1992.

“Puerto Rico, the bridge to Latin America and the Caribbean: environment, development, and the
political future of a U.S. colony.” International Agricultural Development X:13, 1991.

“Fuentes alternas de energía.” Bulletin of the Puerto Rico Earth Day Committee, 1991.

Book Chapters:

“Vieques: the land, the people, the struggle, the future.” In Bullard, Robert (ed.), The Quest for Environmental Justice: Human Rights and the Politics of Pollution. San Francisco:
Sierra Club Books, 2005.

“Puerto Rico and the environment.” In Oboler, S., and D.J. González (eds) Encyclopedia of Latinos and Latinas in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

“Indigenous identity and the struggle for independence in Puerto Rico.” In Barker, Joanne (ed.),
Sovereignty Matters: Locations of Contestation and Possibility in Indigenous Struggles for Self-Determination. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

“Environmentalism and the charge of genocide.” in Molina, A. (ed), USA on trial: the 
international tribunal on indigenous and oppressed peoples. Chicago: Coquí, 1996.


“La Ola de Syriza: Surgiendo y Estrellándose con la Izquierda Griega, por Helena Sheehan.” (The Syriza Wave: Surging and Crashing with the Greek Left.) sometida a 80 Grados, agosto 2017.

Review of “Ayala, C.J., and J.L. Bolivar, Battleship Vieques: Puerto Rico from World War II to the Korean War. CENTRO, Vol. 24, no. 2, Fall 2012.

“Murillo, E.J. et al. Handbook of Latinos and Education: Theory, Research, and Practice.” CENTRO 23:1, Spring 2011.

“Thompson, Lanny. Nuestra Isla y Su Gente: La Construcción del “Otro” Puertorriqueño en Our Islands and Their People.” CENTRO 21:1, Spring 2009, pp. 24-27.

“Pérez, Rosie, and Liz Garbus. “Yo Soy Boricua, Pa’ Que Tu lo Sepas.” CENTRO 19:2, Fall

2007, pp. 10-13.

“Picó, Fernando. San Fernando de la Carolina: Identidades y Representaciones.” CENTRO 28:2,

Fall 2006, pp. 255-259.

“Grosfoguel, Ramón. Colonial Subjects: Puerto Ricans in a Global Perspective.” Journal of 

American Ethnic History 24:1, 2004.

“Ramos-Zayas, Ana Y. National Performances: the Politics of Class, Race, and Space in Puerto

Rican Chicago.” Urban Studies 41:13, 2004.

“Novotny, Patrick. Where We Live, Work, and Play: The Environmental Justice Movement and the Struggle for a New Environmentalism.” Contemporary Sociology 31:1, 2002.

“Pardo, Mary. Mexican-American Women Activists: Identity and Resistance in Two Los Angeles Communities.” Urban Studies 36:10, 1999.

“Shiva, Vandana. Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge.” Ethics, Place and Environment II:1, 1999.

“Pulido, Laura. Environmental and Economic Justice: Two Chicano Struggles in the Southwest.”

Ethics, Place and Environment 1:1, 1998.


“The SYRIZA Wave”: An account of leftist betrayal or an account of “activist tourism”? Book review by Déborah Berman Santana


“The SYRIZA Wave”: An account of leftist betrayal or an account of “activist tourism”?

Helena Sheehan’s “The SYRIZA Wave” chronicles the dramatic rise of SYRIZA and its first months in power, up until it overturned the July 2015 referendum result. But can the Greek left be reconciled with unwavering support for the EU?

by Deborah Berman Santana July 1, 2018, 12:49 pm

Sheehan, Helena. The Syriza Wave: Surging and Crashing with the Greek Left. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016. 229p. Reviewed by Déborah Berman Santana.

Helena Sheehan is an academic, journalist, and “eurocommunist” activist from Ireland. Like many Europeans, she has had a lifelong love affair with Greece, firstly due to an idealization of Ancient Greece as the root of European civilization, and secondly through many visits to Europe’s favorite vacation spot. Sheehan recalls that the custom among many left academics was to finance  “sun, sea, sex, and socialism” trips through conference appearances and writing articles for newspapers and scholarly/activist journals. As a supporter of European integration and “new” social movements, she felt closest to the Greek left groups that in 2004 formed the Coalition of the Radical Left: SYRIZA. Following the global financial crash of 2008, she became interested in how it was affecting countries such as Ireland and especially Greece, where the International Monetary Fund (IMF) began to bring its policies of austerity and structural adjustment from the “global south” to Europe. Especially after 2012, Sheehan “wrote (her) way through multiple trips” to Greece.

After SYRIZA won the January 2015 elections, Sheehan received a book contract from Monthly Review Press. By Sheehan’s own admission, others were perhaps more qualified to write this book, because they were Greek or were more knowledgeable about Greece, or knew the language, or had appropriate academic training; nonetheless, the publishers agreed that her experiences and reflections might “contribute to a big-picture understanding of the crisis in both Ireland and Greece.” (Her “right” to speak about events in Greece appeared to be a sensitive topic, as she dedicated six pages to defending herself from real or perceived attacks.)

Her main sources of information were interviews with English-speaking Greek and foreign leftists, as well as English-language publications and social media. At least two of the book’s six chapters are based on articles that she had already published. Half of the book deals with the aftermath of the referendum held on July 5, 2015, when nearly two-thirds of Greece’s voters rejected the proposed third memorandum between the Greek government and the “troika” (the European Union-EU, European Central Bank-ECB, and the IMF) to impose yet more austerity measures in exchange for another bank “rescue.” The book’s narrative ends in July 2016, one year after that famous “oxi” (no) vote.

Sheehan recounts what may be described as a chronicle of a death foretold. From its birth, SYRIZA sought to represent feminist, environmentalist, and other concerns identified with “new” social movements, while class politics (the central feature of the “old” left) appeared to be de-emphasized. Defense of national sovereignty — for which Greek communists heroically spearheaded resistance against German occupation during World War II — was rejected as “fascist.” Despite its radical left profile, the coalition’s support of mainstream policies, such as adoption of the euro and EU subsidies that diminished Greek agricultural independence, would later blind the SYRIZA government to possible ways out of the crisis via recovering national sovereignty.

Sheehan contrasted her frustration about the Irish left’s failure to organize resistance to austerity policies, with enthusiasm for the “heroic” Greek protests. She expressed the hope that many European leftists felt when SYRIZA captured 26.9 percent of the vote in the 2012 elections – a dramatic increase from 4.5 percent in 2009 – which made it Greece’s second largest party. While some of her Greek colleagues expressed concern (in hindsight?) about the party’s sudden growth due to defections from the corrupt former ruling PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Alliance) party, they anticipated that such growth meant that the “radical left” would soon take power. Also forgotten was the unease that some felt when, two years later, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras announced a party platform that lacked clear anti-capitalist content.

Sheehan was thrilled to see friends being appointed to various ministries in SYRIZA’s government following the January 2015 elections. She rationalized the election or appointment of right-wing politicians to positions such as President and Minister of Defense as “necessary” political concessions. She applauded the rehiring of the Finance Ministry’s housekeeping staff in Athens — who had been fired in response to the troika’s demand to reduce public sector employment — while ignoring continuance of significant public sector cuts throughout Greece. In articles, interviews, and conferences she struggled “to vindicate the trust so many placed in SYRIZA,” even after an agreement in February with the troika where Greece’s promise to pay the debt in full and not take unilateral actions provoked angry denunciations from SYRIZA’s “left platform” (who did not quit the party, however). She lauded her government ministry friends’ support for community-based cooperatives to “open up” public services such as education, health, and communications. She did not, however, mention visiting those groups; had she done so she might have learned that government support often silenced their criticisms.

Sheehan continued to participate in European “solidarity” groups for Greece, while agreeing that Ireland “needs a SYRIZA and we need it now.” She participated with thousands of supporters in Dublin in rallies supporting “no” (oxi) on the July 5, 2015 referendum, while noting that “there were many such solidarity rallies elsewhere in Europe.” And she expressed shock and grief when less than a week after the Greek voters said “oxi” to a ruinous third memorandum, the SYRIZA-led government signed – and most of its parliament members ratified – an even harsher agreement with the troika.

Déborah Berman-Santana (left) and Helena Sheehan (right) participating in a panel at the Resistance Festival in Athens, moderated by Errikos Finalis of the “Dromos tis Aristeras” newspaper, September 30, 2017 (Photo: Michael Nevradakis)

Sheehan described several academic conferences in which she participated during the time period of the book. None, however, was so contentious as the “Democracy Rising” conference in Athens in July 2015. Planning for the conference began just after SYRIZA took power; by the time it took place following SYRIZA’s betrayal of the “no” vote on the referendum, she wrote, “Democracy Collapsing seemed like a better name.” Conference speakers from the government either failed to show up, or claimed to reject the agreement while remaining in SYRIZA and keeping their seats in parliament.

Sheehan finally turned against SYRIZA only after Tsipras expelled the “Left Platform” from the party in preparation for new elections in September, which SYRIZA won despite – or perhaps because of – an unprecedented 44 percent abstention rate. Her friends hurriedly formed a new “Popular Unity Coalition” party, which failed to unify enough groups and win enough votes to enter Parliament. She ended her book on a pessimistic note, observing that the world was “no longer watching” Greece, but still hoping that support for similar movements such as represented by Podemos in Spain, or Jeremy Corbin in England, indicated that “reflection on the SYRIZA story could be an essential element in moving the global narrative onward.”

Even within Sheehan’s linguistic, political, and cultural limitations, her choices of “left” organizations and activists appeared to be more selective than necessary. Notably, she did not interview or even mention any person or group that clearly and consistently called for leaving the Eurozone and European Union. One example, the United Popular Front (EPAM), was born in the plaza occupations of 2011. EPAM has often been shunned because it calls for restoring national sovereignty, and some of its members are not “left.” But she also ignored the Communist Organization of Greece (KOE), which had been part of the SYRIZA government — although she mentioned that their newspaper, “Way of the Left” (Dromos tis Aristeras) reviewed her book.

Some readers may also find her frequent descriptions of her tourist activities to be distracting. Nonetheless, Helena Sheehan’s personal account of the Greek and European left,who rode and crashed on the SYRIZA wave, is both fascinating and disturbing, and should raise many questions about where “radical leftism” is going.

Puerto Rico Suggestions: activate and donate!

(taken from my interview in Mint Press News, published November 2017)


MPN: For those who are concerned about Puerto Rico and its people, and who would like to contribute to the island’s recovery, what message would you like to share?

DBS: As far as material aid, I recommend giving monetary donations through PayPal and bank transfers to bona fide, already-existing Puerto Rican organizations, which have a proven track record and the capacity to receive the aid. I will list a few examples below of groups that I can vouch for. Donated supplies and materials are okay if you can verify that they will actually reach those who need it!

But perhaps more important than material aid is actively campaigning. I have a number of suggestions, any and all of which would be helpful and appreciated:

1) Keep Puerto Rico in the news! Letters, phone calls, protests, social media, whatever works.

2) Keep the U.S. government (Congress, the White House) flooded with demands to aid Puerto Rico. Demand the abolition of the cabotage laws limiting shipping to and from Puerto Rico to U.S. ships and U.S. crews. This makes everything at least 40 percent more expensive in Puerto Rico and props up the world’s most expensive and obsolete merchant marine.

3) Demand the repeal of the PROMESA law of 2016, which among other things created the junta. Call for the cancellation of debt. It’s not Puerto Rico’s debt. Let the U.S. pay the creditors if they must, at least pensioners. The vulture hedge funders should get nothing.

4) End efforts to privatize public services, buildings, natural resources. Place a moratorium on mortgage and tax evictions. Protect public education, and especially stop trying to dismantle the University of Puerto Rico system.

5) The U.S. needs to stop blocking efforts to discuss the decolonization of Puerto Rico in the UN General Assembly. Every year for decades, the issue has been approved but the U.S. has blocked it.

6) Debt should be part of negotiations for the decolonization of Puerto Rico, with indemnity for the $1 trillion likely stolen by the U.S. government and U.S. corporations from Puerto Rico since the 1898 invasion.

Independence for Puerto Rico would mean a chance to end the U.S.-imposed separation from the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America, to which we belong. It would also mean that we could open up to the rest of the world on a basis of equality and mutual respect as a sovereign nation responsible for its own decisions. There are of course no guarantees, but at least Puerto Rico deserves the chance to try.

Finally, regarding recovery efforts, I would recommend the following entities:

1) Taller Salud (women and health), the G8 of Caño Martín Peña, and other local, grassroots organizations.

2) Vieques en Rescate, Inc. (VER) — support to Vieques Island community.

3) Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica de Puerto Rico (sustainable farming): You can donate directly to the Organización Boricuá bank account, Banco Popular Account: #162039034 or by PayPal: organizacion.boricua@gmail.com.

4) Centro para el Desarrollo Politico Educativo y Cultural (Comedores Sociales de Puerto Rico/community kitchens) PayPal: cdpecpr@gmail.com.

5) Colectivo Ilé (anti-racist work in Puerto Rico, support to victims of Hurricane Irma and María).

Transcript: Déborah Berman-Santana on the Puerto Rico-Greece Connection, Dialogos Media Radio (recorded in Athens on 12 September 2017)


Transcript: Déborah Berman-Santana on the Puerto Rico-Greece Connection

Posted on October 4, 2017

The transcript of Dialogos Radio’s interview with Déborah Berman-Santana, retired professor of geography and ethnic studies at Mills College in Oakland, California. This interview was recorded prior to the impact of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico, and aired on our broadcasts for the week of September 27-October 3, 2017. Find the podcast of this interview here: http://www.media.net.gr/austinhellenicradio/podcastgen/podcastgen/?p=episode&name=2017-10-03_deborah_berman_santana_interview_sept_2017.mp3
MN: Joining us today on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series for our first broadcast of the 2017-2018 season is one of our regular guests, Déborah Berman-Santana, who is a retired professor of geography and ethnic studies at Mills College in Oakland, California. Deborah will speak to us today about the latest taking place in Puerto Rico, an island that especially recently has been ravaged on multiple fronts, and which presents many similarities with what we’re seeing on an ongoing basis in Greece. Déborah, welcome back to our program.
DBS: Thank you, glad to be here.
MN: Let’s begin with perhaps the most pressing issue of all, Hurricane Irma and its aftermath. What was the impact of the storm on Puerto Rico and how was the island able to respond?
DBS: Well, Hurricane Irma, which was of course a Category 5 hurricane and did major, major damage to the smaller Eastern Caribbean islands, we were very fortunate that the eye did not actually come to Puerto Rico. The major impacts were on the northern and northeastern section and some of our islands. We are an archipelago, our biggest island of Culebra [had] major damage and it’s still coming apart.
Right now in Puerto Rico, probably the most critical issue is electricity. There are many downed power lines and damaged posts, and of course it’s very mountainous, our country, so it takes some time. We can talk more about the politics around that too. There are also, in certain areas where, of course, more poor people live, in areas that are more flood-prone or the houses are not in as good shape, and there has been a lot of damage there too. But considering the incredible amount of damage that Irma has done in other parts of the Caribbean, I would say that we were pretty fortunate.
MN: Now of course, the storm couldn’t have hit Puerto Rico at a worse time for the island, with the economic crisis that it is facing and the severe economic assault it is dealing with across all fronts. Just as Greece has the so-called troika, Puerto Rico has the so-called junta, which of course is also a historically loaded word in Greece. What’s the latest as far as the austerity measures and cuts and reforms that the junta has been imposing, or attempting to impose, in Puerto Rico?
DBS: Yes, well, the United States Congress imposed a fiscal control board, which in Spanish is “junta de control fiscal.” It has been in place for a year. They have multiple fronts. Basically, when they do not approve of something in the Puerto Rico government’s budget, they say no, this is not acceptable, you need to cut this, this, this, and this. They do not necessarily have information on how best to operate, for example with the university, the public university of Puerto Rico, they want massive cuts. They do not even have information on the university, they have not asked for information to see if there must be cuts, where might be the best place to cut. It’s just basically taking a machete and chopping it up. However, they have also increased the budget for themselves.
The U.S. Congress bill, the PROMESA bill that we talked about last year, directed Puerto Rico to pay two million dollars per month for the expense of the junta. The new budget the junta inserted said that they must be paid five million dollars per month, and of course they use this for all their expenses, they use this to hire dozens of contractors for publicity, for legal fees, for lobbying, for who knows what. These are all their friends.
They have also created a new entity, which is basically the entity that is in charge of seeing how we can privatize and sell off public resources. I believe that [German finance minister] Schauble, last year or two years ago, created some fund in Greece, basically the privatization fund. Well this is basically what they inserted into our budget just now. And of course they’re saying that the pensions must be slashed and there must be more furloughs of public workers. The government of Puerto Rico is going through a theater, they’re saying “oh, we’re not going to cut.” We all know that the government of Puerto Rico is not going to really fight this. This is just a theater so that their supporters think that it is fighting the junta.
MN: A big issue during the hurricane, of course, is the proposed privatization of Puerto Rico’s energy utility. How have the junta and proponents of privatizations attempted to use the hurricane and its aftermath to make a case for the privatization of the electric company?
DBS: Interestingly, the case was actually made before [Hurricane Irma], for years now. Also the government lackeys who are the managers of the [energy] authority, not the actual workers of course, have been cutting and cutting and cutting and not re-hiring and re-training enough people to work, and trying to get contractors to work for less money. And so, the infrastructure has been deteriorating, and of course when people get upset, they say that it’s because it’s public and if it was privatized, if we had more competition, it would work out better.
The interesting thing is that the only reason we are recovering much more quickly [from Hurricane Irma] is that it’s a complete lie. For example, before the hurricane hit, the government head of the [energy] authority said that it can take five to six months before we can put [the grid] together, because the electric energy authority is so bad. Well, here we are a week later, almost all of Puerto Rico is back online. San Juan is, interestingly, not completely, although the mountain towns are, and the union of workers is claiming that they are being deliberately impeding them from finishing in San Juan, so that people will still be angry and demand privatization.
This is the most militant union in Puerto Rico, and they’re wonderful. They are really our best union that’s left, and they’re of course left. They’re working 16-hour shifts, unbelievable photos if you saw them, and they are working, doing heroic things to get Puerto Rico back online. So the interesting thing is, Irma has actually not been good for the arguments for privatization.
MN: Just as in Greece, Puerto Rico is being sold the promise of foreign investment and large-scale, critical infrastructure projects which supposedly are meant to foster economic growth and development and recovery on the island. What sorts of projects are being proposed and what would their actual impact likely be?
DBS: Part of the PROMESA bill is for “critical infrastructure energy projects,” not for the distribution infrastructure but for [combustible] energy, gas or coal. That’s not what we actually need. If they actually wanted to do something, the maintenance and reconstruction of the transmission, that might be helpful but that’s not where the money is, that’s not where the profits are.
So the critical infrastructure energy projects basically say “we want to streamline the permitting process.” There are many processes, of course we are a colony of the United States, so we have their laws and ours, and the process of permits takes years for any massive project because there’s the environmental issues, there’s land use issues, there are public hearings you have to do, so it takes a few years. They want to streamline it to, I think, 90 days, which means that you have a project and we don’t want to tell the public, we want to get it done as quickly as possible, also because they want to avoid protests.
For example, the popular protests have stopped two projects for gas ducts. This is over the past years, not just now. These would be gas lines that they would start from natural gas [fields] in the south and they would blast through the mountains—remember that Puerto Rico is very mountainous—and go to the northern side where San Juan is. We have had civil disobedience, we have had legal teams basically stop these in the courts and challenge them in the courts, we’ve prepared testimony for all the public hearings. Well, they want to bring [the pipeline proposals] back, but without the public hearings, and the local government has passed laws to criminalize civil disobedience.
So this is how they intend to this, they have a energy-generating project, burning garbage to create energy, and we don’t even have enough garbage! And they don’t say this, but what the project really is, is to burn the garbage [from] all around the Caribbean. But of course it doesn’t matter what happens to us because they’d like to get rid of us anyway. We have managed to stop it, but I am sure—they have just contracted a coordinator of the critical energy projects. He is a Puerto Rican-born, I’m not going to say he’s Puerto Rican, U.S. military man that they’re going to put in charge of putting this together. I have seen him interviewed several times and they asked him questions. He knows nothing! He is completely ignorant, he is just there to facilitate this [project], the gas ducts.
I am sure they have other things that they are planning, things that they have tried to do before that they could not do because of protests. If they get rid of the protesters, then they can just shove it all through. Of course, gas projects, coal projects, maybe mining. We have copper, we stopped the copper mining plans 20-30 years ago. Maybe that’s coming back again.
MN: Recent big news in Greece is the sudden departure of Canadian mining firm Eldorado Gold from the Skouries gold mine in northern Greece, which has been a hotbed of activist activity in recent years due to its environmental impact and dubious economic benefits, despite being described as the biggest foreign investment in Greece. We are seeing something similar though in Puerto Rico with the controversy over a privately-owned coal-powered plant and the dumping of the coal ash from this plant. Tell us about this issue.
DBS: Yes, well even though our electric energy authority is public, we do have a few private plants, and of course some of the energy-generating implements are private. For example, we do have a couple of projects of windmills from Siemens. They’re looking at Puerto Rico as, I guess, as Greece in the Caribbean, and we have various others.
In the 1990s, Applied Energy Systems (AES), which is a multinational corporation based in the United States, proposed a “clean coal” plant in Puerto Rico that was supposed to generate, give more energy generation capacity for Puerto Rico. And of course there’s a myth that Puerto Rico does not have enough energy-generating capacity, and that is [supposedly] why our energy bills are so high. So that was their argument.
I actually participated in the campaign to stop them from getting built. So what they did, this was in the south coast, and they brought the local community to one of their clean-looking plants in the United States, and they took them out and basically told them we’ll give you many jobs and it’s very clean and you shouldn’t listen to these “radicals,” like me, who don’t even live in your community, they’re against everything.
So they finally did get the permits to build, because they promised that they would not dump the coal ash in Puerto Rico. They finally built it in the 2000s, back in 2004 is when they finally started, and they were dumping the coal ash in the Dominican Republic. What happened in the Dominican Republic, people started getting sick and they [did] a campaign against them. Eventually the Dominican government—there was a trial, they had a settlement, and part of the settlement is that they would stop dumping in the Dominican Republic. They are actually in the Dominican Republic, they have other types of plants, they don’t have coal plants. But they still had the contract [which said] they could not dump in Puerto Rico. There were some illegal dumps.
Finally, they also had another idea, that they would take some of the ash, you put water on it and it becomes something called “agrimax,” and you can use that as building material, and they built roads in Puerto Rico, they built homes in Puerto Rico. This is the asbestos of the 21st century. I mean someday we’re going to look back and say, this is the asbestos [of the 21st century]. [Agrimax has been used] in many, many communities, mainly in the south of Puerto Rico, and San Juan is in the north. In San Juan [the prevailing attitude] is, what happens in the provinces stays in the provinces.
So in 2014, the government of Puerto Rico did a secret amendment to the contract, which allowed AES to dump the ashes in two of the landfills in Puerto Rico. One of them is actually not far from where I live, and the other one is in Peñuelas [in the south], in an area where we had the old petrochemical complexes, still dealing with a legacy of pollution. So they filled up the one near where I live and they couldn’t dump there any more for a while. They started dumping in 2015 in the one in Peñuelas, but that community has been dealing with the legacy of contamination for many years, and they started the protest camps, they started doing civil disobedience. It became an issue. With this government, the government agreed because there was a lot of pressure, and we’ve had a lot of arrests, a lot of civil obedience.
[Recently] there was a trial, in San Juan, of the last group of people arrested there. At this point, the government of Puerto Rico has said we’re going to pass a law that prohibits the dumping of the ash, but they inserted a little amendment at the last minute that was written by the company, that said that the ash is only what’s dry. If you put water on it, it becomes Agrimax. And so, they started again with the dumping. They’ve had to dump at night with four hundred police [officers] to protect them, and there’s still people protesting, so this is a big deal.
Of course, they couldn’t do anything during [Hurricane Irma]. We found out that they did not even bother to cover the mountain of ash that they have next to the plant. Who knows where this ash is right now. It’s everywhere! And so the struggle continues. That is the story, and they’ve also said “oh, you need our generating capacity,” because they have a plant. But they only generate maybe 11 percent of what we need. They close every time there’s a problem. The public plants never close. We don’t even need their plant, because Puerto Rico has twice the generating capacity that it needs, and if we maintained everything we would never need them. In fact, we don’t need them now.
MN: In yet another similarity with contemporary Greece, where there is an activist movement that has sprung up surrounding the case of a student by the name of Irianna, who is facing charges under Greece’s anti-terror laws for participation in a terror group, in Puerto Rico there is the case of political prisoner Nina Droz. Why has she been imprisoned and what are the similarities in your view with the Irianna case?
DBS: I think the main similarity has to do with using a test case to see if you can turn the public against this person, for many reasons, and also to scare people, to make them afraid to protest. Specifically in the case of Nina Droz, who is a student, [she] was not really involved in any organized critical activism, a student, a model, teaches also. She is a party girl, lots of tattoos, so there could be a lot of prejudice against her because of how she looks.
[On] May 1, we had a massive demonstration in Puerto Rico against the junta, against austerity, and most of us against the [colonial status], because some of us know that the real problem is not the junta. The problem is that we’re a colony. It was a massive, massive protest. On one side there was a group of masked students or masked people, who knows who they were, all dressed in black. Many of the banks were actually boarded up and protected, except for our most important bank, Banco Popular de Puerto Rico. The nephew of the head of Banco Popular is the president of the junta, to give you an idea. They did not cover up their windows, and there was a moment where all the police withdrew, and there was a group of people in masks who broke the windows. No police around.
According to some of the TV coverage and some photos, there is a young woman who has since been identified as Nina [Droz] who was with an unidentified masked man. They are next to one of the windows on the sidewalk that’s been busted. It looks like perhaps they’re trying to light a piece of paper, and nothing happens. But, one of her feet is inside the bank, and based on that, the U.S. federal government says—there were some other people arrested but they were in the Puerto Rican system—they said [Nina Droz] is in the U.S. system because she is inside the bank and the bank is involved in interstate commerce and it’s [covered under federal law]. So she has been charged in the media and by the federal court with conspiracy, attempted terrorism, for trying to “blow up” this building with a little piece of paper which may or may not have had some fire on it.
[As of the time of this interview] she has not had a trial. She was assigned a federal defense attorney, a public attorney. There is a gag law against her attorney, so they cannot respond to anything in the media, and she’s been demonized in the media. She is in the federal holding court, she originally plead not guilty to all charges. After about two months she agreed to a plea deal to conspiracy, which is very vague, in exchange for reduced time. But she still [as of the time of this interview] has not been sentenced, and there have been issues such as, for example, her birthday. Some of us were going to [organize] something outside the prison with a sign, “happy birthday,” just a little thing, and the prisoners can normally see that. Right before that, there was some “infraction,” who knows what, and they put her in solitary, and she was in solitary for almost a month, was not given the reasons for it, because there’s a process, everything was delayed, and now they say she cannot even have visitors, not even her mother, if you can imagine that. Her mother can’t visit her.
She’s still not been sentenced. The sentencing [was] supposed to be at the end of October, and even the prosecutor has suggested two years [imprisonment], her attorneys have suggested one year, but the judge could give her more. You never know what can happen. Evidently, she is not as obedient as they’d like, and there she has complained about things, and the only reason we know anything about what’s happened is [because] she can receive letters. I myself have received a letter from her. And, there is a friend who is an attorney, who is not her attorney but she is able to visit her and able to talk a little bit about the situation, with a lot of care. She’s very careful.
Actually I’ve talked to [the attorney] before I came here [to Greece] to discuss what she thought I could talk about here in Greece. So when I heard about the Irianna case, it struck me that, I know there are differences, but it struck me that the system criminalized her for supposed associations, alleged associations which may or may not be true, and to use it to justify a very long sentence for a young woman who basically, if she has to serve a whole sentence, it’s a terrible, terrible thing. The same thing with Nina [Droz].
Nina, her letters [are] wonderful to read, it made me cry when I received it, and she says “we should never be afraid to speak up for justice, to speak up for what’s right, and to give a voice to those who have no voice, and you can count on me to give my voice until the end of my days.” So I just wanted to share that, I’m actually hoping maybe to buy a nice card here in Greece and have people sign and send. I don’t know whether it will get to her, but it might get to her, because people are writing to her and we want her to know that she’s not alone. This is a little different situation from some of our early political prisoners, who spent many years in organizations and they had a very strong political formation which enabled them to survive many years in prison. Nina [Droz] doesn’t have that background, but she’s one of us.
MN: Continuing this theme of parallels between Greece and Puerto Rico, in Greece the current U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Pyatt was until recently the U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine. In Puerto Rico, an individual by the name of Natalie Jaresko, who herself attained infamy in the Ukraine, is now the executive director of the junta in Puerto Rico. What is Jaresko’s background and what is her role now in Puerto Rico?
DBS: Natalie Jaresko was born in the United States, in Chicago, of Ukrainian parents. She has a graduate in economics from the University of Chicago, which is infamous for its economics department there. She has worked in the U.S. State Department, she has worked with the IMF [International Monetary Fund], and we generally think she is a CIA asset. She’s also a fellow at the Aspen Institute, and you can also see pictures of her with “Open Ukraine” behind her, and that may ring some bells to some people, anything that’s “Open Society.”
She is definitely accused of enriching her own company in the Ukraine from the privatization and sale of the telecommunications network in the Ukraine. She was only there for a couple of years. They gave her Ukrainian citizenship, I think, within one day. She was named to be the finance minister right after the coup, so she was basically put in as the Ukraine’s finance minister by the United States, and the little minor detail that she wasn’t a Ukrainian citizen [was overlooked], so they gave her Ukrainian citizenship.
Natalie Jaresko, she still goes back and forth to the Ukraine, and part of her contract with Puerto Rico is we pay for business class trips once a month from Puerto Rico to the Ukraine. So she was named by the junta to be the executive director. She is of Ukrainian background so she at least speaks Ukrainian, but she knows nothing about Puerto Rico, zero. She is there to do the same thing or worse in Puerto Rico, that she did in the Ukraine.
When I write about her, I always say Natalie “Carnicera de Ukrania” Jarekso, that’s Natalie “Butcher of the Ukraine” Jaresko. I just have to give you some of the terms of her contract. Her annual salary, which we are paying for, [is] $625,000 a year. That is more than $200,000 more than the president of the United States earned. Plus, she has all of her expenses [paid for], she has a private suite in a luxury hotel, she has an entire security detail and all of her communications, and plus she has her nice business trips to the Ukraine and anywhere else she wants to go.
In exchange for that, she basically comes in and says well, you need to cut and slash, for example, the university budget, the University of Puerto Rico needs to be more like the United States’ public universities. In other words, we should slash the government’s share of the budget to the university and students should all go into debt and become debt slaves, like they are in the United States. It’s [currently] relatively inexpensive.
The University of Puerto Rico is an excellent, excellent university. It is the best university system [on Puerto Rico] with 11 campuses. Of course, they want to slash, cut all the campuses, maybe 2 or 3 left. Much better than the private universities, and it is the vehicle for people, the best students in Puerto Rico, especially if they’re poor, to get an education and to contribute to the future of Puerto Rico. They’re an incredible resource, and it is also a very militant university.
The students have had many strikes. They had one a few months ago, they shut it down for two months, and the issue was the cuts. It was interesting, they actually had a personal meeting with the junta, face-to-face, that lasted all day, which is something that the government of Puerto Rico has not even had. The students managed to do that and actually had a list of demands, none of which have been put forth, but just to give you an idea.
Natalie Jaresko has also said that I am here to help Puerto Rico, you need to listen to me, I’m going to cut everything. By the way, the government of Puerto Rico said we are not going to hurt the most vulnerable. They never identify who are the most vulnerable. The PROMESA bill says “essential services” must be protected. They are never defined, what are “essential services.” They also have hired a special security detail and they are lobbying to expand the new criminalization law to further criminalize protests against the junta. So this should give you an idea of what the “Butcher of the Ukraine” wants to do in Puerto Rico.
MN: Let’s turn now to the hot-button issue of Puerto Rico’s political status. A few months ago we saw a non-binding referendum on statehood take place, in an issue which from what I understand remains extremely divisive in Puerto Rico and parallels the debate that we see in Greece regarding continued membership in the European Union. Describe for us the current state of affairs regarding the island’s political status and the political divisions in Puerto Rico.
DBS: As I’ve spoken with you before and been published before, Puerto Rico is a colony, is an “unincorporated territory belonging to but not part of the United States.” That is its official designation according to the Supreme Court. We do not even have the limited sovereignty of an Indian tribe, just to give you an example. In the United Nations, we’ve been trying for many years to get the issue [of Puerto Rico’s colonial status] on the agenda of the General Assembly, but have not managed to do so.
It has been extremely divisive, because the issue of independence has been demonized and criminalized for many, many years in Puerto Rico. There have been many, many imprisonments, there have been many deaths, there have been many disappearances, many people that were unable to find work. And so, many people, most people in Puerto Rico are either very afraid of it, or they believe we have no chance, we need to depend on the United States. Most Puerto Ricans are not quite knowledgeable about our own history.
At the present time, one of the major parties is a party that says our current status is okay if we can increase our autonomy. The other major party, which is currently in power, says no, we need equality, we need to become a state, the 51st state of the United States. And then there’s a smaller party and many people who do not vote at all, who say that without independence we cannot even begin to have this conversation because we don’t have control over our own affairs.
Puerto Rico has had five referendums since the 1960s about our political status. None of them are binding. The U.S. Congress has never committed to respecting the results. The last one was in June, and I actually wrote an article that was published in Greece in March, that the interesting thing about that particular proposal, that there would be only two options: one was statehood, and the other was some kind of sovereignty. Now, that’s kind of a loaded term, not always understood, but many independence supporters thought that this might be an opportunity, if we can actually have a very good showing of people who reject statehood and want some kind of sovereignty, then we might be able to push something. So many people who don’t even vote were going to register.
Well, at that point the Attorney General of the United States Jeff Sessions said to the governor of Puerto Rico that in order to have this referendum, you also need to include the current status. Now this is a referendum for the decolonization of Puerto Rico, that’s the name of it, and he said one of the options has to be to remain the colony. So one of your options to “decolonize” is to stay the way you are. The government said okay! And with that, all of the pro-independence, pro-sovereignty people said forget it, we’re boycotting. Then, the other major party, that wants the current status with autonomy, also boycotted.
You had, in June, only one party [that] was represented, the pro-statehood party. No more than 23 percent of the voters even voted, and because there was no oversight by the other parties, it may have been even less than 23 percent. 97 percent of voters voted in favor of statehood.
With that, the government went to Congress and said 97 percent of the voters want statehood. They were completely ignored! Then they chose seven people and said “here are our Congressmen and we’re sending them anyway,” and they’re completely ignored, but they’re spending Puerto Rican public money that we supposedly don’t have, and they’re all sitting in Washington. I’m not sure what they’re doing there, probably eating well and staying at a nice hotel, but Congress is completely ignoring them. They said we’re going to meet with President Trump. Okay. As far as I know there’s been no meeting. So we have not solved any problem, everything is exactly the way it was, except they spent $10 million of money that we don’t have, on the stupid referendum.
MN: Within this context of the broader economic crisis that Puerto Rico is experiencing, has the independence movement been able to gain any traction?
DBS: That’s always an interesting question. It’s not really easy to answer. One of the problems is that the independence movement, the left in general, is extremely divided. We have many, many little groups. People spend a lot of time, for example, on Facebook attacking on each other. It’s very tiring. Sometimes when we have a meeting or protest people do show up together.
The interesting thing is, it’s not easy to say if we have support for independence or more support for independence. What I can say is, maybe there is more understanding that the United States is not going to help us—as if they ever did—that perhaps we need to figure out some way of not waiting for them to “rescue” us or to give us better power or to give us statehood.
The other thing is, because of what’s visibly happening in the United States, it’s always been happening, but the visible attacks, the visible oppression that is now getting a lot of media attention throughout the world, people are starting to believe that well, even if we became a state, we’re still Spanish-speaking, we’re still to a large extent of African descent. How is it for the blacks and the Latinos who live in the United States? They have statehood, do they have equality? So it’s beginning to open up things a little more.
The problem that we had is a question of getting rid of our own colonized mentalities, our colonized minds. I think that’s probably our biggest challenge. And to not just speak to ourselves, the people on the left, but to speak to our neighbors, to talk about this, and I constantly am talking to many of my neighbors, none of whom are independence activists, but they always want to ask me what I think about what’s going on, to give you an idea.
MN: One of the biggest stories of the past few months in Puerto Rico is the release of Oscar López Rivera, who was imprisoned in the United States for 34 years and was granted clemency by President Obama in the last days of his administration. Oscar is now back in Puerto Rico… what has the response to his release and repatriation been and what has he been doing since his release?
DBS: Oscar is now physically free, he has been spiritually free for a very long time, freer than many people I know, but he has been physically free, without restrictions, since the 17th of May. There has been a tremendous overwhelming response among Puerto Ricans to his release, to basically being around. To be around him—I’ve been around a lot of political prisoners, and many of them, it takes a long time to adjust. His adjustment—he may have some adjusting to do that you don’t see, but you meet him in person, the smile, the hugs, he is very, very physical with everyone, for very good reasons.
He is constantly talking about unity, he is talking constantly about the decolonized mind, he is constantly asked to speak. So he has been not only speaking at many activities in Puerto Rico, but also for example in the United States. He wants to thank communities all around the world for supporting him and for campaigning for him, so he’s been in many, many activities. He also went to Nicaragua, was at a conference, and President Ortega gave him the highest recognition of Nicaragua. He is scheduled to visit Cuba in November, and of course they were very, very active in working for his release, as well as release of earlier prisoners. So he is making a lot of the rounds still. It’s still only a few months.
His plan, actually, is trying to set up a foundation to give him a little bit of independence, so that he can work in Puerto Rico. He was a community organizer before his imprisonment. He wants to do it in Puerto Rico, and he says he specifically wants to work on alternatives, community-based alternatives, which already exist, but to unify them. He wants to unify the various activists, unify the people of Puerto Rico, speak to the people who are not necessarily activists and to break through this division that we have. He has the stature to force people to at least listen. I can’t wait, I mean, some of us are a little impatient, we want to do this already, but he’s still speaking on many occasions. Sometimes it’s difficult to contact him, he has some people helping him because he will never say no to anybody, so some of the people who are helping him are trying to shield him a little bit. It’s a little bit of a coming out process, so to speak.
MN: A famous quote from Oscar López Rivera concerns the struggle for independence and the anti-colonial struggle, which according to Oscar, begins with the decolonization of the mind. How are his words relevant in the present day, both for Puerto Rico and also for Greece, even if the country is nominally independent?
DBS: I think part of the problem with the colonized mentality is, the one who was colonized begins to believe the lies that have been told by the colonizer: that we are inferior, we are backward, that we would be poor, that we would have no hope if it was not for a more developed, more civilized, more powerful entity, for example, the United States, and in parallel, Northern Europe and Germany for the European Union. That we need to be developed, we need to be more advanced, we need to be more like them and less like the Global South. I mean, Puerto Rico is without a doubt part of the Global South. But you get that idea, that we need for them to help us because we cannot help ourselves. We should not depend on ourselves because look how advanced are, how happy they look, how well off they are, even if it’s not true. And if we believe that, it’s very difficult to do any of this. We won’t believe that we can make decisions on our own. We won’t demand our sovereignty, because we will think that we’re not capable of making those decisions by ourselves.
For many years we were told if we were independent, Puerto Rico would be like Haiti. That, of course, completely ignores that Haiti, which is nominally independent, is under military occupation which benefits a very small oligarchy and keeps everyone else poor. If Haiti really could take sovereignty for itself, you would see a different Haiti. But that’s what they say to us.
There’s also the issue of, we are not a European people, we have some European ancestry from the colonizers, but we are mainly not a European people. We are a Latin American-Caribbean-African-indigenous people with a very long history. We didn’t start our history when Columbus came. We have a history that goes back 7,000 years, and we have a lot of information about it. So we could draw on that and also our own history as Latin American people.
We’re under a lot of isolation. Everyone knows about the blockade the United States has against Cuba, but we have one also. It’s different, it’s very difficult for us to have direct contact, direct trade with the rest of the world. We have to do everything through the United States. And so we’re isolated. I’ve heard many people in Greece say “I don’t know this story, why haven’t I ever heard this story?,” and I say you haven’t heard this story because it’s a blockaded story, it’s blockaded history. It’s one of the reasons that I’m here [in Greece]. And I think that the colonized mind is our biggest obstacle. I have seen that when we work together and we fight against the oppressor, the oppressor cannot stand against that. So that’s our biggest, I think it’s a bigger problem than U.S. military might or anything else that they can threaten us with.
MN: The anti-colonial and independence movements that we’ve seen across the world, including those of the 1960s and 1970s, were by and large nationalist movements. Today though, we see arguments from many who associate nationalism with fascism, with racism, with xenophobia. How do you view the issue? Do you believe nationalism can be compatible with internationalism and a more cooperative worldview?
DBS: This is a very interesting question. I’ve had this conversation with many people. I know that in people there is a specific historical context of nationalism and fascism. I understand that. But the interesting thing, particularly in Latin America, the issue of nationalism has to do with national sovereignty, of controlling our own destiny, making our own decisions and not allowing the imperialists or neo-imperialists to make those decisions, whether it’s a European power or whether it’s the United States or whether it’s another country, for example.
So in the context of Latin America, nationalism has been, there is a nationalism that is called “anti-imperialist nationalism.” There is a tremendous amount of literature. It is not a nationalism that says we are better than everyone and we want to control others. We want to control ourselves.
Puerto Rico has had a very long history with the Nationalist Party. It’s very small right now, not very active. It was tremendously repressed. Our great martyr, Dr. Albizu Campos, was martyred, really, literally. He was the leader of the Nationalist Party. His politics, his economics, you could say were social democrat, more or less. But one of the main leaders was also Juan Antonio Corretjer, who was a communist. There are some revisionist historians who want to say that he was fascist, [but] there is no evidence for that.
I just want to share something very interesting: only a few months ago I was in Cuba, and we had this conversation, because I had my conversations in Greece in mind when we had this conversation [in Cuba]. The people who I was talking to said “of course, you will never find people more nationalist than Cubans. We love our country. We want to keep our culture. We want to defend our country against outside control, but we are internationalists. We want other countries to be able to defend their own sovereignty as well. We want to have relationships of mutual respect.” And that, for them, is nationalism. And they also said, we understand there is a different history in Europe, but I think we need to rescue this word.
Now I am seeing with the very open racist attacks in the United States, I have heard some European friends say “oh, fascism is coming to the United States.” I say “no, that’s not exactly. You’re seeing white supremacy, which is the founding principle of the United States, because it’s a European settler-colonizer regime that destroyed many indigenous nations and it maintains power through white supremacy.” That’s not necessarily the same as fascism, and I believe the word fascist is thrown a lot, but we are not talking about the actual alliance of the state and the private industry and the oligarchy. That seems to be lost a little bit.
So that’s a conversation that I think is very important, because I believe, also in Puerto Rico, because sometimes there are people who have read a lot of literature from Europe and they start saying “I don’t care about independence because it’s nationalist, I care more about socialism,” and I say “okay, but if we’re not independent, how are we going to be socialist? As a colony or as a state of the United States, are you expecting to be socialist? Are you expecting the communist ideal this way?” It’s less likely, I would say, and so I think it’s important to have this conversation in Greece as well.
MN: This is the third consecutive year that you are visiting Greece, where you will be making a public appearance. What has brought you back to Greece for a third time, and where will you be speaking?
DBS: I’m very happy that I have been invited back to speak at the Resistance Festival, which will be the 29th and the 30th of September at the Fine Arts School. I’m very, very happy to be working together with “Dromos tis Aristeras,” the wonderful weekly which I’ve also been able to send some updates on Puerto Rico and which was very, very active in the campaign to free Oscar.
For me, I have a lifelong interest and affinity with Greece. I even have some Greek ancestry, this is going way back, but it’s been a lifelong interest, a lifelong appreciation of the popular culture, the music, and of course, with the issue of the austerity, with the resistance, with what’s happened with the troika, I immediately saw the similarities with what was happening with Puerto Rico. And then they started calling Puerto Rico “the Greece of the Caribbean.” It’s a very superficial way that it’s used in the news, but there is a deeper truth there. Sometimes in my writings, I’ve talked about Greece as the “Puerto Rico of the Mediterranean,” because I think that we can learn from each other.
I’m hoping to increase the solidarity, increase learning about each other. At first it was really just me, I kind of had this idea, now there is starting to be more interests. There are a couple of organizations in Puerto Rico who have contacted me to try to bring some people to speak from Greece, and there is more interest here. There are a number of different organizations who are now trying to make contact with me. I am open to speak anywhere, with anyone, in English, in Spanish. I’m learning Greek, I’m still not speaking very well, but I’m reading more and I’m hoping at some point to be able to speak well enough to be able to present, if we have someone come [to Puerto Rico] from Greece who does not know Spanish or English, hopefully I’ll know enough to help with that.
But I am hoping that we can continue this collaboration, we continue solidarity, maybe we can have young people from both countries visit each other, cultural exchange with the idea of helping each other’s struggle for a just society, for the ability to take care of ourselves and to stop this continued bleeding of our countries, the continued bleeding of our people, where our young people feel the need to leave. I don’t want to see a Greece without Greeks. I don’t want to see a Puerto Rico without Puerto Ricans!
MN: In closing, what message would you like to share with our Greek and international audience?
DBS: Μου αρέσει πολύ η Ελληνική κουζίνα, οι Ελληνικές πόλεις, αλληλεγγύη, ελευθερία για την Ελλάδα, ελευθερία για το Πουέρτο Ρίκο, και Viva Puerto Rico libre και Viva Grecia Libre!
MN: Well Déborah, thank you very much for returning to Greece and for returning to Dialogos Radio and for taking the time to speak with us today.
DBS: Thank you.
Please excuse any typos or errors which may exist within this transcript.

La Lucha Continúa: Challenges for a post-Navy Vieques

“La Lucha Continúa: Challenges for a post-Navy Vieques”
Published in CENTRO 18:1 pp. 109-123, Spring 2006.
In recent years the decades-long struggle to stop the U.S. Navy from bombing Vieques, Puerto Rico end military occupation of most of the island, has made international headlines. However, concerns about Vieques’ future once the bombings ceased and the bases closed have aroused less publicity. In the early 1990’s some Vieques activists committed themselves to working on the island’s greatest challenges, by advocating the “Four D’s: Demilitarization, Decontamination, Devolution (return of lands), and (community-based, sustainable) Development.” This article examines the new phase of the struggle for an economically, socially and ecologically healthy Vieques, and its implications for similar struggles elsewhere.
Key Words: Vieques, Puerto Rico; demilitarization; environmental justice; community control; gentrification; sustainable development.
La Lucha Continúa: Challenges for a post-Navy Vieques
In recent years the decades-long struggle to stop the U.S. Navy from bombing the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, and to end military occupation of three quarters of the island, has made international headlines. This “David versus Goliath” story – replete with accounts of powerful, creative, and non-violent resistance to the environmental and social degradation perpetrated by militarism – attracted attention from environmental, peace and social justice activists and gathered support from religious, political and civic leaders in Puerto Rico, the United States and worldwide.  The Vieques story has also provided material for hundreds of academic studies, many of which have recently been published.
Perhaps not surprisingly, questions regarding what might happen to the lands once the bombings ceased and the bases closed down have aroused less publicity than the more newsworthy struggle against the military presence. For years, local efforts to revive the island’s economy not only were opposed by the Navy and ignored by government and private interests, but also failed to rouse media interest or significant community support. Nonetheless, over the past decade persistent local activism that envisioned a post-Navy Vieques began to bear fruit.
In the early 1990’s a number of Vieques activists formed the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques (CRDV) and continued protesting Navy activities in Vieques. In addition, they committed themselves to la protesta con la propuesta (the protest with the proposal) for the island’s biggest ecological, economic, and social challenges, by advocating “the four D’s: Demilitarization, Decontamination, Devolution (return of lands) and (community-based, sustainable) Development.” In the Puerto Rican government-sponsored referendum of July 2001 on the Navy’s presence over two-thirds of Vieques’ voters chose the option calling specifically for an immediate end to military practices, cleanup and return of all of the lands and community-controlled sustainable development. Finally, the Guidelines for the Sustainable Development of Vieques – compiled by Puerto Rican planners, scientists and economists at the request of the CRDV, and with the help of Viequenses through dozens of community workshops over several years – played a significant role in creating the 2004 Master Plan for Sustainable Development of Vieques and Culebra, commissioned by the Puerto Rican government. Thus, the “four D’s” have come to represent the will of the people of Vieques, and have received some measure of governmental support; they also provide an appropriate framework for discussing the current situation.
May 1, 2003, represented a milestone in the struggle for demilitarization, when the US Navy officially closed its base in the eastern half of Vieques, ending more than 60 years of military bombing, maneuvers and experiments. However, most close observers will agree that this “first D” has not been fully accomplished, let alone the other three. Recent publications on Vieques have offered historical, political and socio-economic analyses of the anti-Navy campaigns (see for example Ayala 2000; Barreto 2002; Berman Santana 2003; McCaffrey 2002). This article focuses on considering some of the challenges activists must confront in this new phase – less colorful, perhaps, yet absolutely critical – of the struggle to achieve una verdadera paz para Vieques (real peace for Vieques), in other words an economically, socially and ecologically healthy island and society.[i]
The Naval Ammunition Supply Detachment (NASD), comprising 8,000 acres in western Vieques officially closed on May 1, 2001, and Camp García (comprising over 14,000 acres in the eastern half of the island, including the bombing range) closed on May 1, 2003. However, the military continues to own and operate two facilities in Vieques: the ROTHR radar transmitter and the radio and communications complex atop Monte Pirata. Both facilities have historically been the focus of protests and concerns about health and environmental risks.
During the mid-1990’s activists in Vieques and Puerto Rico failed to stop the Navy from destroying a 25-acre mahogany forest in the southern part of the western lands, in order to make way for Raytheon Corporation’s Relocatable Over the Horizon Radar (ROTHR) transmitter. By bouncing radio frequency waves against the ionosphere, operators may detect objects beyond the horizon. While the Navy’s original proposal, environmental impact statement and subsequent press releases have insisted that the radar’s primary function is to detect vessels transporting illegal drugs throughout the Caribbean (US Navy 1997), the military has also referred to its use for electronic warfare exercises.[ii] The fact that the Vieques ROTHR transmitter is aimed at northern South America – with Puerto Rico as its “blind spot” – poses an obvious limitation on its effectiveness in detecting drug traffic into Puerto Rico. While allegations that the ROTHR’s chief function is connected with Plan Colombia cannot be confirmed, it is well known that electromagnetic manipulation of the ionosphere can alter global meteorological patterns – which is also a goal of similar military projects such as the High Frequency Active Aureal Research Project (HAARP) (EQB 1997). The western lands transfer agreement of May 1, 2001, maintained the property occupied by the radar firmly in military hands; in addition, some 200 acres surrounding the area that was conveyed to the Municipality of Vieques was placed under a restrictive easement – in effect keeping it under military occupation. This may possibly be due to the dangers represented by ROTHR; among other things, its operation regularly disrupts AM radio frequencies and electronic equipment in Vieques. Even more troubling, charred plastics and even animal remains have been found nearby after its use. During 2003 residents of the nearby community of La Hueca circulated a petition requesting a study of the health risks potentially posed by operation of the ROTHR radar; unfortunately, to date there has been no response.
The Navy also formally retained Monte Pirata, the island’s highest point, also located in the western part of Vieques. A guarded fence and signs warning of a “radio frequency radiation hazard” block access to the radio and communications towers-crowded peak; additionally, in 2004 the US Fish and Wildlife Service blocked the access road at the base of the mountain. A number of federal agencies besides the Navy have used the facility, and at one point it was listed for sale (GSA 2004). In any event, demilitarization of the island is incomplete as long as the military still operates facilities there –which may also pose continuing health and environmental hazards.
Continued sightings of Navy war vessels close to Vieques’ coasts – such as two submarines that appeared during one August 2004 weekend – help contribute to a generalized suspicion among many viequenses that “la Marina no se ha ido”; in other words, they fear that Navy has not permanently left Vieques, and under certain circumstances could return to use the lands. It is important to note that while the “Clinton Directive” of January 31, 2000 (discussed below) specified that Vieques would never again be used for military purposes, the section of the Fiscal Year 2001 National Defense Authorization Act regarding Vieques omitted that promise. While there is currently no reason to expect that the Navy would resume use of the island’s lands, such a return would not be unprecedented – particularly if the lands are not cleaned and returned to civilian use.
It could also be argued that demilitarization will not be complete until all of the lands and waters contaminated by military use of Vieques are cleaned and rehabilitated for civilian use. This should include not only the lands of eastern and western Vieques, which were officially under military control; effective demilitarization should also include cleanup of the surrounding waters and the central “civilian area,” because they were also negatively impacted by military-induced pollution and pose health and environmental hazards.
Several recently published investigations bolster the argument that contamination generated by military activities are largely responsible for a greater – and rising – incidence of environmentally-linked diseases in Vieques than in Puerto Rico as a whole, such as cancer, kidney failure and respiratory ailments. For example, a comparative study of mercury concentrations in reproductive-age women in Vieques, northeastern coastal Puerto Rico, and the east coast of the U.S. found that young women in rural, non-industrialized Vieques showed a much higher exposure to mercury than in the other, heavily industrialized areas. The study noted that the Environmental Protection Agency cited the Navy for over a hundred effluent water violations in Vieques, including discharge of mercury (EPA 1999), and that “no other source of mercury contamination has been identified in that island” (Ortiz Roque and López Rivera 2004:756). Other studies found significant concentrations of heavy metals that form components of munitions in shallow-rooted cultivated plants in the civilian sector and fish and seafood commonly caught and eaten in Vieques (Massol Deyá and Díaz 2003; Acevedo 2004),
The Navy’s standard response to environmental contamination and health concerns in Vieques (as well as in other communities affected by military contamination) has been to utilize its own contracted experts and federal agencies – particularly the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) – to bolster its claims that military activities are not the source of heavy metals contamination and higher incidences of disease (ATSDR 2003).[iii] Alternative explanations point to contamination from Vieques’ virtually non-existent agricultural and manufacturing sectors, allege more unhealthy lifestyles or significant genetic differences between Vieques and Puerto Rico despite evidence to the contrary, and blame “naturally occurring” heavy metals even though the two islands are geologically quite similar. Moreover, such arguments ignore data compiled by the Puerto Rico Department of Health showing that Vieques registered lower than average incidences of cancer and other diseases until after the Navy intensified its bombing of Vieques with conventional (bombs, missiles, etc.) and non-conventional (depleted uranium, noxious biological warfare simulants, napalm, etc.) weapons in the 1970’s (Nazario et al 1998). None of this is surprising, however, since it is likely that any admission of responsibility by the Navy would enhance the possibility for success of several pending lawsuits, and increase pressure to spend more money on cleanup.
Some of the most pressing health issues in Vieques include the failure by the Puerto Rico Department of Health to provide results of epidemiological tests to Vieques participants, and arrange for necessary health treatment in a timely manner. In addition, a lack of trained personnel to, for example, operate dialysis machines in the island’s health center forces kidney disease patients to travel to Fajardo at least three times per week – where, ironically, they are often cared for by nurses from Vieques who left home because they couldn’t find work.
Nonetheless, even if health services were to dramatically improve in Vieques, incidences of serious diseases are likely to continue to climb for many years unless the island is thoroughly decontaminated of more than sixty years of poisoning from millions of tons of conventional explosives and non-conventional weapons such as depleted uranium and napalm. Moreover, a truly effective cleanup should not limit itself to the lands within the western and eastern military sectors, because military activities and resultant contamination also affected the central “civilian” sector. For example, the municipal landfills regularly received wastes from the bases; they even contain bombs that accidentally landed there – far from the bombing range – and have yet to be recovered. Vieques residents, including several who had jobs inside the bases, have reported clandestine dumps for toxic military residue in the area just north of the island’s famous bioluminescent bay. The Navy has never confirmed local accounts of experimental spraying of mangroves near Media Luna Beach with Agent Orange in the early 1960’s; nonetheless, it is well known and documented that various locations near civilian populations throughout Puerto Rico suffered environmental damage as part of that chemical weapon’s development. The virtually lifeless condition of the area in question suggests that some catastrophic event occurred, which should be investigated. In fact, significant resources should be devoted to a thorough investigation of military-induced contamination in the civilian zones – including identifying and removing unexploded munitions, which are often discovered in heavily used areas.
During the second half of 2004 a virtual deluge of draft documents requiring public commentary within a limited time frame threatened to inundate Vieques activists, leaving precious little time for educating and organizing the community. Documents specifically related to the cleanup process included a draft charter to govern the new Restoration Advisory Board (RAB), the proposed designation of Vieques (and possibly Culebra) as a Superfund site, a Community Relations Plan for the EPA, and scoping for a land management plan to be developed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service for the lands placed under its control. A brief review illustrates some of the challenges activists currently face.
Since the 1980’s all federal government agencies have been instructed to seek the most effective ways of facilitating community participation in processes that are likely to affect them. Efforts by the Defense Department to clean up and rehabilitate formerly used military sites are included in this directive. At first the military would select community members to sit on a Technical Review Committee (TRC); however, community organizations largely rejected it as failing to promote adequate representation, provide sufficient information exchange on cleanup efforts, or encourage broad community participation. Since the mid-1990’s the Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) has largely replaced the TRC as a mechanism for formal community participation. Among other distinctions between the two entities, community members elect their own representatives and all meetings are open to the public. In addition, although the EPA and the Defense Department jointly developed the framework and the military approves the first membership list, each RAB writes and approves its own operating charter – including determining its own membership procedures. Some 200 RAB’s currently operate throughout the United States and its territories. While not perfect, experience shows that a self-directed and broadly representative RAB can provide an important tool for informing the community about cleanup issues and pressuring the military and regulatory agencies into responding to local issues and concerns.
After closing the NASD in 2001 the Navy formed a TRC in Vieques instead of a RAB; the military chose the members, decided on the TRC’s technical advisors, and held meetings without informing or inviting the general public. In addition, all documents and meetings were in English, even though Spanish is the primary – and usually only – language of the overwhelming majority of Viequenses. The language problem began to be resolved towards the end of the TRC’s existence in 2004, when the Navy converted it into a RAB. Most of the charter members of the new RAB also belonged to the TRC; moreover, it appears that the draft charter proposed by the Navy at the first RAB meeting in August 2004 had been written and approved by the old TRC. Some of the new RAB members who had not belonged to the TRC have expressed concerns about possibly being marginalized by the more experienced ex-TRC majority. Some of the strongest criticisms of the old TRC were that its membership had not been representative of the Vieques community, and that it did not organize activities to inform the public during its nearly three years of meeting with the Navy regarding cleanup of the western lands. It remains to be seen whether the RAB will be able to broaden its representation and outreach and thus promote greater community input regarding the Navy’s cleanup efforts. It is also important to note that the RAB addresses cleanup issues only in the western lands; however, even before Vieques was designated as a Superfund site the Navy had begun to include discussion of the more complex eastern lands (including the former bombing range) within the mandate of the same RAB – which may prove too burdensome for the RAB as currently constituted.
In May 2003 Puerto Rico Governor Sila M. Calderón petitioned the EPA to place Vieques and Culebra (both formerly part of the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility, or AFTWF) in the National Priorities List (NPL) for environmental cleanup (also popularly known as the Superfund List). If approved Vieques would be considered to be among the 100 priority federal cleanup sites. Moreover, since the responsible polluter was the federal government, rather than a private company, Congress must appropriate funding for cleanup within the defense budget. By the summer of 2004 the proposal had passed all initial stages (at least for Vieques; inclusion of Culebra may be delayed) and public commentary was invited. The EPA published notices in various media and informed members of its Vieques mailing list well in advance of the October 12, 2004, deadline; the arrival of more than two thousand letters from organizations and individuals from Puerto Rico, the United States, and internationally in favor of the proposal was evidence of continuing interest and solidarity with the ongoing Vieques struggle. Since no serious opposition has developed, most observers expected approval of the proposal to include Vieques as a Superfund site. Final approval was announced in February 2005; among other things, EPA is now expected to take a more active role in overseeing the cleanup process. The fact that the EPA has opened and staffed an office in Vieques indicates that the cleanup process is expected to be long and costly.
Nonetheless, it must be stressed that it is not Superfund status that determines the level of cleanup of a site, but rather its planned future use. The necessary level of cleanup is determined by expected risks to human health. For example, a site that will be used for residences would imply more intensive human use than a wildlife refuge, and therefore would require more thorough cleanup. A report prepared by the Congressional Research Service during the summer of 2004 confirmed what many Vieques activists feared: that the Navy plans to use the current designation of half of the western lands and all of the eastern lands as wildlife refuge to argue that a budget of less than $200 million would adequately fulfill its cleanup obligations (Bearden and Luther 2004). Vieques-based officials of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have complained of problems getting enough community input for their Vieques National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan, a fifteen-year management plan that as of November 2004 did not yet exist. Part of the problem, no doubt, is that Viequenses have often expressed resentment that the Navy transferred the lands to yet another federal agency; moreover, some traditional uses of the lands are now even more restricted than they were under the Navy, such as horseback riding, livestock grazing, crabbing and coconut gathering. While FWS argues that such activities amidst still-contaminated lands would endanger the public and interfere with wildlife protection, local residents respond that the restrictions violate long established cultural and economic practice in lands that have been inhabited for four thousand years. Designation of these lands as a nature refuge artificially excludes humans and provides a circular justification for not cleaning thoroughly, since restricted lands allegedly pose less risk to human health. Only an admission by the Navy that military contamination in the restricted areas migrate to and negatively impact health in the civilian sector might force a more thorough cleanup of the lands under FWS control. This problem, among others, drives Vieques activists to seek the return of all of the lands to civilian control and balanced use for development as well as protection.
Over the years Viequenses have struggled to recover lands taken by the military in a variety of ways. For example, during the 1970’s many took part in “land invasions” and set up homesteads on lands held by the Navy but essentially unused, particularly lands bordering the civilian sector (Rabin 1999; Giusti 1999). These “communities of resistance,” such as Villa Borinquen, were eventually transferred to the municipality of Vieques – though many residents still do not have title to their property. In addition, in 1994 the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques testified in Congress in favor of a bill to return the western lands to local control; two years later the Committee collaborated with Columbia University’s Urban Technical Assistance Project to publish a western land use plan detailing residential, agricultural and conservation zones (UTAP and CRDV 1996). Even during the year between April 1999 and May 2000 – when fourteen protest camps in the far eastern lands bombing range blocked the Navy from using it – protesters planted trees, built a church and school, and set up solar panels as they witnessed nature’s own attempts to reclaim and restore lands after decades of military-induced environmental degradation. It was clear to most observers that a resolution to the political crisis between Puerto Rico and the United States provoked by the Vieques issue should address the future of the lands in question.
On January 31, 2000, President Clinton and Puerto Rico Governor Rosselló agreed to remove the protest camps and resume Navy training. Instead of issuing an executive order, Clinton issued a presidential directive, which would require legislation and therefore could be changed by Congress. Key points stipulated that, firstly, bombing would resume for up to 90 days per year with “inert” (non-explosive) bombs. Secondly, Viequenses would vote – on a date set by the Navy – between only two options: either Navy bombings could continue only until May 2003, in exchange for $40 million dollars, or permanent live fire would resume, in exchange for an extra $50 million. The most popular option – immediate and permanent end to Navy training – was not included. Thirdly, Puerto Rico would police the area near the bases, and agree not to file lawsuits.
Finally, the western lands would be cleaned up, and – except for the military radar and radio complexes – would be transferred to Puerto Rico by December 31, 2000 (Clinton 2000).
The Navy officially accepted the directives. But its allies in Congress vowed to change them, since they did not guarantee indefinite and unlimited use of Vieques and included a civilian vote on military practices; meanwhile, in Puerto Rico activists denounced the plan as a fraud. Not surprisingly, in October 2000 an amendment (found in Sections 1503-1508) was added to the Fiscal year 2001 National Defense Authorizations Act, popularly known as the “Spence Act,” that changed the presidential directive. First, the Navy would not leave the western lands until May 2001, six months after the U.S. and Puerto Rico elections; moreover, instead of giving all those lands back to Puerto Rico for the benefit of Vieques, as the directives had stated, most of the lands would be split between the municipal government of Vieques and the U.S. Dept of the Interior. The land transfer was carried out in a hurried meeting in Washington, D.C, on April 30, 2001. The mayor of Vieques was not present, because – along with hundreds of others – he was in the bombing range impeding Navy exercises at the time.
Fourteen of the 17 toxic sites identified by the Navy are located in the lands given to the municipality; those areas would therefore remain under Navy control until a cleanup was completed. The Navy also restricted use of over 600 acres turned over to Vieques and the Interior Department but near the radar and radio complex sites, plus retain rights of way in civilian roads and ports. Worst of all: the law declared that if Vieques residents voted in the planned referendum to remove the Navy the eastern lands would be transferred completely to the Department of the Interior; in particular, the bombing range would be declared a “wilderness area” – even though it hardly qualifies under the Wilderness Act as an area “untrammeled by man” (U.S. Congress 1964) – and simply closed to the public, thus putting in doubt any meaningful cleanup. If carried out as written this act would once again confine the Viequenses between contaminated and restricted federal lands. Indeed, the Memorandum of Agreement of May 1, 2003, signed by the Navy and the Department of the Interior, arranged for an administrative transfer of the eastern lands to the latter precisely under the terms specified by the Spence Act. Again, a meaningful demilitarization of the lands should include adequate cleanup and rehabilitation for non-military use, which the current law does not provide.
One of the arguments offered by congressional authors of the change to the Presidential directive regarding land disposition was that retaining federal control over the lands as a wildlife refuge would protect them from private developers and giant tourism projects. The fact that these congressional leaders were noted for their opposition to environmental legislation and had fiercely opposed an end to military use of Vieques – and made no attempt to hide their contempt for Puerto Ricans – cast doubt upon their alleged concern for the island’s ecological or economic wellbeing. Nonetheless, the wave of real estate speculation presently occurring in the civilian sector indicates that it could also become a problem in lands not under FWS control (although even under FWS business concessions could be granted to outside interests). Should Vieques activists eventually succeed in their lobbying efforts to revise the Vieques-related sections of the Spence Law and achieve the transfer of federally-controlled lands to Puerto Rican or municipal control, some mechanism to prevent land speculation must be enacted and enforced, in order to avoid “the Navy’s replacement by Hilton,” as more than one local activist has warned.
In 1999 a large group of San Juan-based professionals responded to a call from Vieques activists for ongoing technical assistance. The Technical and Professional Support Group (known as GATP for its initials in Spanish) included planners, attorneys, health professionals, ecologists, economists, and other individuals with the expertise needed to assist the Viequenses in developing their own development and conservation plans. This group worked on a completely voluntary basis for over three years to flesh out the details of a community-directed, ecologically and socially sustainable land use and development plan; significantly, the work from the start included dozens of meetings and workshops in Vieques, in order to learn what the people themselves saw as their most pressing problems and possible solutions. Volume One of the Guidelines for a Sustainable Development of Vieques (known as “las Guías”) was completed during Summer 2000; it presented a detailed picture of present economic, social, and environmental challenges, including analyses and suggestions given in dozens of community workshops. Volume Two, completed in 2002, detailed specific strategies for responsible and integrated land use planning and development in areas such as ecological and historical conservation, housing, community education, tourism, agriculture and fishing, manufacturing and services (GATP 2002). This document received quite a bit of publicity and was championed by the governor’s appointed Commissioner for Vieques and Culebra and the Mayor of Vieques, among others, as the basis for economic and land use planning.
On August 10, 2002, the Puerto Rican government enacted Law 153 to create a Special Economic Development Zone for the island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra. Among other things the law created an Interagency Committee – comprised of the heads of government departments and agencies such as the Departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture, the Planning Board and the Tourism Company, and chaired by the Commissioner for Vieques and Culebra and the Secretary of Economic Development – to oversee the creation and implementation of an integrated, sustainable, and community-oriented development plan (Puerto Rico Legislature 2002). In January 2004 the Interagency Committee awarded the a contract to create the master plan for implementation to Estudios Técnicos, Inc., a San Juan-based firm that includes among its associates one of the coordinators of GATP. The firm was given just five months to complete the draft.   During the month of March several public meetings were held in Vieques to hear the public’s concerns and suggestions regarding issues such as infrastructure, health care, job creation, transportation to and from Puerto Rico, housing, land use and protection from speculators, and natural resources conservation. The draft was completed in July; all that remained was to hold a public hearing and approve the master plan for implementation.
Curiously, following its completion in July 2004 the draft master plan – about which the government had expressed such urgency – appeared to have dropped from sight. Concerned that years of work might be lost in the heat of election-year politics, the CRDV and key Puerto Rico advisors held a press conference in September to call for the plan to be approved and put into action. The very next day the state government responded that it was merely awaiting a “harmonization” of the section of draft master plan regarding coastal zonification with the municipal land use plan that had been approved in 2000, which the current mayor had vowed to revise. Law 153 had specified that the municipal plan should be revised so as to “harmonize” with the master plan. However, it was not immediately clear whether the holdup had more to do with a turf struggle between state and municipal governments, or to possible lobbying by powerful interests to loosen the draft master plan’s proposed restrictions on large-scale, privatizing coastal development. Public hearings on the draft master plan were finally held during November 2004, and it received final approval the following month. The plan could potentially provide a powerful tool for guiding Vieques development for years to come – provided that Vieques community organizations are able to participate in a meaningful way in its implementation. Unfortunately, its potential effectiveness in halting the “gentrification” – or the progressive displacement of a poor native community by more affluent outsiders through rising property values and economic marginalization – of the central “civilian zone” is uncertain, since that process is already well underway.
For at least twenty years Vieques has been home to two distinct and nearly separate communities: the first is the larger, Spanish-speaking community of “viequenses” who are ethnically and historically Puerto Rican, while the second is a growing community of North Americans and others (Rivera Torres and Torres 1996). The latter group (whose estimates range between 1000-2000) includes ex-Marines, aging hippies and entrepreneurs who dominate the island’s tourism and real estate economic sectors, as well as part-time resident vacation homeowners. While some have integrated themselves into the larger community, the majority of “expatriates” (as they call themselves) maintains a separate, English-speaking enclave that is reminiscent of similar communities in the Caribbean. Their advertised business goals of helping to smooth out the “path to paradise” for prospective residents from northern climes treats Vieques as another “Fantasy Island” in much the same way as does the settler community of Hawai’i; at the same time their fictitious references to Vieques and Culebra as the “Spanish Virgin Islands” recall various proposals over the years by some U.S. government and private interests to politically detach the two island municipalities from Puerto Rico. [iv]
One unintended consequence of the anti-military activism in Vieques during the past five years was that the increased international attention also attracted more outside interest in buying up the island and profiting from its resources. The Navy’s announcement of January 2003 that it would leave the island caused a business and real estate boom that was “like day and night,” according to some North American business owners (Dreyfuss 2004; Ruíz Marrero 2004). The English-speaking community, always economically powerful, began increasingly to flex its political muscles as well. For example, public hearings held in Vieques on January 22, 2004, to consider a proposal by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources to build modest cabins in the Sun Bay State Beach attracted opposition from an unusually large and vocal contingent of “los gringos” (as most viequenses call them). They cited concerns about negative environmental impacts as prompting their opposition, as well as fears that the cabins would draw tourists away from their own establishments.
It is thus notable that they have not expressed significant opposition to another proposal, from a New York-based consortium called the SunBay Company, that plans to take over 500 acres of land in and around Sun Bay – including the local Fishing Association’s pier and planned center – for a tourism complex that would include upscale hotels, vacation condominiums, a luxury marina, and a golf resort. The firm has sought most of its funding for the project from Puerto Rico government loans and incentives – in other words, from the Puerto Rican taxpayers; within ten years of completion of the project the properties would be sold off at a handsome profit (SunBay Company 1999). One might expect that such a far-reaching, large-scale proposal – by outsiders and for outsiders, and clearly speculative – would be more likely to have a greater negative environmental and economic impact than the much smaller, internal tourist-directed Puerto Rican proposal, and thus be largely opposed by the English-speaking community. On the contrary, many prominent members of this community have publicly expressed support for the project; significantly, they also strongly backed – and helped finance – the 2004 electoral campaign of the only candidate for mayor of Vieques who openly supported the SunBay development. [v]
There is indeed strong opposition to the SunBay Company project in Vieques; however, it comes almost exclusively from the larger community of viequenses, who also express concern about what they refer to as the “Hawaiization” of their island. Viequenses are aggressively pursued both by real estate agents and visiting individuals, who offer previously unheard-of amounts of cash for their property – even when not titled – and some find such offers irresistible. Moreover, the brokers serve as promoters for exclusive new developments, such as a planned “gated community” along the north central coast asking half a million dollars per acre lot, that openly challenge Puerto Rico’s laws forbidding privatization of coastal lands. [vi]
Meanwhile, within the larger community more than 600 working families cannot afford to buy or rent a home on their own island, and are forced to double up with relatives. Under such circumstances the sight of scores of locked, vacant vacation homes creates a tremendous amount of resentment, which could fuel an explosive social situation. Recognizing the seriousness of the problem, local officials and activists have been seeking effective mechanisms that might be employed to halt the “gentrification” of Vieques. For example, the municipal government decreed a moratorium on sales of untitled properties until their title status is resolved; however, real estate agents claim that their rights under a capitalist system allow them to continue to promote outside sales and price inflation – and sales of untitled land continues unabated.
Another idea, that of a Community Land Trust (CLT), may hold greater promise for slowing down the rate of land price inflation. Briefly: a CLT, whose members are permanent residents of a community, buys and holds land, while the buildings on the property can be bought and inherited by individuals. CLT’s have helped to slow down land appreciation in a number of low-income communities throughout the United States, while providing affordable local housing and offering some continuity for future generations. In Puerto Rico a model already exists: the Community Land Trust of Caño Martín Peña, located in a low-income area of San Juan. The Trust, enacted into law by the Puerto Rican legislature, offers a measure of protection from gentrifying pressures; ironically, it was inspired by the work of the Guidelines for Sustainable Development of Vieques, produced by GATP. This “coming full circle” of la protesta con la propuesta illustrates not only the importance of the Vieques experience for communities in the rest of Puerto Rico – as has been discussed by so many Vieques activists from the “big island” (Berman Santana 2002) – but also demonstrates how that experience can further develop elsewhere and eventually return to benefit Vieques.
A myriad of other challenges, from providing reliable transportation to and from Puerto Rico and establishing post-secondary education and training, to improving health services and increasing employment options, face the Vieques activists. The island also suffers from serious social problems that frequently afflict poor communities but are also historic legacies of military occupation, such as teen pregnancy, domestic violence and drug abuse. The cessation of bombing may have also ended – or at least temporarily deactivated – the network of active supporters for the Vieques struggle, which could threaten those who continue to work daily on Vieques issues with “activist burnout.”
Yet each day that goes by without the roar of warplanes overhead drowning out conversations, or children crying because their classroom’s ceiling cracked from a 500-pound bomb’s impact a few miles away, reminds us that years of struggle and solidarity produced a miracle in Vieques: closing down an active US military base in the midst of a worldwide wartime expansion. This successful campaign achieved a broad-based consensus and participation that is rare, not only for Puerto Rico but for any society. The current phase of the Vieques struggle represents the efforts of millions of communities throughout the world for a chance to actively participate in decisions that will affect their ability to live well in their own home territory, and pass on their knowledge of and love for that home to future generations. In Vieques, “la lucha continua” – and its future holds great significance for us all.
Acevedo Marín, Leslie Ann. 2004. Trace Metals in Tissues of Edible Fish from Vieques, Puerto Rico. Master’s Thesis in Environmental Health Sciences, Faculty of Biosocial Sciences and Graduate School of Public Health, Medical Sciences Campus, University of Puerto Rico (August).
Ayala, César, 2001. Del latifundio azucarero al latifundio militar: las expropiaciones de la marina en la década del cuarenta. Revista de Ciencias Sociales (University of Puerto Rico) 10 (January): 1-33
Barreto, Amilcar A. 2002. Vieques, the Navy and Puerto Rican Politics. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.
Bearden, David M., and Linda G. Luther. 2004. Memorandum to Hon. José Serrano (D-NY) regarding environmental cleanup at Vieques Island and Culebra Island. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service (August 19).
Berman Santana, Déborah. 2002. Resisting toxic militarism: Vieques vs. the U.S. Navy. Social Justice 29(1-2): 37-47.
Clinton, William J. 2000. Resolution regarding use of range facilities on Vieques, Puerto Rico (Referendum). Directive to the Secretary of Defense and Directory, Office of Management and Budget. Washington D.C.: The White House, Office of the Press Secretary (January 31).
Dreyfuss, Claudia. 2004 Vieques: an island’s ship comes in. The New York Times (March 21). http://travel2.nytimes.com/mem/travel/article-page.html?res=9C00E0DA1631F932A15750C0A9629C8B63.
Giusti, Juan. 1999. Informe histórico preliminar: Asociación Pro-Títulos de Monte Santo et al. vs. Estado Libre Asociado et al. Civil Núm. KPE 96-0729 (907) Tribunal de Primera Instancia, Sección Superior de San Juan.
Lewis, Sanford, Brian Keating, and Dick Russell. 1992. Inconclusive by Design: Waste, Fraud and Abuse in Federal Environmental Health Research. Chesapeake, VA: Environmental Health Network. http://www.envirohealthnet.org/inconclusive.
Massol Deyá, Arturo, and Elba Díaz. 2003. Trace element composition in forage samples from a military target range, three agricultural areas, and one natural area in Puerto Rico. Caribbean Journal of Science 39(2): 215-220.
McCaffrey, Katherine T. 2002. Military Power and Popular Protest: the U.S. Navy in Vieques, Puerto Rico. New Brunswick N.J.: Rutgers University Press.
Nazario, Cruz María, Erick L. Suárez, and Cynthia Pérez. 1998. Análisis Crítico del Informe Incidencia de Cáncer en Vieques del Departamento de Salud de Puerto Rico. Río Piedras: Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto Médico.
Ortiz Roque, Carmen, and Iris López Rivera. 2004. Mercury contamination in reproductive age women in a Caribbean island: Vieques. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 58: 756-757.
Rabin, Robert. 1999. Historia de Vieques: Cinco Siglos de Lucha de un Pueblo Puertorriqueño. Vieques: Vieques Historical Archives. http://www.vieques-island.com/board/navy/rabin.htm
Rivera Torres, Leticia, and Antonio J. Torres. 1996. Vieques, economic conversion and sustainable development. Unpublished manuscript. Vieques: Vieques Historical Archives.
Puerto Rico. Environmental Quality Board (EQB). 1997. Written Depositions (Burson-Marsteller and EQB), Public Hearings for ROTHR System for Juana Díaz and Vieques, Puerto Rico. Held in Juana Díaz, March 17, 1997. Vieques: Vieques Historical Archives.
Puerto Rico. Legislature. 2002. Ley Número 153 para crear la Zona Especial de Desarrollo Económico de las Islas Municipios de Vieques y Culebra (August 10).
Ruíz Marrero, Carmelo. 2004. Post-Navy Vieques. Viva New York (Daily News supplement) (September 15). http://www.americas.org/item_16379
SunBay Company. 1999. Project description, Sunbay Resort Development. Unpublished document (January). Vieques: Vieques Historical Archives.
United States. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2003. Public Health Assessment: Air Pathway Evaluation, Isla de Vieques Bombing Range, Vieques, Puerto Rico. Atlanta: Federal Facilities Assessment Branch, Division of Health Assessment and Consultation , Center for Disease Control (August 26). http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HAC/PHA/vieques4/vbr-toc.html.
United States. Congress. 1964. An Act to establish a National Wilderness Preservation System for the permanent good of the whole people, and for other purposes. Public Law 88-577, 88th Congress, S. 4 (September 3).
United States. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 1999. Discharge monitoring report for the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility. New York, NY: EPA Region II, Caribbean Field Office,
United States. Department of the Navy. 1997. Final Environmental Impact Statement, Relocatable Over the Horizon Radar (ROTHR) System, Puerto Rico. Norfolk, VA: Atlantic Division, Naval Facilities Engineering Command.
United States. Department of the Navy. 2003. Memorandum of Agreement between the United States Department of the Navy and the United States Department of the Interior concerning the transfer of Department of Defense properties on the eastern end of Vieques Island to the Department of the Interior (April 30).
United States. General Services Administration (GSA). 2004. Announcement of government property disposal. GSA Control Number 1-N-PR-526. http://propertydisposal.gsa.gov/Property/PropForSale/SchProperty/ShowProperty.ASP?PropertyID=991
Urban Technical Assistance Project (UTAP) and the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques (CRDV). 1996. Vieques, Puerto Rico – Looking Forward:A Development Strategy for the Naval Ammunition Facility. New York: Columbia University, Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation, and Planning, Graduate Program in Urban Planning. http://www.arch.columbia.edu/UTAP/HTML/projects/Vieques/Vieques.html
[i] Sources of information for this article include published and unpublished documents (cited below), interviews and personal observation in Vieques over a span of more than twenty years, but particularly between 2000-2005.
[ii] This Navy website – removed after receiving wide publicity shortly after the death of David Sanes, depicts the ROTHR radar site in western Vieques as forming part of the Navy’s Electronic Warfare Simulation Range. The cancelled page may be viewed at http://www.viequeslibre.addr.com/espanol/articulos/cancelada/cancelada.htm
[iii] A landmark report (Lewis, et al 1992) charged that the ATSDR and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) “routinely funded and conducted studies of effects of toxic pollution on public health which are inconclusive by design. These intentionally inconclusive studies have been used by polluters and government officials to mislead local citizens into believing that further measures to prevent toxic exposures are unnecessary”(p.3). This is particularly reinforced when a federal government department – such as the Navy – is the polluter.
[iv] See http://www.enchanted-isle.com for numerous references to Vieques as “Paradise” and a “Spanish Virgin Island”. The most recent proposal to detach Vieques from Puerto Rico circulated on Capitol Hill in 2001 during the most intense phase of the struggle against the bombing. According to the Vieques Times (March/April 2001) a U.S. Senator suggested to one Navy employee from Vieques that over 200 million dollars could be allocated for this new entity, in exchange for the employee’s leading a campaign to support continued military use of the island.
[v] See for example a September 2004 letter soliciting campaign funds, found at http://www.tikihutvieques.com/Page-Info.html
[vi] Information taken from the Summer 2004 handout of the real estate company Connections, as well as from its website listing as of November 10, 2004: http://viequesrealtor.elistados.com/details_es.php?results_listPage=3&p_id=2361

Puerto Rico, la soberanía y la libre asociación

Puerto Rico, la soberanía y la libre asociación

Publicado en Revista Exégesis, Año 25, Número 70, 2011. Derechos Reservados.

soberanía: Es el reclamo de los pueblos bajo la dominación imperialista y de los grandes intereses elitistas y capitalistas, séan de adentro o de afuera.

Son muchos que la quieren pero pocos que la pueden definir. Para entender la soberanía en el contexto puertorriqueño, conviene hacer un análisis del concepto que incluya su uso histórico e internacional ­– y por supuesto, el uso en la metrópoli que nos tiene como posesión – es decir, los Estados Unidos ­– junto a términos relacionados como “libre determinación”, “independencia” y “autonomía.”

Trasfondo histórico del concepto

Según el reconocido historiador indígena norteamericano, Vine Deloria, la palabra “soberanía” tiene sus comienzos en la reformación europea, cuando los reyes – o “soberanos” – empezaron a arrebatarle a la iglesia el poder absoluto para el mando terrenal. El “derecho divino del soberano” se manifestaba especifícamente en “hacer la guerra y gobernar los asuntos domésticos” (Deloria 1979:22). Luego de las revoluciones contra la iglesia y las monarquías, y la evolución del concepto de “nación”, el concepto de soberanía también evolucionó. La soberanía empezó a entenderse como el derecho colectivo de gobernarse, procedente de los individuos que constituyen el pueblo (Moore 1993). En otras palabras: el derecho absoluto de gobernarse se transfiere de la iglesia al rey, y del rey a los miembros (ciudadanos) de la nación (estado). Así que, con los comienzos de desarrollo en el Sigo XVI de la “nación-estado” en Europa (Rice 1970) la soberanía se relacionó con el derecho a “la jurisdicción exclusiva, la integridad territorial y la no-intervención en asuntos domésticos” (Anaya 1996:15). Los tratados firmados entre estados mostraron evidencia del reconocimiento mutuo de la soberanía de los firmantes. Hoy día este entendimiento de soberanía forma una pieza clave de las relaciones entre estados independientes – pero no es el único entendimiento.

La soberanía del colonizador versus la soberanía del colonizado

Cuando los emergentes estados de Europa empezaron su proyecto colonizador en las tierras de América se encontraron con los distintos pueblos que las habían habitados por cientos de siglos. Para los invasores, dichos pueblos no eran civilizados, en gran parte, porqué no eran cristianos (Berkhofer 1979). Por lo tanto, no tenían soberanía y sus tierras y recursos no les pertenecían – una percepción que fue parte importante de la doctrina del descubrimiento (Miller 2008). Desde temprano se distinguió entre las tierras propiedad de un estado reconocido, y la “terra nullius” (Drinnon 1980:500), o tierra de nadie – por lo menos de nadie que tuviese soberanía. Es cierto que los gobiernos europeos – y luego el gobierno de los EEUU – firmaron tratados con las naciones indígenas, y que, tal práctica de firmar tratados, generalmente muestra un reconocimiento de soberanía. Por ejemplo, el Tratado de Easton de 1758, entre Inglaterra y trece naciones indígenas de la región del río Ohio, logró que las trece naciones no se aliaran con los franceses durante la “guerra de siete años”, a cambio del compromiso de limitar la colonización inglesa al este de la Sierra Apalachia (Konkie 1932). Pero el hecho de que todos los tratados fueron violados por los colonizadores nos sugiere que para ellos los pueblos originarios no eran naciones y no gozaron de la misma soberanía. Así que firmar un tratado con indígenas era más bien una estrategia para evitar posibles alianzas indígenas, y para utilizar el tratado como evidencia del “control doméstico” territorial contra los reclamos de otros estados europeos (Barker 2005:5). Es dentro de la contradicción entre la historia de tratados firmados con los pueblos indígenas, y la negación de los derechos supuestamente garantizados a través de leyes, guerras y decisiones judiciales, que vemos otro “entendimiento” del concepto de soberanía – es decir, una de segunda clase, concedida al colonizado por el colonizador (ibid, p.6).

A principios del Siglo XIX los conflictos entre el expansionismo de la nueva nación-estado de los EEUU, y los tratados ya firmados con los pueblos indígenas, no se hicieron esperar. Armados con los tratados que sí les habían nombrados como “naciones”, los indígenas llevaron sus reclamos hasta el Tribunal Supremo. El conjunto de tres casos entre 1823 y 1832, conocido como “la Trilogía Marshall” (por el Juez Presidente John Marshall), ofreció la primera definición jurídica de “soberanía” para los indígenas y estableció el precedente de relaciones de fideicomiso no sólo para los EEUU, sino también para las colonias británicas de Canadá, Nuevo Zelandia y Australia (Haring 1998). Brevemente, las decisiones catalogaron los pueblos indígenas como salvajes y carentes del estatus de estado independiente. Por lo tanto, los tratados firmados se verían como acuerdos entre un estado legítimo – los EEUU – y algunas “naciones domésticas y dependientes” bajo la tutoría estadounidense en fideicomisos. Es decir, esta clase de soberanía otorgó cierta autonomía limitada a los “tribus,” siempre y cuando no chocara con los intereses del verdadero soberano (Barker 2005:14). Además, se estableció una clase de territorio bajo la soberanía estadounidense sin destino a incorporarse como estado y bajo el “poder plenario” del gobierno federal, que luego se extendió a las colonias insulares caribeñas y del Pacífico – incluyendo Puerto Rico (Aleinikoff 2002; Cleveland 2002; Taylor Saito 2002).

La libre determinación

El principio de libre determinación (o auto-determinación) aparece en el primer artículo de la Carta Fundadora de la Organización de las Naciones Unidas (ONU), formando así una piedra angular del derecho internacional (United Nations 1945:3). Inspirada el los famosos “catorce puntos” del presidente estadounidense Woodrow Wilson al concluir la primera guerra mundial, el concepto se refiere al derecho de un pueblo de tomar las decisiones sobre las relaciones políticas y económicas – incluyendo la soberanía de sus territorios – que le afectan directamente (Abunimah 2010). Es importante señalar que la libre determinación podría resultar en un estatus político que no se considere como soberano, siempre y cuando hay evidencia de que fue escogido libremente y sin coerción. Entre las tres opciones reconocidas internacionalmente como evidencia de ejercicio de libre determinación – independencia, libre asociación e integración – sólo la independencia es reconocida como la opción que otorga la soberanía, aunque la libre asociación reconoce el derecho del pueblo de cambiar su estatus en el futuro. La integración con otro estado requiere la igualdad completa y la evidencia de que el pueblo haya escogido libremente que la soberanía sobre su territorio descanse en el país independiente (Berman Santana 2010).[1] Así que, cualquier movimiento soberanista debería entender que un país reconocido internacionalmente como soberano tiene que ser independiente. Por otro lado, un país en libre asociación con otro país independiente debe retener el derecho de cambiar su estatus político en el futuro; sin embargo, aunque la libre asociación otorga cierta autonomía no es reconocida en sí como soberana.

Ni estado, ni libre, ni asociado – ni soberano

Es harto conocido en Puerto Rico que la mayoría no está satisfecha con el estatus político actual como un “territorio no incorporado que pertenece a, pero no es parte de, los EEUU” (López Baralt 1999:271). La designación de Puerto Rico, en 1952, como un “estado libre asociado” (ELA) no alteró el hecho de que siga bajo el mando absoluto del gobierno federal, sin ninguna chispa de soberanía ni papel determinante en la toma de decisiones (Geigel Polanco 1981). Siguiendo el modelo de las tribus indígenas, hay cierta autonomía concedida a los líderes políticos locales, siempre y cuando no haya conflictos con los intereses del verdadero soberano.

La falta de soberanía se refleja en múltiples formas. Por ejemplo, las leyes de cabotaje – que requieren que el transporte marítimo comercial se realizice con barcos construidos y registrados en EEUU – se aplican a Puerto Rico.[2] Obligar a Puerto Rico a utilizar la marina mercante estadounidense – la más cara e ineficiente del mundo – tiene el efecto de subir el costo de toda la mercancía y materia prima que entra y sale en hasta un cuarenta por ciento (Collazo Schwarz 2005:158). Curiosamente, las leyes de cabotaje no aplican a la vecina Islas Vírgenes estadounidenses (USVI), otro territorio no incorporado como Puerto Rico. La exención le ofrece la oportunidad de controlar el costo de vida y negocios (OTA 1989). De hecho, debido a la exención de las leyes de cabotaje, USVI goza de más soberanía económica que Puerto Rico.[3] No debe sorprender que a través de los años varias administraciones puertorriqueñas hayan cabildeado en el Congreso por la exención de las leyes de cabotaje. Hasta el gobierno estadista y conservador de Luís Fortuño favorecía una exención para la importación del combustible (Delgado 2011). Sin embargo, el Congreso nunca ha mostrado interés alguno en utilizar su poder plenario para eximir a Puerto Rico de las leyes de cabotaje, que pudiera aliviar la grave situación económica sin meterse en el asunto de estatus político.

En busca de la soberanía: el movimiento soberanista puertorriqueño

Recientemente ha surgido una nueva organización en Puerto Rico con el propósito de ofrecer una alternativa al electorado puertorriqueño. El Movimiento Unión Soberanista (MUS) se encuentra en proceso de inscripción para las elecciones de 2012. El liderazgo se compone de una alianza entre algunas organizaciones independentistas y ex-militantes del ala “autonomista” del Partido Popular Democrática, es decir, quienes abogan por mayor autonomía dentro del estatus político actual. La plataforma del MUS se deriva en gran parte de los documentos del Instituto Soberanista Puertorriqueña.

Tanto el MUS como este Instituto describen con gran detalle y elocuencia por qué Puerto Rico necesita la soberanía. Sin embargo, para la explicación del concepto hay que ir a la publicación ejemplar del fundador del Instituto, Ángel Collado Schwarz. En su libro Soberanías Exitosas: Seís Modelos para el Desarrollo Económico de Puerto Rico, éste afirma que “al no existir la estadidad como opción real, las dos opciones verdaderas para el futuro de Puerto Rico son: continuar con el modelo actual de territorio bajo los poderes plenarios del Congreso o alcanzar un status donde la soberanía descanse en el pueblo de Puerto Rico, y a la vez se mantenga una relación estrecha con Estados Unidos, donde residen cerca de 4 millones de puertorriqueños” (Collado Schwarz 2009: 12).

Aunque se reconoce la necesidad que del pueblo puertorriqueño de tener el pleno poder de tomar decisiones, no se menciona la independencia como requisito para la soberanía. De hecho, su llamado a la soberanía se ata a “una relación estrecha con Estados Unidos” – el país que por más de un siglo ha dominado a Puerto Rico de forma casi absoluta. El libro presenta seis países independientes (algunos también con grandes comunidades en la diáspora en EEUU) como modelos económicos para Puerto Rico, sin claramente reconocer la conexión entre la independencia y el poder soberano de tomar decisiones económicas.

¿Por qué la renuencia de afirmar la palabra “independencia”? Según algunos observadores, tal vez no se quiere utilizar un término que “está asociado en Puerto Rico con experiencias históricas muy poco estimulantes como son la extrema pobreza de países como Haití, República Dominicana y la mayoría de las naciones de Centro América” (Méndez 2009:4), aunque otros afirmen que esa alegada extrema pobreza se debe en gran parte a la violación de soberanía por países como EEUU y Francia, entre otros (Reid 2000; Edmonds 2010). Otra explicación podría ser que mientras no haya suficiente apoyo para la independencia, la opción de “libre asociación” le ofrece a Puerto Rico el poder de tomar las decisiones necesarias para salvaguardar su cultura, mejorar la economía y abrirse más al mundo sin alejarse demasiado de los EEUU. Según el ala “autonomista” del PPD, si Puerto Rico pudiera salir de la “cláusula territorial” el gobierno federal perdería su “poder plenario” y Puerto Rico ganaría su soberanía como parte de un “desarrollo” del estatus actual. Por otro lado, otros que no ven las posibilidades de cambiar al ELA, abogan por la libre asociación, una de las tres opciones reconocidas internacionalmente, como expresión de libre determinación para un pueblo colonizado.[4]

La libre asociación y la soberanía

Aunque los ejemplos de “soberanías exitosas” prupuesto son todos países independientes, hay otros países no independientes que son citados como ejemplos de soberanía sin independencia. Por ejemplo, las Islas Cook y Nieu son dos naciones que han firmado pactos de libre asociación con el país ex-colonizador, Nueva Zelandia. Otros ejemplos son Groenlandia y las Islas Faroe, que tienen autonomía local bajo la soberanía de Dinamarca (aunque Groenlandia no tuvo voz en la decisión de construir en su territorio importantes bases militares estadounidenses).[5] En todos los casos la última instancia de soberanía descansa en el país independiente, aunque las ex-colonias ejercen cierta autonomía en asuntos locales. Según algunos observadores, el lenguaje de los pactos de libre asociación, cuando hay conflictos entre las partes, es ambiguo. Sin embargo, el hecho de que todos son económicamente dependientes del viejo colonizador vislumbra poca probabilidad para desarrollar una mayor soberanía en el futuro.

Empero no tenemos que mirar tan lejos, porque hay tres “repúblicas asociadas” en el Pacífico – Islas Marshall, Estados Federados de Micronesia y Pelau – que firmaron pactos de libre asociación con los EEUU y fueron ingresadas como miembros a la ONU. Eran parte de los “territorios en fideicomiso de la ONU” para las islas de Micronesia, que fueron ocupados por EEUU durante la segunda guerra mundial ¿Serán modelos de libre asociación para Puerto Rico?

Este tema ha sido analizado de forma detallada (ver por ejemplo, McHenry 1975; PCRC 1982; Berman Santana 2010). Diremos sobre el particular, brevemente, que en todos los casos EEUU retiene el derecho de intervenir política, económica y militarmente de ocurrir una amenaza a sus intereses, y según muchos activistas en Micronesia, hasta ahora Wáshington ha logrado mantener el control de esas “repúblicas asociadas” a través de la dependencia económica (Peoples 1986: 21-22). Quizás es más importante señalar que, para el gobierno federal, los pactos de libre asociación solamente se pueden alterar por acuerdo mutuo, aunque esa interpretación contradice la norma internacionalmente reconocida que establece que, el país no independiente, retenga el derecho de optar unilateralmente por la independencia en el futuro. Aunque es cierto que la ONU las aceptó, ¿será de verdad ése un buen ejemplo para lograr la soberanía que Puerto Rico quiere seguir?

La Independencia: necesario pero no suficiente – pero no menos necesario

Hay quienes creen que el ideal de soberanía nacional ha perdido su relevancia en nuestro mundo globalizado e interdependiente, donde abundan los estados “independientes” pero intervenidos y neo-colonizados, y donde la soberanía nacional no evita la explotación de recursos ni la opresión de mujeres, indígenas y otros grupos marginados. Sin embargo, el reclamo de la gran mayoría de la humanidad por el poder de tomar las decisiones que más directamente le afectan, todavía se expresa de forma colectiva como demanda de los pueblos. Si la esencia del coloniaje es la impotencia colectiva, la descolonización – en cualquier forma que tome – tendrá que realizarse con la libre voluntad colectiva del pueblo colonizado, y sin haber sido definido por el colonizador (Taylor Saito 2002:25).

El derecho del pueblo puertorriqueño a la libre determinación es innegable. Cualquier decisión tomada libremente y plenamente informada – sea anexión, asociación o independencia –será válida y debe ser respetada. Pero, la única opción que pudiera tener la posibilidad de lograr la soberanía – donde el poder de tomar las decisiones descanse en el pueblo de Puerto Rico – es la independencia.


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Delgado, José A. 2011. “Pierluisi cabildea contra la Ley de Cabotaje.” El Nuevo Día, 6 de mayo. http://www.elnuevodia.com/pierluisicabildeacontralaleydecabotaje-967314.html 

Deloria, Vine Jr. 1979. “Self-determination and the concept of sovereignty.” en Dunbar Ortiz, Roxanne (ed), Economic Development in American Indian Reservations. Albuquerque: University of Mexico Native American Studies.

Drinnon, R. 1980. Facing West: the Metaphysics of Indian-hating and Empire Building. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Edmonds, Kevin. 2010. “NGOs and the business of poverty in Haiti.” NACLA Report. https://nacla.org/node/6501

Geigel Polanco, Vicente. 1981. La Farsa del Estado Libre Asociado. San Juan: Ediciones Edil.

Haring, Sidney L. 1998. White Man’s Law: Native People in Nineteenth Century Canadian Jurisprudence. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Konkie, Burton Alva. 1932. Benjamin Chew 1722-1810: Head of the Pennsylvania Judiciary System under Colony and Commonwealth. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

López Baralt, José. 1999 (1932). The Policy of the United States toward its Territories with Special Reference to Puerto Rico. Río Piedras: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico.

McHenry, Donald. 1975. Micronesia: Trust Betrayed. Washington: Carnegie Endowment for National Peace.

Méndez, José I. 2009. Ponencia: presentación del libro Soberanías Exitosas de Angel Collado Schwarz. Librería Borders, Plaza Las Américas, San Juan PR, 22 febrero. http://www.vozdelcentro.org/?page_id=719

Miller, Robert J. 2008. Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, and Manifest Destiny. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Moore, Barrington. 1993. Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World. Boston: Beacon Press.

Pacific Concerns Resource Center (PCRC). 1982. From Trusteeship to…? Micronesia and its Future. Honolulu, Hawai’i.

Peoples, James. 1986. Islands in Trust. Boulder: Westview Press.

Reid, Giselle. 2000. “The legacy of colonialism: a hindrance to self-determination.” Touro International Law Review 10, pp. 277-305.

Rice, Eugene F., Jr. 1970. The Foundations of Early Modern Europe, 1460-1559. New York: W.W. Norton.

Taylor, Alan. (2006) The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Taylor Saito, Natsu. 2002. “Asserting plenary power over the other: Indians, Immigrants, Colonial Subjects, and Why U.S. Jurisprudence Needs to Incorporate International Law.” Yale Law and Policy Review 20:2, pp. 1-67.

United Nations. 1945. Charter of the United Nations and the Statute of the International Court of Justice. San Francisco, California. http://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/CTC/uncharter.pdf

United States Congress, Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). 1989. Competition in Coastal Seas: An Evaluation of Foreign Maritime Activities in the 200-mils EEZ, Background Paper OTA-BP-O-55. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.


[1] “Principles which should guide Members in determining whether or not an obligation exists to transmit the information called for under Article 73e of the Charter.” United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1541, 15 December 1960.

[2] Ley orgánica Foraker del 12 de abril de 1900, (cap. 191, 31 Stat. 77.) (1 L.P.R.A. Documentos Históricos.) http://www.lexjuris.com/lexlex/lexotras/lexleyforaker.htm. La Ley de la Marina Mercante de 1920 refuerza la aplicación de las leyes de cabotaje a Puerto Rico, especificamente en la Sección 27 (también conocida como “el acta Jones”). http://www.upa.pdx.edu/IMS/currentprojects/TAHv3/Content/PDFs/Jones_Act_1920.pdf 

[3] Otros territorios estadounidenses que son exentos de las leyes de cabotaje son Guam, Samoa Americana y el Estado Libre Asociado de Marianas del Norte.

[4] Véase por ejemplo el blog de Omar López, miembro de la Alianza Pro Libre Asociación Soberana (ALAS). http://soberaniapuertorico.blogspot.com/

[5] “La libre asociación y Puerto Rico.” http://puertoricostatus.blogspot.com/ El autor del blog se identifica como miembro del Partido Popular Democrático.

No somos únicos: el “status” desde Manila a San Juan

No Somos Únicos: el “Status” desde Manila a San Juan [i] 

publicado en Exégesis 23:66, pp.49-61 (2010)


El año 1998 marcó el centenario de los Estados Unidos como imperio global cuando se apoderó de varias islas territorios del Pacífico y del Caribe. Durante el siglo XX tres de esos territorios se independizaron y uno se convirtió en estado norteamericano. Sin embargo, en la mayoría de los territorios la relación con los EEUU todavía se considera como colonial. En Puerto Rico el tema de estatus político es de los más candentes y lejos de resolverse – pero este archipiélago no está solo.

Este artículo explora el significado de la ideología del siglo XIX del “destino manifiesto,” además de las políticas hacia las naciones indígenas, para la conquista de las islas por los EEUU. También evidenciamos patrones en las políticas sobre las islas del Pacífico. Estas fueron motivadas por intereses económicos y estratégicos y fundadas por presunciones racistas y colonialistas. Además, Wáshington generalmente ha ignorado tanto los estándares internacionales, como los anhelos del pueblo puertorriqueño para la auto-determinación. Finalmente, en la tarea necesaria de reformulación del debate sobre el estatus los puertorriqueños deben considerar las experiencias de las hermanas islas territorios.


El año 1998 marcó el centenario de los Estados Unidos de Norteamérica (EEUU) como imperio global cuando se apoderó de varias islas territorios del Pacífico y el Caribe. Durante el siglo XX tres de esos territorios se independizaron y uno se convirtió en estado federado estadounidense. Sin embargo, la mayoría de los territorios se han mantenidos como “posesiones” – palabra preferida por Wáshington – para sus colonias. Es de conocimiento general que en el llamado “Estado Libre Asociado” de Puerto Rico su estatus político sigue siendo el de temas más preocupantes y lejos de resolverse. Sin embargo, sobre el tema de “status” este archipiélago caribeño no está solo.

Los EEUU también obtuvo otros botines de guerra en 1898. Mientras en 1902 se concedió a Cuba una independencia condicional, las Islas filipinas fueron gobernadas por un régimen colonial hasta 1946. Guam lucha todavía por una redefinición de status y por los derechos a la tierra. En 1898 Washington anexó a las islas hawaiianas por la fuerza; sin embargo, la estadidad – concedida en 1959 – no ha acabado con la lucha del pueblo hawai’iano por la auto-determinación. Durante los años 80 y 90, tres de los antiguos “territorios en fideicomiso” del Pacífico bajo control norteamericano entraron en una “libre asociación” con los EEUU, y uno se convirtió en “estado libre asociado.” Además, el “status” es tema caliente tanto en las islas vírgenes estadounidenses, como en la Samoa americana. Como académica puertorriqueña, creo que en todas estas historias hay lecciones importantes para Puerto Rico.

No todos los “estudiosos” estarán de acuerdo conmigo. De hecho, la mayoría ha argumentado que como los EEUU nunca tuvo la intención de mantener territorios que no fuesen destinados para la estadidad federada, su política hacia los territorios ultramarinos carece de coherencia. También, señalan que la diversidad entre las islas territorios disminuye la utilidad de comparaciones de estatus, o que algunas de los territorios son anomalías. [ii] Pero sostengo que las políticas del siglo XIX del “destino manifiesto,” así como el tratamiento de las naciones indígenas norteamericanas, jugaron un rol clave en las conquistas de Washington de territorios fuera del continente. Mis estudios han encontrado patrones claros en las relaciones territoriales de los EEUU motivados por sus intereses estratégicos, económicos y políticos, relaciones moldeadas por presunciones racistas y colonialistas – particularmente por un desprecio persistente contra las culturas, capacidades y aspiraciones de las poblaciones nativas. También, considero estas “luchas de estatus” dentro del contexto del derecho internacional sobre la auto-determinación. Finalmente – argumentando que existen algunos puntos claves de consenso entre los puertorriqueños – examino las posibilidades para una resolución satisfactoria del estatus político de Puerto Rico.

El destino manifiesto y los “indios”

Empezamos con una breve mirada a lo que llamaría la “contradicción jeffersoniana” – dos principios de la política doméstica y extranjera elaborados por Thomas Jefferson al comienzo de los EEUU como país independiente. El primero es el derecho de todos los pueblos a la auto-determinación, un ideal que justificó la creación de los EEUU e inspiró esfuerzos similares a través del mundo. El segundo principio es el derecho de los EEUU de buscar sus propios intereses, irrespectivamente de si choca con el derecho de otros pueblos a la auto-determinación. Este último se justificó con una creencia en la superioridad innata anglosajona y el “destino manifiesto” norteamericano de expandir sus fronteras políticas, económicas y culturales. Tan temprano como en 1787 Jefferson escribió sobre la necesidad del crecimiento militar estadounidense para poder tomar control del imperio español “pedazo por pedazo” (Ford 1904:75). Durante el siglo XIX varios líderes estadounidenses apoyaron la anexión de territorios caribeños, mexicanos y centroamericanos – que de hecho sí ocurrió: Puerto Rico, algunas de las islas vírgenes y la mitad norte de México. [iii]Además, como fue esbozada por el historiador naval Alfred Thayer Mahan, la expansión de la Marina de Guerra y la conquista de territorios tanto en el Caribe – para facilitar el dominio de América Latina y el futuro Canal de Panamá – como en el Pacífico – el portal a Asia – fueron claves para alcanzar el poder global (Mahan 1897:21-21; 1918: 28).

Es importante reseñar la evolución de los conceptos de “territorio” y “soberanía” en los EEUU. Desde temprano se distinguió entre la ocupación de tierras que se reconocían como propiedad de otros, y “terra nullius” (Drinnon 1980:500): las tierras de nadie, territorios disponibles para ocuparse – por lo menos, en el sentido que ningún gobierno reconocido por los EEUU los habían reclamado y ocupado. Al principio, el gobierno en Wáshington sí trataba formalmente con los pueblos indígenas como naciones soberanas. Sin embargo, cuando surgieron disputas entre norteamericanos y los llamados “indios” el gobierno federal siempre intervino a favor de sus ciudadanos. Lo hizo en parte porque la práctica indígena de considerar su territorio como propiedad comunitaria y no privada fomentó la idea de que los territorios no pertenecían a nadie – pero lo hizo también porque no se consideraban a los indios como “gente de razón” (blancos). No obstante, ya para la década del 1830 el trato previo como naciones soberanas fue reemplazado por lo que se conoce hasta hoy día como “naciones domésticas dependientes” – además de varios intentos de terminación tribal y asimilación forzada, como estrategias para resolver el problema de tener naciones más antiguas que reclaman los territorios que estaban en camino a incorporarse a los EEUU (AILTP 1988; Deloria y Lytle 1984).

En el 1830 cinco tribus del este aceptaron abandonar sus territorios ancestrales a cambio de un “territorio indio” permanente (hoy Oklahoma). Cuando al terminar la guerra civil los EEUU resumió su expansión hacia el oeste el pueblo del territorio indio solicitó formalmente al Congreso su incorporación a EEUU como estado – un estado que preservaría su identidad y cultura única. El Congreso rechazó la petición, precisamente por las diferencias culturales que se pretendieron preservar por ley estatal, como los derechos propietarios, el idioma, la educación, el comercio y las leyes civiles. Washington consideró que tener un estado “especial” sería injusto para los demás estados, y que además sería discriminatorio contra ciudadanos blancos que en el futuro podrían interesarse en mudarse allí (DeLoria y Lytle 1984:24-27; Underhill 1975:325). No fue hasta que los blancos se convirtieron en la mayoría de la población, que Oklahoma pudo ingresar a la unión federal como estado, en 1907 (Prucha 1984:261-262).


De hecho, vemos de forma consistente esa precondición para la estadidad: una población blanca y anglosajona en su mayoría y el dominio político y económico blanco y anglosajón – por ejemplo, en los territorios mexicanos arrebatados por los EEUU como consecuencia de la guerra de 1845-8, que hoy se conoce como la región suroeste estadounidense (Horsman 1981). Para efectuar la “cura” de estadidad, la receta era la “americanización”, algo que incluye la desaparición de los pueblos y culturas “no-asimilables” a través de la política de privarles de sus recursos, primero en Norteamérica y después en las islas territorios. Sólo Hawaii no tenía una mayoría blanca cuando llegó la estadidad en 1959 – algo que provocó mucha resistencia congresional por más de cincuenta años (Bell 1984:294); sin embargo la población hawaiiana nativa ya era minoritaria y el control político y económico (y militar) descansó en manos blancas.

En general, hay un patrón histórico para el progreso de estatus de territorios estadounidenses hacia la estadidad. Primero, son ocupados y gobernados militarmente; entonces un gobierno civil se establece, primero directamente desde Washington y luego por un gobierno local. Los territorios se organizan a través de un acta orgánica que, además, los define. El próximo paso es un acta de relaciones federales, donde el Congreso concede la ciudadanía estadounidense a los residentes. Pero, surgieron algunos problemas con la conquista de las islas caribeñas y pacíficas. Wáshington no quiso conceder el derecho absoluto a la eventual estadidad y tampoco quiso comprometerse a la ciudadanía irrevocable ni a todos los derechos garantizados a los estadounidenses. Históricamente – como en Oklahoma y los antiguos territorios mexicanos – las personas que no eran aceptadas como de raza blanca no recibieron automáticamente todos los beneficios de la plena ciudadanía (Drinnon 1980:311; Horsman 1981:276). Como consecuencia, la mayoría de las islas territorios no cumplieron con todos los pasos hacia la estadidad – y algunas apenas han comenzado. Para justificar la conquista y control permanente sobre las islas territorios sin garantizar la estadidad, Washington cita el ejemplo de las “naciones domésticas dependientes,” es decir, “los indios”.

Examinemos las experiencias de varios territorios dentro de las cinco alternativas actuales del estatus político: la independencia, la libre asociación, el estado libre asociado (“commonwealth”), el territorio y la estadidad. Cada experiencia ofrece lecciones importantes para Puerto Rico.


Las islas filipinas declararon la independencia de España el 12 de junio de 1898. Este archipiélago era atesorado por las naciones imperialistas por su cercanía a Asia, sus puertos estratégicos ricos y por sus recursos naturales. Una de las primeras acciónes tomada por los EEUU en la guerra hispana-norteamericana fue atacar a Manila. Luego, en el Tratado de París de diciembre 1898, España vendió Filipinas, Guam y Puerto Rico a los EEUU. El pueblo filipino lucho contra las tropas estadounidenses por más de doce años., Wáshington llevó a cabo una campaña de “tierra quemada” contra la guerrilla anticolonialista filipina lo cual provocó la muerte de casi un millón de personas (San Juan 1998:2; Drinnon 1980). Esta guerra puede verse como prólogo para la guerra de Vietnam.

Mientras hubo cierta ambivalencia por parte del Congreso en cuanto la otorgación de ciudadanía a los puertorriqueños (que sucedió en 1917), la oposición fue unánime contra la misma concesión para los filipinos. Siguiendo el precedente de los “indios”, los filipinos se consideraron como “nacionales” estadounidenses: es decir, debían lealtad al gobierno federal sin gozar de ningún beneficio de la ciudadanía estadounidense (Williams 1980:813). Era común, entre las tropas de ocupación, insultar a los filipinos como “niggers”, “injuns” y “gooks”; ese último también se usaba con referencia a los vietnameses durante las décadas de los 60 y los 70 (Williams 1980:827-828; Drinnon 1980:313, 455). En el 1901, el Congreso aprobó la “ley contra la sedición”, la cual permitió las largas sentencias y hasta la pena de muerte, para los filipinos luchadores por la independencia. Esa ley estableció el precedente para las extremamente largas sentencias impuestas contra nuestros presos políticos puertorriqueños. Como al igual que en Puerto Rico, maestros y misioneros norteamericanos fueron enviados para “civilizar” a los filipinos, a través de la enseñanza del inglés y la historia de los EEUU, además del intento de promover el cristianismo protestante anglosajón (de la Cruz 1998: xiii). Sin embargo, la resistencia anticolonialista nunca paró y, en 1916, el Congreso acordó considerar la independencia “bajo las condiciones apropiadas.”

En 1935 las Islas Filipinas se convirtió en el primer “Commonwealth” (Estado Libre Asociado) entre las islas territorios estadounidenses. Se supone que dicho estatus duraría 10 años, y luego pasará a un período hacia la independencia. Se logró la independencia el 4 de julio de 1946, bajo las siguientes condiciones estratégicas, económicas y políticas:

  • las bases militares estadounidenses se quedan por tiempo indefinido y las tierras donde estaban ubicadas serían arrendadas bajo condiciones favorables para los EEUU
  • se mantendrá el dominio económico de los EEUU y sus aliados de la élite local
  • se prohíbe la inscripción de partidos políticos considerados como demasiado nacionalista o de izquierdista (HAIN 1998: 3)

Básicamente, las Islas Filipinas lograron una “independencia dependiente” que en muchos aspectos mantuvo su estatus como colonia estadounidense. Irónicamente, en 1962 se cambia la celebración de la independencia de 4 julio a 12 de junio, día que se declaró la independencia de España en 1898, así que oficialmente no se reconoce los cincuenta años de mando colonial norteamericano (Tribung Pinoy 2008).

El apoyo que Wáshington brindó a la dictadura de Fernando Marcos desilusionó a los filipinos, incluyendo a muchos miembros de la élite, y cuando Marcos fue derrocado se aprueba, en 1987, una nueva constitución que prohibió las armas nucleares en suelo filipino. Como la política de EEUU es no confirmar ni negar la existencia de las armas nucleares en sus bases o barcos, el nuevo gobierno filipino fue presionado para que se derogara la prohibición antinuclear. Pero el gobierno EEUU subestimó el nivel de apoyo popular para dicha medida, a la vez que sobrestimó la percepción filipina del valor de tener las bases militares EEUU en su país. De hecho, la insensibilidad mostrada por los norteamericanos durante las negociaciones logró unir a los movimientos antinuclear, nacionalista y de izquierda. Como resultado, en 1991 el senado filipino votó a favor del cierre inmediato de todas las bases de los EEUU – algo que ocurrió en 1992 aunque dejaron un tremendo problema con los desperdicios tóxicos militares (Pimental y Lasola 1992).

Recientemente los EEUU logró que el gobierno filipino firmara un acuerdo para abrir todos los puertos a los barcos de la Marina de Guerra estadounidense “cuando sea necesario”; además el acuerdo concedió la inmunidad legal para las tropas estadounidenses durante su estadía en Filipinas (San Juan 1998:22-23). El activismo popular contra la presencia militar estadounidense sigue con bastante fuerza; sin embargo la ayuda económica y militar – tomando en cuenta que hay guerrillas civiles en varias provincias – ha convencido al gobierno filipino de aceptar una renovada presencia militar estadounidense. Últimamente se abrieron de nuevo algunas bases militares como parte de la “guerra mundial contra el terrorismo” – y las tropas norteamericanas ya están colaborando con los militares filipinos en operaciones contra los guerrilleros. En ningún momento Wáshington – ni sus aliados locales – mostró preocupación alguna por los intereses a largo plazo del pueblo filipino; ese patrón se repite en las demás islas territorios.

La Libre Asociación

Los pueblos de las islas del Pacífico consideran al mar que los rodea como parte integral de su territorio. Los antropólogos dividen a los pueblos del Pacífico en tres grupos culturales: Polinesia, Micronesia y Melanesia. Micronesia se compone de varios archipiélagos y miles de islas entre Filipinas y Hawaii, la cual es una distancia equivalente al trecho entre Los Ángeles y Nueva York. Los micronesianos han conocido cuatro imperios: España, Alemania, Japón y los EEUU (Lutz 1984). Hoy los territorios estadounidenses en Micronesia se dividen en cuatro entidades políticas recientemente creadas: primera, el Estado Libre Asociado (Commonwealth) de las Islas Marianas del Norte. (Guam es geográficamente y culturalmente parte de las Marianas, pero fue ocupada por los EEUU durante la guerra contra España en 1898, y se mantiene separada del resto del archipiélago.) La segunda entidad es la República Asociada de las Islas Marshall (RMI); la tercera es la República Asociada de los Estados Federados de Micronesia (FSM); y la cuarta es la República Asociada de Palau (Belau, también conocida como ROP). Es interesante que los nombres oficiales para esas nuevas repúblicas originalmente incluyeran la frase “Estado Libre Asociado” – que también es parte del nombre oficial de Puerto Rico.

Con la excepción de Guam, Micronesia cayó bajo el control de los EEUU como territorios en fideicomiso de las Naciones Unidas (UN Trust Territories), después de la segunda guerra mundial. Se supone que los territorios en fideicomiso se condujeran rápidamente hacia la independencia. Pero por su valor estratégico y económico, los EEUU no empezó a negociar el estatus hasta fines de los 60 tras años de fuerte presión por los micronesianos, la ONU y algunos países de Asia y el Pacífico (McHenry 1975:6-15). Washington creó un “Congreso de Micronesia” – siguiendo el modelo del Congreso EEUU y sujeto al veto federal –y exigió que la nueva entidad colonial formara una comisión de estatus política como parte negociadora (PCRC 1982:10).

A lo largo de más de veinte años que duraron las negociaciones, los EEUU intentó repetidamente de fomentar la división entre los micronesianos, haciendo promesas secretas individuales y exagerando las diferencias entre ellos. Se aumentaron los fondos federales para el desarrollo político, social y económico con el fin de lograr un estatus político que mantendría el territorio “dentro del encuadre político estadounidense” (McHenry 1975:17). A principio Washington no quiso ni considerar la independencia: ofreció solamente dos opciones: un ELA como Puerto Rico, o un territorio como las Islas Vírgenes. Pero cedió a presión internacional y de los micronesianos y añadió las opciones de independencia y libre asociación, siempre y cuando los EEUU retendría el derecho de “negación estratégica” contra otros países respecto a futuros acuerdos con Micronesia sobre el uso de sus tierras, aguas y aire (ibid: 39-41).

En otras palabras: Washington no quiso aceptar ningún estatus que pudiera poner en peligro sus bases militares, su control de las islas y el mar y los posibles arreglos económicos y políticos, irrespectivamente de que en el futuro Micronesia lograse su independencia. El derecho a la autodeterminación cultural, económica y política de los micronesianos en ningún momento se consideró como algo importante. En 1975 se logró un acuerdo separado con las Islas Mariana del Norte a través de un plebiscito local apurado y fuertemente controlado para establecer un Estado Libre Asociado (Commonwealth); poco después, Palau y Islas Marshall también empezaron a negociarse por separado (PCRC 1982:11-17).

Frustrados con el largo proceso y las constantes demoras por parte de los negociadores norteamericanos – que en muchas ocasiones accedieron a las demandas de los micronesianos pero cambiaron si el Congreso las rechazaban –, el resto de los territorios finalmente firmaron pactos de libre asociación: RMI y FSM se convirtieron en repúblicas asociadas en 1986 y fueron ingresadas como miembros de la ONU en 1991, mientras Palau tuvo que esperar hasta 1994. Los pactos originalmente tuvieron un plazo de quince años. No debe sorprendernos que las partes difieran en su interpretación de los pactos; por ejemplo, mientras los EEUU insiste que los pactos se renueven automáticamente, RMI alega que primero las dos partes tienen que ponerse de acuerdo – y exige un aumento del pago por el uso del sitio de prueba de misiles en Kwajelein (Wolf 1999). Las tres “repúblicas asociadas” reciben un pago en bloque equivalente a $3,000–5,000 por residente anualmente. Además, reciben pagos federales de transferencia, ayuda estudiantil y otros incentivos casi idénticos a los que reciben Puerto Rico y los demás territorios.

Los elementos estratégicos de los pactos conceden a las fuerzas militares de EEUU opciones en perpetuidad, y niegan a Micronesia el derecho a la cancelación unilateral de la misma. Los residentes son nacionales estadounidenses y pueden venir libremente a los EEUU, pero no son ciudadanos estadounidenses. En FSM el ingreso principal es el pago por el pacto, y la opinión pública está dividida sobre el estatus político. Como en Puerto Rico, los sectores que más dependen de la ayuda federal apoyan un cambio a un ELA o la estadidad, mientras los grupos que luchan por sus tierras y contra el militarismo favorecen la independencia (PCRC 1982). En síntesis, Micronesia recibe la cantidad per cápita de ayuda estadounidense más alta del mundo, y el desarrollo económico durante los pasados cuatro décadas se debe a la expansión del subsidio federal (Wolf 1999: A-16). Según muchos activistas en Micronesia, hasta ahora Wáshington ha logrado mantener el control de estos territorios a través de la dependencia económica (Peoples 1985:21-22).

La constitución de la República de Palau originalmente incluyó una provisión prohibiendo las armas nucleares. Wáshington se opuso a la medida y exigió al gobierno de Palau a realizar un plebiscito para eliminarla de la constitución. Como la constitución requiere un voto mayoritario de 75% de los votantes para enmiendas, durante los 1980 se realizaron seis plebiscitos sin éxito, la razón por la cual el pacto de libre asociación para Palau se demoró. El gobierno de Palau amenazó a su pueblo con posibles cortes de empleo público y un tranque en los pagos de transferencia con el fin de conseguir la eliminación de la prohibición antinuclear. Dicha experiencia de presiones políticas y económicas y plebiscitos repetidos debe ser muy familiar para los puertorriqueños. Además, ocurrieron asesinatos y suicidios sospechosos de algunos líderes pro-independencia y anti-nucleares, que traumatizaron a la población – pero ayudaron a lograr el resultado deseado en el último plebiscito (ILHR 1987).

Hoy los residentes de Palau creen que la “libre asociación” les permite optar por la independencia completa después de cincuenta años; de hecho se refiere a Palau como un país independiente. Sin embargo, bajo el pacto Wáshington retiene el derecho de intervenir política, económica y militarmente de ocurrir alguna amenaza a sus intereses. Dicha provisión es idéntica a la Enmienda Platt, condición impuesta por los EEUU para conceder la independencia de Cuba en 1902 y que es reconocida como una medida colonialista. Dicha realidad se hizo visible durante las protestas en 2009 en contra de la decisión tomada por los EEUU – sin consultar con los residentes de Palau, pero aparentemente a cambio de dinero para el gobierno local – de enviar a Palau varios miembros de la comunidad Uigher (etnia del oeste de China) que sufrieron años de encarcelamiento en la base de Guantánamo por supuesto vínculos terroristas (Hobaka 2009).

Los ELA y otros territorios: Marianas del Norte, Guam, América Samoa

Los residentes del Estado Libre Asociado de las Marianas del Norte (CNM) son ciudadanos estadounidenses, al igual que en Puerto Rico. No obstante, dado a una ley local que limita la posesión de tierras a largo plazo a los nativos de CNM – además de que CSM controla su propia política de inmigración y aduana – se considera que el ELA de CNM es menos colonialista que el de Puerto Rico (Trías Monge 1997). El salario mínimo federal no aplica plenamente a CNM, algo que ha provocado el reclutamiento de trabajadores extranjeros para las maquiladoras de Saipan (McCarthy 1998; Miller 1998). En cuanto el estatus político, los residentes de las islas que se benefician de los incentivos a las corporaciones (como Saipan) apoyan aún más vinculaciones con los EEUU. Por el contrario, los residentes de la isla de Tinian se opusieron a los planes de arrendar tierras para una nueva base militar y algunos favorecen la independencia (PCRC 1982:10-17). Como en todas las islas territorios en CNM hay un esfuerzo constante para lograr más claridad en sus relaciones con Washington.

Se requería un permiso especial de la Marina de Guerra para visitar a Guam (Guahan) hasta los 1950, cuando el Congreso aprobó la acta orgánica y puso el “territorio organizado no-incorporado de Guam” bajo jurisdicción de la oficina de asuntos territoriales del Departamento del Interior. Al igual que Puerto Rico, Guam tiene voz sin voto en el Congreso, elige su propio gobernador, tiene programas federales, pagos de transferencia y estatus de contribuciones, y sus residentes son ciudadanos estadounidenses. Los nativos, los chamorros (chamoru) son 40% de la población, mientras la mayoría viene de Filipinas, EEUU y otros pueblos del Pacífico (CIA 1998). Desde 1989 el gobierno de Guam lucha para que el Congreso considere cambiar el estatus de territorio al ELA. El gobernador de Guam ha destacado la importancia de Guam como “América en Asia” pero a la vez insiste en dos puntos claves para cualquier cambio de estatus: primero, el estatus no podrá cambiarse en el futuro sin el consentimiento mutuo y segundo, que el pueblo chamorro tiene el derecho a la auto-determinación (Underwood 1997). No debe sorprendernos que el Congreso no haya mostrado interés alguno en cambiar el estatus de Guam.

El derecho de terrateniencia es un tema muy controversial en Guam. La isla comprende 212 millas cuadradas – unos 10% del tamaño de Puerto Rico, y cuatro veces más grande que Vieques. Las tres bases militares ocupan 44,000 acres, es decir, una tercera parte del territorio de Guam, pero para el año 2000 sólo usaban 6,000 acres. Los activistas chamorros pidieron la devolución de las 38,000 acres no utilizadas, pero las fuerzas militares respondieron que los chamorros tendrían que pagar $281,000 por acre. Mientras, dentro de los terrenos militarizados se encuentra la única laguna de agua dulce de Guam, las sustancias tóxicas generadas por la actividad militar ha contaminado parte de los abastos de agua de la isla.

En el 2001 se devolvieron 2,700 acres a 1,000 residentes de Guam que contaban con títulos de propiedad para esas parcelas; no obstante se negaron a devolver la gran mayoría de los terrenos, que eran propiedad en común de acuerdo a las costumbres tradicionales. Cuando el gobierno federal propuso crear un refugio natural para 32,000 acres, los activistas chamorros se opusieron a la propuesta, denunciando que Wáshington valora más a las plantas y los animales que al pueblo indígena (Santos 1993). En los últimos años los activistas llevan una lucha sin tregua contra el plan del gobierno federal para trasladar algunas bases militares estadounidenses de Okinawa a Guam, que añadirá hasta 40,000 militares y sus familias a la población isleña y tendrá un impacto económico, cultural y ambiental contundente (Harden 2008). Aunque el pueblo de Guam está dividido en cuanto al asunto de estatus, la mayoría apoya que se logre más control sobre las políticas de inmigración, impuestos y comercio externo – ninguno de las cuales tiene Puerto Rico (Honebrink 1993).

El archipiélago de Samoa es parte del “triángulo” de Polinesia, que se extiende desde su límite norteño de Hawaii, hacía el sureste en la Isla de Pascuas (Rapanui) y al suroeste hasta Nueva Zelandia (Aotearoa). Para fines del siglo XIX España, Gran Bretaña, Alemania y los EEUU lucharon para controlar a Samoa. A su vez Samoa intentó permanecer independiente y neutral, pero sufrió de faccionalismo entre sus caciques – cada uno apoyado por uno o más de los países imperialistas. Poco después de que concluyó la guerra hispano-americana, Samoa se dividió entre Alemania (que tomó control de la parte occidental) y los EEUU, que ocupó las islas del este. La Marina de Guerra estadounidense gobernó directamente a América Samoa hasta 1959, cuando paso a la administración del Departamento del Interior.

Hoy América Samoa es un “territorio norteamericano no-organizado y no-incorporado” y carece de un acta orgánica. Desde 1967 los residentes pueden elegir su propio gobernador, aunque la cámara de representantes federal tiene la última palabra sobre el presupuesto local. Como en Puerto Rico, Samoa elige un representante con voz pero sin voto en el Congreso, y participa de los pagos de transferencia, incentivos y programas federales. No se aplica el salario mínimo federal; aunque los residentes son nacionales norteamericanos y pueden ir libremente a los EEUU y servir en las fuerzas militares, no son ciudadanos estadounidenses. El gobierno local está cabildeando para que no se cancele la 936 en América Samoa, en parte para poder mantener abierta las grandes fábricas atuneras; irónicamente muchos de los trabajadores son de Samoa Occidental, que es un país independiente (CIA 1998). Como en las demás islas territorios, la aclaración de estatus y una ampliación del control local de sus recursos son temas candentes.

La estadidad

El estado de Hawai’i se compone de ocho islas popularmente conocidas; sin embargo, el archipiélago incluye decenas de islas que se extienden a más de 1,200 millas hacia el noroeste. Esas islas fueron específicamente excluidas del estado y permanecen bajo control directo del gobierno federal (KAHEA 2009). Hawai’i recibió sus primeras visitas europeas a fines del siglo XVIII, y provocó mucho interés imperialista por sus ricos recursos naturales y humanos y ubicación estratégica. Durante el siglo XIX el reinado de Hawai’i fue reconocido a nivel internacional como país independiente, incluso en Wáshington.[iv]

En 1826, los EEUU obligó al rey hawai’iano a asumir las deudas incurridas por los caciques. Además, Wáshington obtuvo el derecho de utilizar los muelles para la Marina de Guerra, consiguió para los estadounidenses el derecho a demandar a los hawai’ianos y recibió el estatus de “nación más favorecida” para el comercio. Empezó a fluir un río de misioneros, maestros y comerciantes desde EEUU hacía Hawai’i. A través de la expansión del poder económico, la amenaza constante de invasión militar y el debilitamiento de los nativos por las epidemias, la asimilación cultural forzada y la limitación del acceso a las tierras tradicionales (Hasager y Friedman 1994), Hawai’i se convirtió en una nación en peligro de extinción – reconocida como nación independiente pero cayendo cada día más bajo la influencia de Wáshington.

En 1893 un grupo de estadounidenses residentes de Hawai’i – apoyado por tropas del Cuerpo de Infantes de la Marina de EEUU – realizó un golpe de estado contra el gobierno de la reina y declaró la República de Hawai’i. Dicha “república” no fue reconocida en ninguna parte del mundo. Hasta el Presidente Grover Cleveland concluyó que el golpe fue ilegal (aunque no hizo nada para restaurar al gobierno legítimo). El nuevo gobierno arrebató más de dos millones de acres de terrenos guardados por la reina como fideicomiso del pueblo, y solicitó al gobierno de EEUU la anexión de Hawai’i. Pero Hawai’i era un país independiente y había que someter la solicitud como tratado internacional al Senado federal – y no recibió los dos terceras partes de los votos necesarios para una ratificación del tratado.

El 12 de agosto de 1898 – a fines de la guerra hispana-americana – se aprobó una resolución en el Congreso con una mayoría sencilla para declarar a Hawai’i como territorio estadounidense, resolución que violó no sólo el derecho internacional, sino también a la constitución de EEUU – a pesar del rechazo por miles de hawai’ianos, que llevaron a cabo protestas masivas y enviaron peticiones al Congreso (Laenui 1993b). La anexión abrió la puerta ancha a los trabajadores inmigrantes para trabajar en las plantaciones de azúcar y piña. Los inmigrantes desplazaron a los nativos, cuya población había disminuida de un millón a fines del siglo XVIII, a unas 40,000 (de hawai’anos puros) en 1893 (H. Trask 1994:17).

El gobierno federal tomó control de las “tierras de la corona”, y construyó su infraestructura militar en alrededor de 500,000 acres. (Por ejemplo, en la isla de Oahu – donde 80% de la población reside – hoy 25% sigue bajo control militar.) Wáshington también designó 1.8 millones de acres para ser administradas por el gobierno territorial (hoy el gobierno estatal) como “solamente para el beneficio de los habitantes de las islas hawai’ianas.” No obstante, los indígenas todavía no tienen acceso a la mayoría de esos terrenos. En 1921, 200,000 acres fueron designadas para ser residencias de personas con más de 50% de descendencia indígena; sin embargo el 60% de las parcelas cayeron en manos de residentes recientemente llegados, mientras los indígenas recibieron tierras menos deseables y sin suficiente agua (M. Trask 1995:74).

En la actualidad Wáshington sostiene que no se puede remediar la situación porque hacerlo constituye una “preferencia racial” a favor de los hawai’ianos nativos, en violación de las leyes federales; también se resiste a los intentos por parte de los hawai’ianos de ganar el derecho de demandar al gobierno por violar los términos del fideicomiso de la tierra. Los nativos que residen en esas tierras sin título de propiedad son frecuentemente desalojados y encarcelados como invasores de terrenos. Las leyes aprobadas desde la anexión federal han promovido el aumento vertiginoso de la población extranjera, y han facilitado el dominio económico por las corporaciones. Como resultado hoy los hawai’ianos son sólo el 20% de la población; tienen menos acceso a los recursos que cualquier otro grupo. Es el grupo más pobre y menos saludable – y para colmo, más de 75% de la población encarcelada es nativa.

En 1959 los residentes de Hawai’i – incluyendo los miles de militares y sus familias – participaron en el plebiscito donde las preguntas fueron, primero: ¿debe convertirse Hawai’i en un estado de los EEUU, o quedarse como territorio norteamericano? Y segundo: ¿debe Hawai’i renunciar cualquier reclamo a los territorios no incluidos dentro de los propuestos límites del estado?[v] La mayoría votó por la estadidad, aunque los barrios con altos porcentajes de hawai’ianos votaron en contra. Los resultados fueron sometidos por los EEUU a la ONU como evidencia de que Hawai’i había manifestado su derecho a la auto-determinación, y la ONU lo sacó de la lista de territorios no-auto gobernados (Laenui 1993a; López Reyes 1994). No obstante, durante los últimos 40 años ha surgido mucho activismo entre los nativos y sus aliados. El idioma y la cultura hawai’iana se enseña cada día más, y decenas de organizaciones activamente luchan por la soberanía.

Hubo manifestaciones masivas en 1993 en el centenario del golpe estadounidense contra el gobierno independiente de Hawai’i, que provocó una disculpa oficial por parte del Presidente Clinton.[vi] Hoy 17 naciones independientes del Pacífico apoyan oficialmente el re-ingreso de Hawai’i a la lista de territorios no-auto gobernados de la ONU (Blaisdell 1998). Mientras tanto, la lucha por la soberanía sigue en Hawai’i. Según uno de los activistas, “Fuimos los últimos en entrar a los EEUU como estado, y esperamos convertirnos en los primeros en salir.” No hay duda que estos activistas enfrentan un reto más grande que cualquiera de las demás islas territorios; sin embargo, parece que su lucha continuará.

Los patrones

Nuestra breve reseña revela algunos patrones en la política estadounidense hacia sus islas territorios. Aunque se ha recurrido en ocasiones a la represión abierta y aplastante, en general Wáshington ha demostrado una preferencia para lo que se puede llamar “la hegemonía de baja intensidad,” efectuada preferiblemente por las élites locales. En esa clase de dominio típicamente se entrelazan lo estratégico, lo económico y lo político. Los intereses estratégicos estadounidenses son primordiales, asegurando los derechos ilimitados en todos los territorios del Pacífico y del Caribe. (Por ejemplo, una de las razones principales por la terquedad de la Marina de Guerra en cerrar el obsoleto polígono de bombardeo en Vieques, era el “mal ejemplo” de ceder a presiones locales y sus posibles repercusiones regionales.)

Las políticas prevalecientes hacia las islas territorios promueven la dependencia económica como medida de debilitar cualquier apoyo para la independencia, a la vez que se facilita el flujo del capital norteamericano a través de los territorios a sus vecinos regionales – y por supuesto, ayuda el flujo de riqueza desde las regiones hacia los EEUU. El estatus político permite la mínima autonomía necesaria para mantener a los nativos relativamente tranquilos y callar las voces críticas internacionales. Se cuenta con las divisiones locales para prevenir las demandas más unidas para una verdadera autodeterminación.

Las relaciones de Wáshington con las islas territorios siempre han sido caracterizadas por la insensibilidad despreciando las inquietudes culturales, y resistencia activa contra cualquier propuesta que pudiera aminorar la dependencia económica o política a los EEUU. Sólo la presión unida y sostenida por los representantes territoriales y sobre todo el activismo popular – además de llamados internacionales contundentes por la justicia – ha logrado la aceptación de Wáshington a los términos más favorables al auto-gobierno, como, por ejemplo, comenzar de negociar con Micronesia y cerrar las bases militares en Filipinas…y sólo la presión continua y aumentada logrará la expansión y permanencia de esos logros tan limitados.

El derecho internacional

Hay que examinar también el concepto de la “auto-determinación” bajo el derecho internacional. Brevemente, la Resolución 1541 de la Asamblea General de las ONU, aprobada en 1969, define tres opciones y criterios para que un territorio no auto-gobernado pudiera verse como haber logrado algún modo de auto-gobierno:

  • la independencia.
  • la libre asociación con otro país independiente – se requiere evidencia que el territorio escogió la libre asociación libremente y sin coerción, que tiene el derecho de escribir su propia constitución y retiene la opción de cambiar o terminar la asociación en el futuro.
  • la integración con otro país independiente – se requiere la igualdad total entre el pueblo del territorio y del país independiente además de evidencia del estatus escogido libremente y sin coerción.[vii]

Se puede argumentar que las nuevas repúblicas asociadas de Micronesia no cumplen con los primeros dos criterios porque no cuentan con el derecho de terminar ni cambiar el acuerdo unilateralmente, además, está claro que Palau cambió su constitución bajo fuerte coerción. América Samoa, Guam, Islas Vírgenes y Puerto Rico no cumplen con ninguno de los tres (García Passalacqua 1987). Se presume que la estadidad para Puerto Rico cumpliría con la tercera opción si hay evidencia de que se escogió libremente – algo que no pasó con Hawai’i.[viii]

Puerto Rico: puntos de consenso

Finalmente, aunque parece que los puertorriqueños permanecen muy divididos en el asunto de estatus, sostengo que existen varios puntos claves de consenso, entre ellos:

  • Identidad: Nos consideramos como una nación distinta. Hasta el partido estadista – por lo menos en el pasado – ha promovido la estadidad como protectora de la identidad puertorriqueña, la primacía del español como vernáculo local, hasta la participación boricua separada en los juegos Olímpicos. Cualquier cambio de estatus que pudiera ganar el respaldo de contundente de los puertorriqueños tendrá que salvaguardar la identidad boricua.
  • Derechos de ciudadanía estadounidense. Los puertorriqueños – todos nacidos desde 1917 con la ciudadanía norteamericana irrespectivamente de si nacieron en Puerto Rico o en los EEUU – rechazan de forma contundente cualquier opción de estatus que pudiera derogar los derechos a que se merecen como ciudadanos y que se pagaron con sangre e impuestos. Cualquiera formulación de independencia o libre asociación tendría que insistir en el derecho inalienable de los puertorriqueños de retener la ciudadanía estadounidense de por vida si desean – y quienes apoyan estas dos opciones de estatus tendrán que estar dispuestos a luchar por el derecho hasta la Corte Suprema federal y los foros internacionales, de ser necesario. La mayoría de los líderes independentistas se opone tenazmente a la doble ciudadanía, aunque algunos han sugerido que los puertorriqueños residentes en los EEUU podrían optar por la ciudadanía dual (Mari Bras 1998; Villanueva 2007). No obstante, quiero señalar que son los puertorriqueños en Puerto Rico y no en los EEUU que reclaman de forma casi unánime su derecho a la ciudadanía norteamericana – y la resistencia a dicho reclamo por parte de los independentistas crea otro obstáculo más a la promoción de la independencia como alternativa realista. Creo que no debe ser visto como un problema mayor, porque hoy día hay muchas personas con ciudadanía dual con EEUU y otros países. Los favorecedores de la independencia deben preguntarse por qué los ciudadanos de una República de Puerto Rico independiente no podrán gozar de ciudadanía dual.
  • Seguridad: Irrespectivamente de su preferencia de estatus, los puertorriqueños están preocupados por la sustentabilidad económica a largo plazo. Hay que señalar claramente que ninguna de las opciones de estatus por si solas garantizan la seguridad económica, y que Puerto Rico podría enfrentar peligros de pobreza y dependencia igualmente como un estado federado, como un estado o república asociada o como un país independiente. Todos los puertorriqueños de todas las preferencias necesitan más información sobre los peligros económicos, culturales, ambientales y políticos generados por la mentalidad de dependencia, que provoca el continuo desperdicio de nuestros recursos naturales y humano en la búsqueda del capital externo a Puerto Rico – por ejemplo para los mega proyectos turísticos de lujo que requieren autopistas y desvíos de agua para extensos campos de golf y que peligran lo que nos queda de bosques, acuíferos y tierras cultivables – en lugar de apoyar el crecimiento de negocios y actividad económica local.[ix]

Por ejemplo, quienes favorecen la estadidad deben notar que el desmantelamiento de la economía local y la promoción de la dependencia no hará más atractivo a Puerto Rico como un nuevo estado para los norteamericanos – y mucho menos como estado de hispanoparlantes, dado el polémico tema del “English only” en los EEUU. Igualmente, los defensores de la ELA deben entender que la destrucción de los recursos naturales y la economía local va en contra del sueño de autonomía dentro de una relación permanente con los EEUU.


Concluyo este artículo enfatizando que nosotros los puertorriqueños tenemos que considerar honestamente todas las opciones de estatus como son y no como quisiéramos que fuesen, a la luz de la política estadounidense tanto en el continente norteamericano, como en todas sus islas territorios. La historia y la realidad en los EEUU nos enseñan que la estadidad no debe verse como una buena opción para salvaguardar una identidad nacional distinta. La experiencia nos dice que las opciones de estatus como territorio, estado libre asociado y libre asociación se consideran como temporeras y no satisfactorias para muchos de sus residentes, sobre todo con el paso de los años. Además, bajo las leyes internacionales cualquier estatus que no puede ser alterado por el territorio en el futuro se considera como un estatus colonial.

Los independentistas tendrán que considerar cuidadosamente cómo lidiar con los derechos de ciudadanía estadounidense, cómo realizar la transición a la independencia de forma equitativa y cómo evitar la “independencia dependiente”, porque si no, es poco probable que la independencia obtenga suficiente apoyo en Puerto Rico. Reconozco que la represión del independentismo ha sido clave en mermar dicho apoyo, pero hay también que reconocer que el protagonismo, las divisiones y la falta de claridad han jugado un papel importantísimo. Hay que presentar la opción de independencia, no como un fin en sí mismo sino como un medio hacia un fin. Dicho fin se podría describir como aumentar la capacidad de Puerto Rico – la tierra y su gente – para realizar el pleno potencial de cada individuo y la comunidad entera para satisfacer sus necesidades materiales y para promover el crecimiento intelectual y espiritual.

A largo plazo una solución satisfactoria del tema de estatus político – que podría ganar el apoyo más amplio – debe facilitar la responsabilidad cada vez más compartida para mantener la vida (sustentabilidad) de Puerto Rico, en la región y en el mundo. Los independentistas deben empezar ya a visualizar, poner los detalles y explicar al público cómo sería Puerto Rico después de lograr la independencia, en vista de las realidades y tendencias globales del nuevo milenio. Por ejemplo, una República de Puerto Rico independiente podría formar una piedra clave de una nueva federación regional. Es decir, la independencia debe verse como un comienzo, dentro del contexto de un mundo entrelazado, donde los pueblos y los estados se asocian libremente como iguales – pero nunca más como apéndices coloniales.

No somos únicos, y no estamos solos. Como puertorriqueña creo que si aprendemos las lecciones que nos da la historia, asimilando las experiencias de nuestras hermanas islas territorios, y examinando honestamente la opinión popular y las tendencias globales, podremos resolver nuestro dilema más agonizante – el estatus político – y seguir para adelante.

[i] Una versión previa de este artículo fue publicada en inglés bajo el título “No somos únicos: the status question from Manila to San Juan.” Special Issue: 1898-1998, Part 2. CENTRO XI:1, Fall 1999, pp. 127-140. Agradezco al Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, City University of New York, por dar permiso para publicar este artículo, traducido al español y actualizado para 2009.

[ii] Para estudios sobre el “excepcionalismo” estadounidense en la política hacia las islas territorios véase Goodsell (1965), Drinnon (1980:296cf), Wuerch y Ballendorf (1994:128), Trías Monge (1997:191), Williams (1980:810), de la Cruz (1998:x) y Sann Juan (1998:2, 14, 26).

[iii] Abundan los estudios sobre el uso del “anglosajonismo” y la “supremacia blanca” para justificar el expansionismo estadounidense y la conquista de territorios y pueblos, no sólo en el continente sino también tan lejos como Asia. Véase por ejemplo Pratt (1936), Hofstadter (1955), LaFeber et al (1976), Drinnon (1980), Horsman (1981) y Williams (1980). Sobre Puerto Rico: Raffuci de García (1981) estudió las consecuencias del expansionismo norteamericano, y Cruz Monclova (1957) detalló el interés en conquistar el archipiélago boricua desde principios del siglo XIX.

[iv] Véase Indictment of the Government of the United States of America for Commission of Crimes against the Kanaka Maoli People and Nation: As Submitted to the Peoples’ International Tribunal, Hawai’i, 1993, 14th draft, February 21, 1993. Véase también Blaisdell (1994).

[v] Para una copia de la papeleta del voto véase http://killstatehood.com/statehood_ballot_hawaii_1959.html

[vi] United States Congress, Public Law 103-150, “to acknowledge the 100th anniversary of the January 17, 1893, overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai’i, and to offer an apology to native Hawaiians on behalf of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai’i.” 103rd Congress, 1st session, November 23, 1993.

[vii] “Principles which should guide members in determining whether or not an obligation exists to transmit the information.” Article 73(e) of the Charter of the United Nations, Annex to General Assembly Resolution 1541 (XV) of 15 December 1960.

[viii] Tampoco pasó en el “territorio indio” (Oklahoma), ni en los territorios mexicanos del norte que hoy se conocen como el suroeste de los EEUU y tampoco en Alaska. Todos esos territorios se incorporaron a los EEUU como estados a través del voto mayoritario de la población blanca y anglosajona (Williams 1980:827; Drinnon 1980:311).

[ix] Para una discusión detallada de la necesidad de impulsar el empoderamiento comunitario como pilar del desarrollo sustentable véase Berman Santana (1996).


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Berman Santana, Déborah. 1996. Kicking Off the Bootstraps: Environment, Development, and Community Power in Puerto Rico. Tucson: University of Arizona Press

Bell, Roger. 1984. Last Among Equals: Hawaiian Statehood and American Politics. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Blaisdell, Kekuni. 1994. Chronology of Key Kanaka Maoli – Foreigner Events. Honolulu: Kanaka Maoli Tribunal Komike. Draft manuscript, May 15.

_____________. 1998. Interview on Seven Generations radio program, KPFA-FM, Berkeley Ca, August 12.

Cruz Monclova. Lidio. 1957. Historia de Puerto Rico (siglo XIX), vol.I. Río Piedras: Ed. Universitaria.

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