By The Progressive on April 16, 2007

On the 100th anniversary of the U.S. invasion, Puerto Rico still deserves independence

by Martin Espada

One nation should never be the property of another. Yet Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States. July 25 marks the centennial of U.S. occupation; in 1898, U.S. troops landed in Puerto Rico and seized the island as a prize of the Spanish-American War.

The colonial relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico has not fundamentally changed since that time. The island remains a political anachronism, a throwback to the age of gunboat diplomacy and the handlebar mustache.

The invasion of Puerto Rico was directed by Gen. Nelson Miles, who once hunted down Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. He promised Puerto Ricans the "blessings" of an "enlightened civilization." That civilization imposed a series of North American governors, prohibiting Puerto Rico from electing its own governor until after World War II; greedily exploited the labor and natural resources of the island; established a menacing, strategic military presence; forced English on the public schools and the court system; and repressed the independence movement.

Since the 1920s, the federal law of seditious conspiracy has been used almost exclusively against Puerto Ricans, according to historian Ronald Fernandez. In 1936, the leaders of the militantly pro-independence Nationalist Party were imprisoned after two sedition trials. The head of the party, Pedro Albizu Campos, spent nearly three decades in prison. In 1937, police gunned down pro-independence marchers in the Ponce Massacre. One independentista recalls: "My mother went to the march in a white dress, and came home in a red dress." A Nationalist revolt was suppressed in 1950, with more killings and jailings. In 1978, a police firing squad murdered two young activists at Cerro Maravilla. Many Puerto Rican political prisoners are still incarcerated. Many more advocates for independence has been surveilled, harassed or fired.

Without an appreciation for the fear and despair caused by this century of repression, the small percentage of votes cast for independentista parties makes no sense. By the time Puerto Ricans were finally permitted to vote on status, in 1967, the political climate was safe for the powers that be. Nevertheless, the sentiment for independence away from the polls is surprisingly strong.

Colonialism is inherently anti-democratic. In Puerto Rico, the population cannot vote for president of the United States, but can be drafted to fight and die in the wars of the United States. The island is represented in Congress only by a non-voting resident commissioner, yet Congress controls virtually all significant aspects of Puerto Rican political life. Since 1952, Puerto Rico has been a "commonwealth," though this, too, is part of a colonial strategy, an illusory liberalization which has actually perpetuated U.S. control. Commonwealth or not, Puerto Rico's rate of unemployment is far higher than in any state. Per capita income is half that of Mississippi.

I would believe in independence for Puerto Rico even if I were not Puerto Rican. National independence is a prerequisite for democracy and self-determination; not an end, but a beginning.

Puerto Rico is the oldest colony in the world: four centuries under Spain and a century under the United States. In 500 years, Puerto Ricans have not determined their own destiny for five minutes.

The poet Clemente Soto Velez spent six years in prison for "seditious conspiracy." I hope that my son, named after him, will see the independent Puerto Rico of the poet's vision, the vision that made the poet so dangerous.

Poet Martin Espada teaches at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Copyright 1998, Martin Espada. Re-print or electronic distribution without permission is prohibited. Call the Progressive Media Project for information, 608-257-4626.


Dear Partner, After the approval of the 33rd United Nations’ resolution by consensus on June 23, 2014 asking the United States (US) to immediately decolonize of Puerto Rico, we should work together to force the United States government to comply with it. The facts that the United States government has maintained Puerto Rico as its colony for 116 years, has had Oscar López Rivera in prison for 33 years for fighting for Puerto Rico decolonization, and has ignored 33 UN resolutions to decolonize Puerto Rico, confirm that the US government has no intentions of ever decolonizing Puerto Rico. Therefore, we need to form a tsunami of people to force the US to comply with the 33 resolutions. We should peacefully protest at least 3 times a year until we achieve our goal. The first one will be a march up to the US Courthouse in Puerto Rico on the Abolition of Slavery Day on March 22. The second will be another march in Puerto Rico on a day before the UN’s Puerto Rico decolonization hearing. The third one will be a protest in New York City on the same day the UN holds its Puerto Rico decolonization hearing. These 3 protests are indispensable, because those who have colonies don’t believe in justice for all. Sincerely, José M López Sierra Comité Timón del Pueblo United Partners for the Decolonization of Puerto Rico

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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