President Barack Obama will be traveling to Puerto Rico June 14. This is the first visit by a U.S. president in fifty years, the last being that of John F. Kennedy in 1961. The president is expected to meet with Puerto Rico’s governor, Luis Fortuño — a Republican who supports having Puerto Rico become a U.S. state — attend a business round table and deliver a speech in Old San Juan.
There are currently about 3.9 million Puerto Ricans living on the island and for the first time a larger number, about 4.1 million, living in the U.S. As dictated by the U.S., all are currently U.S. citizens although those living on the island cannot vote for President and have no representation in Congress. This is reflective of the fact that Puerto Rico was occupied and colonized by the U.S. in 1898 and has been held as a colony since that time, with the U.S. controlling the economy, Puerto Ricans serving in the military and such things as who can and cannot vote and for what, making English, not Spanish, mandatory in the federal courts, and more. The occupation includes numerous U.S. bases and a history of using the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a bombing range, organized sterilization of Puerto Rican women, a form of genocide, FBI raids, assassinations and terrorism of those resisting U.S. occupation.
There is a long-standing independence movement on the island that has defiantly opposed the U.S. military presence and withstood the many U.S. efforts to criminalize and eliminate them, including imprisonment of those resisting U.S. colonialism. The release of political prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera, jailed by the U.S. for thirty years for fighting for independence, is a main demand being raised by protesters when Obama visits. Voice of Revolution salutes the just struggle for rights and independence and joins in demanding Freedom for Oscar Lopez Rivera! Puerto Rico for the Puerto Ricans!
The problem of blocking Puerto Rican independence while hiding her colonial status is one the U.S. continually contends with. The U.N. Decolonization Committee, for example, yearly calls on the U.S. to end the colonial status of Puerto Rico, a call the U.S. systematically ignores. President Obama, in choosing to visit the island, is choosing to address the issue of Puerto Rico’s independence. His visit no doubt is in part a means to test the waters to gauge the level of resistance to continued U.S. dictate.
It can be expected that Obama will make statements similar to those made in his March 11, 2011 letter on the release of a report by “The President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status.” The Task Force has existed since the days of former President Bill Clinton and has previously called for referendums in Puerto Rico's "status." Obama extended its mandate in December 2009 to include recommendations not only "status" but "policies that promote job creation, education, health care, clean energy and economic development on the Island."
In his March letter, Obama carefully avoided any mention of even the long history of colonization, saying instead that, “For over a century, the people of Puerto Rico and the United States have woven a lasting political, economic social and cultural relationship.” He speaks of the challenges Puerto Rico faces in “creating a robust economic opportunity, in ensuring that its partnership with the [U.S.] Federal Government is fair and equitable and in engaging a process that supports and respects Puerto Rico’s self-determination.” He describes the Task Force Report as an “important road map to address the concerns and aspirations of the people of Puerto Rico.” He concludes by saying “I am firmly committed to the principle that the question of political status is a matter of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico.”
Evidently, neither Obama nor the Task Force see the irony in expressing their commitment to “self-determination,” while issuing a U.S. government report that serves only to strengthen U.S. domination and control over Puerto Rico. The report takes as its starting point that there will not be independence. It includes long-term recommendations to deepen and extend U.S. control and involvement in Puerto Rican affairs.
On the issue of status, the Task Force does not recommend that the U.S. follow the accepted international standards embodied in the United Nations (UN) Decolonization process, requiring removal of U.S. military, political and economic control before any vote on independence can be taken. Instead, the Task Force reinforces U.S. dictate, recommending that “All relevant parties — the President, Congress, and the leadership and people of Puerto Rico — work to ensure that Puerto Ricans are able to express their will about status options and have that will acted upon by the end of 2012 or soon thereafter.” It calls first for a referendum on whether Puerto Ricans “wish to be part of the United States or wish to be independent.” Using its occupation and threats, the U.S. no doubt anticipates “winning” such a vote and using it to justify its continued control over Puerto Rico while proclaiming the colonization is the “will” of Puerto Ricans. The second vote would then give “choices” for “Statehood, Free Association and Commonwealth.”
The report also notes that the Puerto Rican government is considering holding a referendum this summer and recommends that the “President and Congress support any fair, transparent and swift effort that is consistent with and reflects the will of the people of Puerto Rico.” As is the case worldwide, such as in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, this recommendation makes clear that the U.S. would determine what is and is not “fair and transparent.” The U.S. is also deciding who does and does not vote, saying only Puerto Ricans on the Island will be permitted to vote. Further, if the Puerto Rican government does not hold a referendum, the report calls on Congress and the President to impose one through legislation that “specifies in advance for the people of Puerto Rico a set of acceptable status options that the United States is politically committed to following.”
It is not likely that Obama will even mention the UN mandate on these matters. The U.S. refuses to submit to these requirements for removal of its military, political and economic control before a vote is held and simply denies that Puerto Rico is a colony. Obama very likely will highlight the use of a U.S. sanctioned referendum. As he said in the March letter, “I am pleased that the Task Force has outlined recommendations to enable the people of Puerto Rico to determine their political future. Both the President and Congress have roles to play to help Puerto Rico settle on its future status.” Given the Task Force recommendations and Obama’s trip, it appears the U.S. wants to guarantee its control over Puerto Rico including further infiltration in her economy and governance, while proclaiming to support self-determination. One possible result would be forcing Puerto Rico to become a state, much as occured with Hawai'i.
The only just role for the U.S. is to immediately remove its military, political and economic control, pay reparations for its crimes of colonialism and genocide against Puerto Ricans, and support the just demand of Puerto Ricans for independence.
Task Force Recommends Increased U.S. Control
The fact that the U.S. has no intention of upholding self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico can be further seen in the various recommendations by the Task force concerning Puerto Rico’s economy and governance. For example there is no mention of removal of all U.S. military forces. The report does say “[U.S.] Federal law enforcement agencies should significantly deepen their engagement with the Puerto Rico criminal justice system to provide necessary training and technical assistance.” The U.S. Department of Justice, Homeland Security and other federal law enforcement agencies are to identify “high-level stakeholders in Puerto Rico to partner” with U.S. policing agencies to “implement appropriate reforms of the justice system in Puerto Rico.” Formal “interagency” “coordination and collaboration,” is to be developed. From its earliest days of colonization the U.S. has used the justice system against the rights of Puerto Ricans, including to this day requiring that the federal courts, which are U.S. courts inside Puerto Rico, be conducted in English.
In addition the Task Force recommends that “The President and Congress work closely with and support Puerto Rico’s efforts to fundamentally change the Island’s approach to energy and the environment.” This is indicative of long-term U.S. war plans to expand and further secure its energy supplies, which includes annexation of Canada and her resources, control of Mexican oil, and making “fundamental change” to Puerto Rico’s approach to energy and the environment.
The talk about concern for the environment is coming from a U.S. government that poisoned and decimated the environment and population of Vieques. The Report contains no recommendations for reparations for these crimes. As well for Vieques, where Puerto Ricans succeeded in driving the U.S. Navy out, it wants a coordinated effort between the “Navy, Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Commerce and Department of the Interior” to target those continuing to defend Vieques, although not stated in that manner. The form these further attacks on Vieques takes is the call for developing a “multi-agency plan to keep trespassers off the contaminated land and out of the affected waters.” This is a plan to criminalize continued resistance, not taking responsibility for repairing the environment and protecting the population.
The report also calls for Puerto Rico to “change its energy regulatory structure.” This too is to open the way for more U.S. control of energy resources and elimination of any public enterprises. The U.S. also has designs on Puerto Rico’s jungle and other resources. The report calls for a “Bio-Refinery Project” to be developed through “a public-private partnership,” to produce bio-fuels and other products for export. It can be expected that the “public” part will involve public funds from Puerto Rico and the “private” part control and exploitation by U.S. monopolies.
As well, there is the U.S. organized Port of the Americas (POA) project to develop the port in Ponce, Puerto Rico into a mega port. As the Task Force states, POA is “a strategic project with the potential to generate investments and foster economic development in the entire Caribbean region.” It calls for the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security to work with Puerto Rican officials to “fully utilize POA’s strategic location for moving U.S. cargo through the Panama Canal to the Caribbean and Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.” What goes unsaid is the strategic military role for such a port for U.S. domionation of the Caribbean and South America.
These are among the many recommendations made. What stands out is all of them further involve the U.S. government in Puerto Rico’s governing structures and in controlling and dictating her economy and resources, her justice system, privatizing what is public, and so forth. Obama may well highlight some of these recommendations in an effort to show the value of “a lasting political, economic social and cultural relationship,” with the U.S.
Self-determination has no meaning so long as the U.S. government dominates political and economic life in Puerto Rico. A U.S. commitment to “self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico,” requires the U.S. to act to end U.S. colonization. It requires removal of all troops and bases, of all policing agencies, of all economic and political control over Puerto Rico. It requires paying reparations. It requires submitting to the UN mandate for decolonization and for having no say whatsoever, by the President and Congress, in what Puerto Ricans themselves decide.
Puerto Rico for the Puerto Ricans!
Free Oscar Lopez Rivera!
End Crime of U.S. Colonialism and Pay Reparations Now!