I wish to thank you for the honor of accepting my designation to participate on behalf of the President of the Puerto Rican Independence Party and Honorary President of the Socialist International Rubén Berríos Martínez, as keynote speaker, here in Portland, Oregon, at the Seventh Annual LatCrit Conference on Coalitional Theory and Praxis: Social Justice Movements and LatCrit Community.
Professor Berríos could not be here today because of his obligations with the Socialist International, the world wide association of social-democratic parties that have seen their democratic traditions and progressive values recently threatened by the extreme right throughout the European Union. He has asked me to extend his best wishes for a successful conference and to congratulate you for the courage you have shown in choosing to address, through this invitation, the blatant abuse of a people still subject to colonial rule. Puerto Rico’s struggle against U.S. colonialism continues to this day; and the struggle for Peace in Vieques, an island-municipality of Puerto Rico under the U.S. Navy’s direct control for the past 60 years, is a metaphor for our people’s quest for decolonization and democracy.
On this matter, I make no pretenses of impartiality—an elusive and humanly meaningless concept, anyhow, where normative issues are involved. Therefore, I will share with you my side of the story as part of the moral obligation that, as jurists, I believe we must share. It is the view 1 hold, not just as a law teacher who has explored the hidden meaning behind the constitutional and statutory rhetoric used to attempt to disguise my country’s unnatural subordination to the United States, but also as a participant in the story. It is about an on-going struggle that needs to be told now, even though my telling it here, today, involves the possibility that by the time of publication, the story may need to be updated. By then, important developments may—or may not— already have taken place. For instance, a White House Task Force may have initiated its work regarding the U.S. government’s views on realistic status choices. Or the governor of Puerto Rico may have initiated a meaningful dialog with representatives of all political status options, to convene a special election for a People’s Assembly on Status. Or the U.S. Navy could announce (finally!) its intention to transfer its military maneuvers from Vieques to other sites. And, as a Puerto Rican political analyst and former National Security advisor, Juan M. García Passalcqua, has observed, “With the Navy out, national affirmation has a future.”
Regardless of how events unfold, it is a story that has not been sufficiently told in the United States and needs to be repeated as often as necessary— in legal publications, professional forums, and classrooms—to enlist the support of American intellectuals.
The domination of human beings, on behalf of the interests or the agenda of others more powerful, raises moral questions such as those settled in the United States with the abolition of slavery, or in South Africa with the termination of apartheid. In international legal terms, “The subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights, is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations and is an impediment to the promotion of world peace and co operation.”
Back in 1868, when Puerto Rico was a colony of Spain and international law doctrine on decolonization had not yet caught up with morality, an uprising took place in the town of Lares. The insurrection that demanded economic and political freedom brought about the proclamation of a short-lived republic that constituted a milestone in the history of Puerto Rico. Lares, together with the Yara uprising in Cuba that same year, forced the metropolitan power to re-examine its relationship with its Caribbean colonies.
In Puerto Rico, this re-evaluation led to the abolition of slavery in 1873, and to greater concessions regarding foreign trade and local autonomy. Lares thus marked the beginning of the struggle of the Puerto Rican people against foreign subjugation, domination and exploitation. Most importantly, it was a clear expression of the awareness that, after nearly 400 years since the Spanish Conquest, Puerto Ricans had evolved into a different nationality, that of a Spanish-speaking, but Latin American and Caribbean Puerto Rico.
The United States war of 1898 with Spain drastically altered the flow of history before Puerto Rico could reach its natural destiny as a sovereign nation of the Western Hemisphere. The purpose of the U.S. invasion and acquisition of Puerto Rico al the time was, as professor Berríos has written, strategic and military:
[C]ontrol of Puerto Rico was basic to the extension of U.S. influence over Latin America in general and the Caribbean in particular. The invasion and acquisition of Puerto Rico, which guarded the eastern approaches of the Caribbean Sea, was inextricably tied to the decision to build a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
The objectives may have varied since then, but the strategic and military purpose of retaining Puerto Rico as an overseas possession subject to the Territory Clause of the U.S. Constitution remains. In spite of the wave of decolonization that characterized the period immediately following World War II, congressional legislation regarding Puerto Rico a half century after the invasion did not alter Puerto Rico’s political and economic subordination to the United States. As a congressional Report on the bill subsequently enacted into federal law to establish the so-called commonwealth stated at the time:
The bill under consideration would not change Puerto Rico’s fundamental political, social and economic relationship to the United States ... [and the] sections of the [previously existing] organic act which [would be repealed] are the provisions of the act concerned primarily with the organization of the local executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government of Puerto Rico and other matters of purely local concern.
The commonwealth arrangement implemented by federal legislation in 1952 was consistent with a 1945 Memorandum of the U.S. War Department that became public in 2001. The Memorandum exposes the War Department’s opposition to any new status arrangement that provided for Puerto Rico’s sovereignty. Moreover, the War Department insisted on exclusive privileges for U.S. Armed Forces in perpetuity, in an unrestricted, preferential manner over all public utilities, as well as all air, water, and land transportation facilities. It further insisted that a federal court continue to exist to protect American military installations and personnel.”
The international configuration of forces that dominated the world stage in the years following the Second World War continued to make Puerto Rico’s struggle for decolonization extremely difficult. Rights violations—such as the government practice of keeping dossiers on persons “suspected” of subversion by virtue of their political association with pro-independence and decolonization activities—are now well documented. Political persecution and employment discrimination of pro-independence advocates was the established practice well into the 1980s, when it was exposed and denounced by the Puerto Rican Independence Party in 1986. Although after extensive litigation, the practice was officially proscribed, unofficial political discrimination continues as a fact of life. Furthermore, the federal government—as will be seen—was an active and dominant participant in political persecution against Puerto Rico’s real “freedom fighters” throughout the 20th century.
U.S. hegemony during the Cold War insured that no major embarrassment to the leader of one of the two major camps would take place, and thus the United States could get away with its colonial possessions, particularly at the U.N. Surely colonialism, though legally proscribed by international law since 1960, was wrong; but, in the case of Puerto Rico, strategic security in the context of the Cold War provided a convenient rationalization for the leader of the “free world” to forgive itself its colonial “indiscretions” and to assertively persuade world opinion to look the other way. This was particularly so if the colonial subjects were “well-fed,” and human rights abuses were handled swiftly and forcefully by local authorities posturing as contented colonials and U.S. authorities posturing as benevolent masters. The apologists of commonwealth often attempt to disguise its subordinate nature with a euphemistic description: “the maximum of autonomy compatible with the federal system.”
In the year 2000, the involvement of federal agencies interfering directly, or indirectly through local government authorities, with persons, groups, or organizations that favored Puerto Rico’s sovereignty and decolonization became the subject of an investigation by the Senate of Puerto Rico’s Committee on Government and Federal Affairs, on the basis of a Resolution submitted by the Puerto Rican Independence Party. In the course of the investigation, and with the valuable assistance of congressman José E. Serrano (D-NY), the F.B.I. admitted to this practice and began to make available to the Senate Committee more than 1 million declassified pages of federal dossiers, dating as far back as the 1930s. The documents analyzed by the Committee evidenced federal monitoring, intervention, infiltration, and persecution of persons, such as Nationalist Party leader Pedro Albizu Campos, student organizations such as the Federation of University Students (FUPI), and legitimate political parties—such as the Puerto Rican Independence (PIP) and Socialist Parties (PSP)—by federal police and intelligence entities, including the FBI, the Secretary of the Interior, the Army, the Air Force, and (of course) the Navy, acting in conjunction with Puerto Rican authorities, most notably the governor and the police. The Committee Reports approved by the Puerto Rico Senate also concluded that federal involvement with Puerto Rican authorities in the persecution of those advocating Puerto Rico’s decolonization de facto criminalized constitutionally protected speech and political activity, particularly the independence movement, thereby impeding the free exercise of Puerto Rico’s legal right to self-determination.
By the end of the first century of U.S. colonial rule over Puerto Pico, in harmony with the design of the War Department’s Memorandum of l945, the U.S. Navy occupied and used over two-thirds of Vieques for military maneuvers and installations. The economic, sociological, and environmental harm perpetrated upon Vieques and its inhabitants during that period is now a matter of common knowledge in Puerto Rico, and impeccably documented in the June 1999 consensus Report of a commission of representatives of Puerto Rico’s political parties, civic, labor and religious organizations appointed by the governor, after a Puerto Rican civilian worker was killed, and four other seriously wounded, in April 1999, by an off-target 500-lb. bomb dropped from a military plane on Vieques’ main observation post. Since then, until late in the year 2000, when the Puerto Rico Senate approved the above-mentioned Committee Report, things were coming to a head.
In May 1999, Rubén Berríos peacefully took over the target range in Vieques and lived there, in a tent, without electricity or running water, until May 2000, when he and hundreds of other Puerto Rican professional, civic, labor, and religious leaders were forcibly removed by federal military and police authorities. He penetrated the restricted areas a second time and, as a consequence, faced federal prosecution. However, undoubtedly in reluctant recognition of the moral strength of his non-violent civic struggle and his international stature as Honorary President of the Socialist International m an election year when he became a candidate for governor, he served a nominal sentence. (Once the elections were over, however, the U.S. District Court in Puerto Rico put aside any pretenses of magnanimity toward Berríos and sentenced him to 4 months in federal prison after another incursion into restricted Navy lands the following year.)
But by the summer of the year 2000, Berríos and thousands of Puerto Ricans from all parties, ideologies and creeds serving as human shields at one time or another had stopped combat practice on Vieques for more than a year. This made the Navy’s strenuous claims that amphibious landings, air-to-ground and ship-to-shore military maneuvers in Vieques—and Vieques alone on the face of the earth—were indispensable to U.S. national security sound hollow. The Puerto Rican Independence Party’s civil disobedience camp, uninterruptedly inhabited by Berríos through two tropical hurricanes and a painful bout with diverticulitis on “ground zero” of the target range for 361 days during which all military activity in Vieques carne to a complete halt, belied the Navy’s contention. Therefore the resumption of the Vieques maneuvers in August 2000 was perceived as nothing but a blatant ostentation of the arrogance of power.
The Navy also claimed it was protecting the environment and public health. Nevertheless, in the course of the year in which civil disobedience camps took Vieques back from the Navy, dangerous levels of depleted uranium, napalm, heavy metals, toxic substances, and carcinogens were found in the devastated landscape, filtering into the food chain and mercilessly castigating delicate ecological balances. Furthermore, a disproportionately high cancer rate has continued to claim new victims in Vieques.
Throughout the year 2000, Puerto Rico’s three political parties, civic and labor organizations, and religious leaders of all denominations—including the principal leaders of the Catholic and Protestant Churches—massively demonstrated against the Navy’s practices in Vieques and denounced them as immoral.
As an acute Latin American analyst and reporter for Univisión who resides in the United States wrote:
Vieques had effectively awakened the puertorriqueñidad [Puerto Rican identity] in millions and created a clear consciousness of the fact that the interests of Puerto Ricans were different from those of North Americans. In other words, Vieques had fractured the notion held by statehooders [federated statehood advocates] that Puerto Ricans and North Americans could be pan of same die people.... Puerto Rico had begun to think of itself without the United States.
At the end of the 20th century, therefore, Vieques became, like Lares in the late 19th century, another historical marker. Puerto Pico had retained and strengthened its sense of distinct identity as a Spanish-speaking nation of the Caribbean and peaceful civil disobedience had become our moral weapon against the Navy’s abuses in Vieques. The call for the immediate and permanent cessation of all military activity and for the devolution of lands held by the Navy in Vieques even became public policy of the Government of Puerto Rico and was correctly understood internationally as symbolizing the Puerto Rican people’s cause for self-determination.
Puerto Rico’s colonial problem and the human rights abuses and ecological abomination that resulted from Navy practices in Vieques quickly reached the desk of the American president. In a hand-delivered letter to President Clinton through a mutual friend, Berríos wrote to Clinton from the Navy’s firing range in Vieques:
Here, next to the idyllic beach from where I write to you, lies a lunar wasteland of unexploded ordnance and depleted uranium-tipped radioactive shells littered about in dead wetlands and lagoons, scorched earth, and devastated marine turtle nests.
Vieques presents you with a choice. To disregard the will of the Puerto Rican people, expressed beyond political, religious, or ideological differences, would set back the clock of democracy in the U.S., compounding colonialism with an overt act of tyranny. To comply with the will of the Puerto Rican people, however, will make the spiritual prison walls of colonial impotence in Puerto Rico begin to crumble.
In the two years following Berríos’ letter of July 1999, Vieques and Puerto Rico's colonial status caught the attention of the president of the United States and the American public in a very peculiar way. In the letter’s margin, Clinton jotted in his handwriting, “This is wrong.” Approximately a year later, Berríos and Puerto Rico’s two other gubernatorial candidates, who had separately visited Berríos’ Vieques camp in restricted Navy lands in solidarity with Puerto Rico’s demand for an end to the Navy’s practices, were invited to the White House to meet with the President of the United States and his advisors.
Hazy results began to unfold several weeks later. Unwilling to bring military activities to an immediate halt as the constitutional commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Clinton instead set up a muddled legislative scheme suggesting a referendum in Vieques, which did not provide for what official public policy and the people of Puerto Rico wanted: the immediate and permanent cessation of all military activity on the island-municipality, the return of occupied lands to Puerto Rico, and the clean-up and rehabilitation of Vieques’ ecologically distressed environment. At best, it would have provided for the President of the U.S. to conduct a referendum, to be held at the Navy’s convenience, on the termination of live-fire training, or its continuation after May 1, 2003. But no provision was made for the immediate cessation of all military activity, the devolution of lands to the people of Puerto Rico, or to clean up the environment.
On status, the Clinton administration set up an erstwhile task force, presumably now under the aegis of the Bush administration, to clarify status options for Puerto Rico from the U.S. perspective. But aside from appointing the new administration’ s members, the Task Force has remained like an empty kettle on a cold stove.
The unnatural results of the 2000 election in the U.S. froze developments on Vieques in the peculiar position the Clinton administration had left them. On June 14, 2001, President Bush announced during a press conference in Sweden that the U.S. would discontinue military exercises in Vieques in May 2003.
My attitude is that the Navy ought to find somewhere else to conduct its exercises, for a lot of reasons.... One, there’s been some harm done to people in the past. Secondly, these [Puerto Ricans] are our friends and neighbors and they don’t want us there.
At the same time, the Bush administration supported new legislation that repealed the Clinton referendum provisions regarding the continuation of military training on the island of Vieques. Evidently, a referendum that would have allowed a “local community” under the U.S. flag to decide on any aspect U.S. military presence m its midst was a potentially dangerous precedent from the perspective of the U.S. Navy, regardless of the outcome.
Through the last months of Clinton’s presidency and the first few months of the Bush administration, Vieques also caught the imagination of American public opinion makers. After Berríos penetrated restricted Navy land in Vieques a third time, the Navy successfully sought a harsh four month prison sentence for Berríos’ misdemeanor. Yet, mounting acts of civil disobedience by Puerto Rican political leaders of all political parties and ideologies ensued. In addition, prominent American leaders, such as congressman Luis y. Gutiérrez (D-Ill), New York labor leader Dennis Rivera, Hollywood actor Edward James Olmos, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson’s wife, Jacqueline, and environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., though shorter than Berilos’, all served disproportionate sentences for the petty offense of trespassing on federally restricted land in Vieques.
Since Lares in 1868, only Vieques has managed to bring Puerto Rico’s morally untenable status as a colony to the attention of the metropolitan power and society.
Then came the events of September 11.
The 2000 election also brought to power a new administration in Puerto Rico. During the campaign, candidate Sila Calderón embraced the two main issues that Rubén Berríos placed on the public agenda: Vieques and Puerto Rico’s political status.
Because of his courageous stance of civil disobedience against the U.S. Navy, first in the island municipality of Culebra in 1971, for which he was incarcerated by federal authorities for three months, and subsequently in Vieques, no one personified the struggle of Puerto Ricans against the Navy’s abuses better than Berríos, himself. He campaigned vigorously for the immediate cessation of all military activity in Vieques, and he proposed a People’s Constituent Assembly on Status with proportional representation for all options. The Constituent Assembly would attempt to agree, by majority if not by consensus, on a demand for a final status solution to which the U.S. government would have to respond.
An avowed faithful of Puerto Rico’s 1952 commonwealth as the final status solution, candidate Calderón nevertheless raised great expectations by pledging to end the bombing in Vieques in two months, if elected, and by characterizing Berríos’ idea of a People’s Constituent Assembly on Status as an “excellent idea.” She further promised to appoint a broadly representative commission to discuss status. As a result of an extremely well financed effort in the last two weeks of the gubernatorial campaign, her newly adopted rhetoric as a “born again nationalist” and her promises to quickly solve the Vieques problem were effective in activating the “third party syndrome” and reversing the support that had been shifting in the direction of Berríos’ candidacy.
As governor, however, she soon realized that the struggle for Vieques would take her on a collision course with the status quo. Instead of confronting the U.S. government with the democratic will of Puerto Ricans, after a municipal referendum sponsored by her administration on July 29, 2001, had resulted in a landslide for the permanent and immediate cessation of all military activity, Calderón remained silent for several months on both Vieques and status.
However, as the bungling and half-hearted efforts of the new administration increasingly brought governor Calderon’s credibility into question, she obtained much needed cover from the rubble of the Twin Towers.
The argument that September 11 had “changed everything” thereafter became a litany to justify inaction. Although she had criticized and opposed Clinton’s plan for Vieques, she suddenly embraced as a firm commitment his 2003 target date for the cessation of military activity, hortatively articulated by George W. Bush in Sweden.
She remained silent on the return of lands confiscated by the Navy to the people of Puerto
Rico, and she backtracked on cleaning up the environment. In fact, the commonwealth’s Secretary of Justice and the Resident Commissioner in Washington announced negotiations with the Navy at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) m Silver Spring, Maryland, on “mitigation” of future environmental damages in Vieques—the very environmental damages she had sworn to end.
On status, the governor continued to pay lip service to her promise to appoint a consensus commission to “improve” commonwealth. How that plays with legislative plans, evolving at the time of this writing, for a People’s Assembly on Status—and with the Presidential Task Force, if it is ever activated—remains to be seen. Her government still promotes the idea of Puerto Rico’s capacity for foreign relations and possibility to decide on the applicability of federal laws in a commonwealth under the sovereignty of the United States; but Washington reports appear to point in the opposite direction.
When asked about the commonwealth arrangement’s possible participation in international organizations with foreign relations capacity, a presidential spokesperson at the White House was reported as saying that, “as an integral part of the United States, Puerto Rico is well represented by the [U.S.] Department of State.” On the power to veto the applicability of federal laws in Puerto Rico, she further stated that, All federal laws apply to Puerto Rico, with the exception of those determined by the .....".
Typically, those acting out of dependence know they owe something in return, even if they find the idea revolting. However, the uncertainty of what the Puerto Rican government is bargaining for is worrisome, when negotiations with the Navy appear to take future maneuvers for granted, and Washington policy toward the commonwealth arrangement remains unchanged.
The statehood party, in total disarray after an unexpected electoral defeat, the aftermath of which uncovered scandalous patterns of corruption in government during its years in power, also longed for an opportunity that would cast them in an endearing, mellow mood before U.S. authorities. Since the relationship between provider and dependent is “the domain of reciprocal mistrust, George W. Bush’s statement from Sweden—that Puerto Ricans are not explicitly Americans, but, really, “friends and neighbors” who did not want “them”, the real Americans, in Vieques –made statehood leaders wary that the president of the United States might have come to realize that Puerto Ricans were, after all, not really Americans, but a distinct people. With renewed fervor to convince their providers of their faithful devotion to statehood, the cause that shipped ever farther away from their reach, many of its leaders adopted the revolting idea that the U.S. Navy should continue bombing Vieques, presumably to convince Americans that Puerto Ricans were even more American.
On status, the statehood party appears to subscribe in practice to the idea of letting sleeping dogs lie. While its leaders denounce colonialism and pay lip service to the idea of integration of a distinct cultural entity to the body politic of the United States, they have announced in advance their refusal to participate in a People’s Status Assembly or in any dialog on status, such as that promised by the governor. Their hope is pegged, not on any sense of real patriotism towards the United States on the part of Puerto Ricans, but on the growing dependence on federal transfers as a one-way ticket to statehood.
Puerto Rico’s two major parties’ unholy alliance resulting in favor of colonial stagnation has encouraged the Navy and its judicial sentinels to new heights of insolence. As if confident of an European-like wave of extreme-right wing protection, the U.S. Navy has continued boldly to announce its plans for future maneuvers. In addition, and true to the role which the 1945 War Department Memorandum had envisioned for unrestricted military prerogatives over public utilities, a federal court of appeals confirmed the Puerto Rico-based U.S. District Court’s decision that the U.S. Navy could continue to take and use, for free, as much water as its imperial heart desired for its naval station, from a river that supplies drinking water to Puerto Rican communities on the eastern part of the island.
Too recently, in keeping with the Navy’s history of insolence in Vieques, Puerto Rico witnessed an incident reminiscent of a war movie of the 1940s and 1950s. Charged with security at the Navy’s Camp García installations during the military maneuvers of April 2002, a group of sex-crazed Marines played the role of occupying forces overrunning an enemy town—this time, Puerto Rico’s capital. The group was provided official transportation from the U.S. Naval base at Roosevelt Roads in eastern Puerto Rico by its commanding officer, Rear-Admiral Kevin Green, to a brothel in Old San Juan. There, they got into a brawl and “bouncers” expelled the rowdy Marines. The fight continued outside the establishment between them, on the one hand, and the bar’s security personnel and local residents who assisted them, on the other. According to press reports, the Marines—ten of whom suffered nasty cuts and bruises—finally proceeded to curse, urinate, and vomit in front of television crews and cameras in the street.
Still, the quest for peace in Vieques commands the support of the vast majority of Puerto Ricans and of those who, like Puerto Rican Independence Party members and others, continue to engage in a civilized and peaceful struggle to unmask the abuse of U.S. authorities that continue to imprison decent men and women—already over 2,000— for a petty offense. Recently, a contingent of PIP women, led by the party’s young vice president, attorney María de Lourdes Santiago, spent the entire month of April serving a 30-day sentence for trespassing on Camp García during the Navy’s military maneuvers in Vieques that month.”
As since the 1898 invasion, however, the United States continues to be “interested in the cage, not the birds.”
The federal prison in Puerto Rico, the Metropolitan Detention Center, resembles modern day Puerto Rico. As in most modern residential areas in Puerto Rico, there is armed security around the clock. The inmates are well fed and enjoy freedom like the commonwealth’s “maximum autonomy compatible with the federal system.” Only the bars in the colonial prison of Puerto Rico’s commonwealth arrangement are less evident. The struggle for Puerto Rico’s sovereignty and decolonization is the struggle to break out of the historical detention center of U.S. colonial rule.
Nevertheless, the day is near when the U.S. Navy will have to permanently cease its military maneuvers in Vieques. As a recent editorial in the American newspaper in Puerto Rico has finally recognized:
Reports out of the Pentagon indicate the Center for Naval Analysis is moving steadily toward identifying alternatives to replace Vieques as the principal site for Navy maneuvers in the Atlantic area.
Increasing attention is focusing on installations at Eglin Air Force Base and Pinecastle in the Florida panhandle for air-to-land bombing exercises and on a combination of East Coast bases in North Carolina for ship-to-shore gunnery and amphibious landing practice......
President Bush has said he wants the Navy to aim for May 1, 2003 as the date for leaving Vieques, and Navy Secretary Gordon England has seconded the motion. The way the Pentagon is talking and the Center for Naval analysis is moving suggests they are trying to meet that deadline.
Thus, civil disobedience in the quest for peace has demonstrated two important truths about Vieques. First, while it is convenient for the U.S. to conduct its military exercises there to the detriment of its Puerto Rican inhabitants, that island-municipality is not indispensable for the defense of the United States. The second important truth about Vieques is, naturally, that the progress made would not have been possible without the determination of the Puerto Rican people to demand and protect their rights, and without the widespread support enjoyed by those who have been willing to submit to the consequences of violating unjust laws.
As professor Berríos has written:
In 1898, the Navy was the moving force behind the invasion of Puerto Rico and has, since then, remained the most resolute supporter and proponent of our colonial status. In order to break with powerlessness, we Puerto Ricans must prevail in Vieques.
The last bomb dropped on Vieques will signify an enormous achievement in Puerto Rico’s struggle to break its colonial sense of powerlessness. But a triumph in Vieques is only one more step --like Lares in the 19th century—towards resolving Puerto Rico’s colonial status. The Puerto Rican Independence Party is continuing its grass roots campaign throughout the island to gather and strengthen support for a People’s Assembly on Status. It envisions the Presidential Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status—if the U.S. government finally takes action—as the proper interlocutor in Washington for the work of a status assembly.
The growing strength of Puerto Rico’s national identity and the federal unitary constitutional system of the United States make Puerto Rico’s integration as a state a practical impossibility, if a Caribbean Quebec or Northern Island are to be averted. Furthermore, those who clamor for the protection of threatened species must minimally agree to the moral imperative to protect the diversity of peoples on this planet. The protection of the Puerto Rican nationality, constructed by the toil of 500 years of human history, is undoubtedly worthy of such human respect and protection. And since the anachronistic commonwealth arrangement is the problem, it cannot be the solution. Accordingly, Puerto Rico’s sovereignty is not a matter of "if”, but of "when.”
Professor Berríos has pointed out, however, that there are sectors in the Government of the United States for whom the outmoded “possession” of the territory at the entrance of the maritime routes into the Caribbean remains critical, and would bide their time until a new generation of politicians sympathetic to their imperial cause comes to power. These reactionary foci would “mothball” Vieques under the Scarlet O’Hara philosophy that tomorrow is, after all another day. The propensity to dominate people, against their wishes and best interests, for the sake of those U.S. sectors’ own interests raises the moral issues that I wanted to share with you.
We in Puerto Rico will continue to keep the pressure for the demilitarization of Vieques and the decolonization of Puerto Rico, until we prevail. We are willing to face the consequences of our actions, as we have demonstrated, through every peaceful means available—from reasoned academic discourse, through the political process, to civil disobedience. Law teachers and jurists like you can no longer shun the moral obligation to educate Americans about Puerto Rico’s unnatural condition under U.S. rule. Latinos and all Americans of good will—undoubtedly the vast majority—must be willing to learn and help others learn the moral imperative of our struggle.
That is why I am here today. If you support us in this cause, the triumph of the human spirit that Puerto Rico’s liberation represents will also be your own.