Cuban patriot José Martí taught us that when men of courage are willing to fight against injustice, others lacking in courage should at least be humble enough not to sully their actions. Martí was referring to his detractors, who were unable to understand his struggle against tyranny. They were unable to feel the warmth and see the brightness of the sun because of their fixation with criticizing its spots.
In a recent STAR column, Puerto Rican Independence Party President Rubén Berríos was criticized for his actions in Vieques. The PIP president was accused of "craving" martyrdom.
Such a short sighted and simplistic analysis not only misses the point; it also misses the whole picture. Rubén's "craving" - if craving is the word for commitment to principle- is to facilitate the exercise of our inalienable right to self-determination, and thereby overcome Puerto Rico’s political subordination which is at the root of the Navy’s abuse of Puerto Ricans in Vieques.
Since the PIP's foundation in 1946, its platform has established the commitment against the militarization of Puerto Rico. As we see it, the military presence of the United States in Puerto Rico is a cause and not a consequence of our colonial status. That is why Vieques is a political issue, not in a "vain electoral" sense, but in a much deeper dimension.
There is abundant evidence that the United States' interest in acquiring Puerto Rico during the Hispanic-Cuban-American War was to establish a geopolitical-military outpost in the Caribbean. In fact, U.S. colonial policy toward Puerto Rico during the 20th century was driven by its military interests here. The Navy’s fixation on Puerto Rico as an appetizing morsel for US military interests, resulting in our colonial status, was best described by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1943. Roosevelt argued that Puerto Rico was the "centre" of "an island shield." Clearly, for Roosevelt, U.S. control over the Island’s affairs was established for American military purposes in a world context totally different from today’s.
This historical and political voracity remains in juxtaposition to Berríos’ commitment, first in Culebra, and now in Vieques, to advance Puerto Rico’s struggle for self-determination. Furthermore, there is a clear progression in the transformation of the Puerto Rican people's activism from the struggle against the Navy in Culebra to our determination to achieve peace in Vieques. The widespread support that the struggle for peace in Vieques has achieved is the direct result of the development of our national identity and our growing rejection of political subordination in the 21st century.
In 1971, a young Berríos changed the course of the struggle for the demilitarization of Puerto Rico with non-violent resistance as a weapon to confront the Navy in Culebra. In the midst of the Cold War, only independentistas were willing to denounce and confront Navy abuses. In fact, the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico, under Popular Democratic Party control, approved a Resolution condemning Berríos' actions then. To ignore the role of civil disobedience in 1971 and, as some would argue, to credit an opportunistic lawyer hired by the colonial administration, with getting the Navy out of Culebra is like ignoring Gandhi’s role in India's liberation and glorifying British proconsul Mountbatten and Nehru’s lawyers.
Today, the post-Cold War period has created a new political context. Now people from different political ideologies, religious denominations and civic organizations are willing to denounce and confront the Navy's abuses in Vieques. The precedent set by Berríos' civil disobedience in Culebra has now become almost mainstream as an instrument for people of diverse ideologies committed to the struggle for peace in Vieques. That is why we have seen representatives of diverse ideologies joining Ruben’s strategy of civil disobedience for the cause of peace in Vieques - statehood party vice-president Norma Burgos, commonwealth Senate vice-president Velda González, Popular Democratic Party leader and mayor of Carolina José Aponte, and many others.
Regarding our political subordination, we see a similar trend. In the late 1960's and early 1970's, during the struggle against the Navy in Culebra, very few people were willing to denounce Puerto Rico as a colony of the United States. Only independentistas were then willing to do this. Today, in a new political context, a growing majority of the Puerto Rican people, including commonwealth and statehood leaders, have expressed dissatisfaction with our continuing political subordination.
The connection between Vieques and Puerto Rico's colonial status is unavoidable. Berríos and the independence movement have been instrumental in the development of our national identity and consciousness. Certainly, contrary to what others may insinuate, Berríos' commitment - "craving," if you will¾ is based on principle: the right of our people to self-determination.