So what are you?
A Boricua or a Yankee?
Those of you who’ve been double-dipping all this time should start thinking seriously about becoming one or the other, because after Sunday, June 11, it will become increasingly difficult to hide in the buffer zone between statehood and sovereignty.
In case you haven’t noticed, that fence you’ve been sitting on your whole life crumbled last year when Puerto Rico declared itself incapable of paying $70 billion that its government allegedly borrowed to keep the island on life support, so that the United States can continue extracting $58.1 billion a year from the island, while contributing only $13.5 billion a year in federal aid.
Congress responded to the statement of insolvency by passing the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), which effectively installed a fascist regime, disguised as a financial control board, to govern the island. The board has since started the process of selling off Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, including its beaches; dispossessing thousands of residents; cutting pensions, reducing the minimum wage to $4.25 and hour; and dismantling the school, healthcare and the public university systems.
That’s what the middle ground looks like nowadays. If you identify as Puerto Rican and your conscience can accept those conditions as a permanent way of life on the island, then you’ve probably got a lump of coal for a heart.
But, be aware that rationalized ambivalence will no longer spare you from having to take a stand. You won’t be able to say, “I’m Puerto Rican; but not one of THOSE Puerto Ricans,” anymore at cocktail parties to show your white acquaintances that you’re the exception to whatever negative image they have of your people. That whiny “I have mixed feelings on the status issue” remark will also disappear. Only a snake would make such a comment in the face of all the suffering that’s taking place on the island.
At some point after June 11, those of you who’ve been burying your heads in the sand — and you know very well who you are — will have to be all in or all out.
Boricua or Yankee.
Two significant events taking place that day are going to help push you over the edge.
First, residents of the island will vote in a referendum on whether they prefer to become a U.S. state, or a sovereign nation in one form or another. The status quo, colonialism, the act of taking over a country against its will for the sole purpose of ripping it off (see above), was added to the ballot at the last minute at the insistence of the Trump White House, which, under the circumstances, is akin to asking African Americans for their support to restore slavery.
Rest assured, however, that colonialism will win the referendum, even if nobody votes for it, because that’s exactly what the U.S. wants. No other form of government would tolerate the 329 percent return on investment that the U.S. sucks out of Puerto Rico every year.
But the results of the referendum, coming in the midst of a historic fiscal crisis, may provide the clearest indication yet of what Puerto Ricans on the island really want as their political status, even if the United States ignores the outcome, as it always has.
Sunday, June 11, is also the day that the National Puerto Rican Day Parade will, for the first time in its 59-year history, be led by a pro-independence revolutionary — Oscar Lopez Rivera — whose militant organization, the FALN, was credited with a series of anti-colonial bombings in New York, Chicago and Washington, DC, during the early 1970s.
Attended by as many as 2 million people in some years, the National Puerto Rican Day Parade is perhaps the largest display of ethnic pride in modern history; and on June 11, with Lopez Rivera in the forefront, it will be rolling up New York’s Fifth Avenue and all across the world. Lopez Rivera, 74, spent more than 35 years in a prison for his pro-independence activities. Former president Barack Obama commuted his sentence just before leaving office in January.
After the parade committee announced its decision to honor Lopez Rivera as a “National Freedom Hero,” the corporations — Goya, Jet Blue, the New York Yankees and many others that have over the years turned the event into a glitzy marketing campaign for their products — immediately withdrew their financial sponsorship and embraced Washington’s characterization of Lopez Rivera as a terrorist.
To its credit, the parade committee waived its middle finger at the corporations and stood its ground. The mainstream news media, also parroting the government line, suggested that the parade can’t possibly survive without all that corporate money.
But many Puerto Rican leaders, particularly those who are old enough to remember, see the sponsorship pullout as an opportunity to return the parade to its less extravagant roots in 1958, when a group of working-class Puerto Ricans launched the annual promenade as a protest against the atrocities they were subjected to back home.
Let’s see. There was the gag law of 1947, a direct violation of the right to free speech that was finally repealed a year before the first parade, under which the FBI and local police jailed thousands for simply owning a Puerto Rican flag or humming its national anthem. Then there were the federally funded depopulation clinics that sterilized 40 percent the island’s women over a 10-year period. And who could forget the ghoulish experiments of that great American, Dr. Cornelius Rhoades, who boasted in his journals about injecting the patients in San Juan’s Presbyterian Hospital with fertilized cancer cells. Along the way, there were two massacres of unarmed protesters on the streets of Ponce and Rio Piedras and a few other abominations.
Hartford City Councilwoman Widaliz Bermudez of the Working Families Party sees the timeliness of Lopez Rivera’s
release and the foisting of the fiscal control board as a heaven-sent opportunity to finally settle Puerto Rico’s status issue.
“I understand that it’s challenging for a lot of people to confront it, because there are a lot of feelings and attachments involved,” she says, “But, the fact is that we, as a community, have to have a serious dialogue about where we are heading. We’ve been in this limbo status long enough . . . And if Oscar is the vehicle that will allow us to do that, then I think it’s a good thing.”
Last year, Ms. Bermudez introduced a resolution in the Hartford City Council, calling for Lopez Rivera’s release. The council approved the resolution unanimously. On Tuesday, June 20, 2017, at 7:00 p.m., she will host Lopez Rivera’s visit to Hartford to thank the city for its support. The event will take place at the Real Art Ways museum, 56 Arbor Street.
Ms. Bermudez anticipates that Lopez Rivera’s trip to Hartford will spark as much controversy in Connecticut as his presence in the National Puerto Rican Day Parade did in New York.
“The reaction has been ranging from one extreme to the other. As a Puerto Rican millennial, I haven’t seen Puerto Ricans come together in this way in a very long time. So let’s welcome it.”
Born in Puerto Rico, Ms. Bermudez came to Hartford as an infant and has spent her entire life there, except for the four years that she returned to the island to earn her masters degree in environmental science. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Trinity College.
Ms. Bermudez agrees that Puerto Ricans can no longer avoid confronting the status issue.
“We can’t afford it. We all know people who are suffering as we speak. I have cousins, younger than me, who graduated college last year and are being told that they have to work for $4.25 an hour,” she says. “It’s not just young people who are being affected or people who recently retired. It’s people like my grandmother, who can’t get what she needs in terms of healthcare because there aren’t enough doctors on the island.”
The right to self-determination, a fundamental principle of international law and the U.S. Declaration of Independence, states that a people have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and political status with no interference. International Law and the Declaration of Independence also recognize a people’s right to engage in armed rebellion to achieve their sovereignty.
By those measures, Oscar Lopez Rivera is as much of a patriot as George Washington, Nelson Mandela, Menachem Begin, Lech Walesa, and Bernadette Devlin.