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Vol. 74/No. 11      March 22, 2010

Puerto Rico: Why independence
is a necessity
(Books of the Month column)
Printed below is an excerpt from Puerto Rico: Independence Is a Necessity by Rafael Cancel Miranda, one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for March. Cancel Miranda is one of five Puerto Rican Nationalists who spent more than a quarter century in U.S. prisons following armed protests they carried out in Washington against colonial rule. Freed from prison in 1979 through an international defense campaign, Cancel Miranda continues to speak out around the world for his country’s independence and the release of Puerto Rican political prisoners still held in U.S. jails today. Copyright © 1998 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

We have to reach out to the greatest number of our people with the truth and the need for independence. Independence is not simply a nice ideal. It is a necessity.

We have to reach the new generations, so they will continue the struggle until the time comes when different forces in the world come together and strengthen our struggle. We are part of the world, and what happens all over the world affects our country.

The United States uses our young people as cannon fodder in their wars. In the Vietnam War, Puerto Rico had a disproportionately high number of casualties relative to its population compared to the United States. The same thing happened in the Korean War.

They sent us to kill Dominicans in the Dominican Republic in 1965. When they invaded Panama in 1989, they sent us to kill Panamanians, who are our brothers and sisters.

Before the [1991] Gulf War, nobody here knew who Saddam Hussein was. But in one week they got the Puerto Rican people to hate Saddam Hussein, through their control of the media, and then everyone was saying that Saddam was the devil.

I asked on the radio the other day, “What are Puerto Ricans doing in Bosnia?” If Rockefeller wants to send his sons to fight in Bosnia, let him do it. But he’s not going to send his sons to Bosnia. He’s going to send your sons, the sons of John Doe and Mary Jane.

So young people are affected by this colonial reality.

We have to show workers why independence is in their interests as workers: so they can be the owners of their country and their factories, so they can be the owners of what they produce. So that everything doesn’t end up in the coffers of Wall Street. So that it stays here for their development.

We have to explain what annexation would mean. If Puerto Rico were to be made a state, they would treat us exactly like they treat our communities in New York, Connecticut, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

When I got out of prison in 1979, I told my people from the beginning that we’re going to end up on reservations like the Indians if we’re not an independent country. It’s happening. I could take you to housing projects, in nearby MayagŁez, where thousands of Puerto Rican families live, and which have been turned into reservations. They have them fenced in and access is controlled by the police and the National Guard. You have to identify yourself to enter and leave your home. They search your car as if you were in prison.

As Pedro Albizu Campos1 said sixty years ago, if we don’t free ourselves, we will go from being masters to being serfs, from being owners to being squatters. And right now we Puerto Ricans are squatters in our own country. Others are in charge, not us.

Who controls the Customs in Puerto Rico? The U.S. does. They control our commerce, both foreign and domestic trade. Who controls immigration? The U.S. does. To leave Puerto Rico for another country, we must ask permission from the U.S. State Department. Even this little colonial governor, Rosselló, has to ask their permission.

It is for the same reasons that we Nationalists do not believe in plebiscites, because the U.S. controls the colonial elections. They use elections to cover up our colonial status and pretend there is democracy. But they control everything here, even the military. They are occupying our country militarily. Under these conditions—when you have a gun aimed at your head, and when they control your life socially, politically, and economically—there can be no free vote.

We Nationalists say: first, transfer all powers to the Puerto Rican people. Demilitarize our country. Remove all U.S. military bases and repressive agencies from Puerto Rico, and then we’ll decide. Then we can talk.

Our people enjoyed a few months of freedom during the transfer of power between Spain and the United States. In 1897 we won a measure of autonomy, after many years of struggle. We had our own postage stamps, our own Puerto Rican currency, our own parliament, our own Customs. We had control over our own foreign trade; we sold to whomever we wished. When the U.S. invaded in 1898, that came to an end.2

1. Pedro Albizu Campos (1891-1965) was the central leader of the Nationalist Party and the independence movement in Puerto Rico from the 1930s through the 1950s. He spent many years in U.S. prisons for his anti-imperialist activities.

2. In 1897 the Spanish colonial government granted Puerto Rico broad autonomous powers. This concession was a result of the Cuban war for independence that had begun two years earlier, in which the Spanish forces had been militarily defeated by the Cuban liberation army. The Cuban Revolutionary Party, which led the struggle in Cuba, had a Puerto Rico section, and the pro-autonomy liberals in Puerto Rico threatened to ally themselves with the revolutionaries if greater autonomy was not granted. This situation ended a few months later, however, when Washington declared war on its Spanish rival in April 1898 in order to seize Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam for its own imperialist interests.

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