The New York Times is the world’s greatest newspaper but its opinion so often is reactionary. For instance: justifying colonialism and imperialism.
A recent editorial in the Times lamented Puerto Rico’s $72 billion debt to investors and $46 billion deficit in government pension funds. “It will default on payment of $2 billion in bond payments on July 1,” the Times editorialized. “It desperately needs to restructure its debt.”
An earlier editorial in the Times pronounced: “It’s much better for Puerto Rico to be under the beneficent sway of the United States than to engage in doubtful experiments in self-government.”
Beneficent sway or under the Iron Heel? In supreme irony, Puerto Rico was liberated by Spain in 1897 but promptly subjugated by America.
The Times refuses to mention what is essential for Puerto Rico: statehood. The Caribbean islanders were given U.S. citizenship in 1919 but continued to be exploited and oppressed by America.
Nelson Denis, author of “War Against All Puerto Ricans and Terror in America’s Colony,” documents racist, military and economic rhetoric justifying colonization.
When Spain freed Puerto Rico it guaranteed its people the right to a constitution, a legislature, power to levy tariffs, have a treasury, a monetary system and international trade. All the duties and functions of an independent state.
Actually, the U.S. today controls everything on the island: foreign relations, customs, immigration, the postal system, radio, television, military service, transportation, banking, judiciary, tariff, trading and Social Security.
Doubtless the Internet and everything connected with the Digital Age too.
“The U.S. military presence in Puerto Rico is overwhelming,” Denis noted. “You can’t drive five miles in any direction without passing an Army base, nuclear site or tracking station. The Pentagon controls 13 percent of the land and operates five atomic missile bases.
“Vieques island was bombed mercilessly for 62 years. From 1984 through 1998 more than 1,300 warships and 4,200 aircraft used the island for target practice.
“From the mid-1950s until 2006 the U.S. laid a red carpet from Wall Street to San Juan, Puerto Rican capital. U.S. corporations were given 10- and 20-year tax exemptions on all gross revenues, dividends, interest and capital gains.
The control was so fierce that under a U.S. law in force from 1948 to 1957 the islanders could not utter a word, sing a song, whistle a tune or say anything against the U.S government without being subject to 10 years in prison for “seditious conspiracy.”
DRACONIAN U.S. LAW
Other U.S. crimes against Puerto Rico in the past: laws prohibiting the teaching of any language except English and barring the flying of the Puerto Rican flag. However, a draconian law still in existence: the Jones Act requiring that every product that enters or leaves Puerto Rico must be carried on a U.S. ship.
The U.S. Supreme Court, with an incredible but typical reactionary ruling by nine blind justices, held in 1922 that the Constitution did not apply to Puerto Rico. It said that U.S. minimum wage laws and other federal protections and immunities were not guaranteed Puerto Ricans.
Puerto Rico’s Gov. Garcia Padilla announced recently that insolvency was inevitable: it cannot pay its debts. Congress and President Obama don’t care. Yet the so-called commonwealth remains under absolute U.S domination 55 years after the United Nations General Assembly declared it a sovereign nation.
Its three and one-half million people pay taxes to the United States but have no vote in presidential elections, no ballots in the Electoral College and no members in Congress. (Per capita income is extremely low, less than half that of the poorest state in the union.)
It should have been granted statehood decades ago but has always been stymied by a don’t-care Congress. The deeper and unspoken reason for the stymie: Republicans fear Puerto Ricans would always elect two Democrats as U.S. senators. With the GOP and Democrats closely divided in the Senate, two more easily chosen Democrats are intolerable to the GOP.
So we have a forsaken land burdened with debt but no exit, no way out. Politics rules, not fairness and justice. Drug companies and other firms absconded to Asia for cheap manufacture. Result: unemployment hovers between 12 and 14 percent.
Pedro Pierluisi, a Democrat, is Puerto Rico’s non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives. He pointed out in a Times op-ed article that five million people of Puerto Rican heritage live in America.
“As conditions deteriorate, my constituents are leaving for the mainland at a rate of 50,000 a year,” Pierluisi wrote. “The main reason is inequality.
“Congress routinely mistreats Puerto Rico. Federal funding for state Medicare is open-ended but capped in Puerto Rico. The only solution is statehood. Until then Puerto Ricans will remain second-class citizens.”
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor from the University of Nevada, Reno. (Jake@unr.edu)