[Marxism] Puerto Rico resists military recruiting

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Aug 18 07:16:26 MDT 2007

Recruiting For Iraq War Undercut in Puerto Rico

By Paul Lewis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 18, 2007; A01

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The political activists, brown envelopes tucked 
under their arms, staked out the high school gates just after sunrise. 
When students emerged from the graffiti-scorched streets of the Rio 
Piedra neighborhood here and began streaming toward their school, the 
pro-independence advocates ripped open the envelopes and began handing 
the teens fliers emblazoned with the slogan: "Our youth should not go to 

At the bottom of the leaflet was a tear sheet that students could sign 
and later hand to teachers, to request that students' personal contact 
information not be released to the U.S. Defense Department or to anyone 
involved in military recruiting.

The scene outside the Ramon Vila Mayo high school unfolded at schools 
throughout Puerto Rico this week as the academic year opened. On this 
island with a long tradition of military service, pro-independence 
advocates are tapping the territory's growing anti-Iraq war sentiment to 
revitalize their cause. As a result, 57 percent of Puerto Rico's 10th-, 
11th- and 12th-graders, or their parents, have signed forms over the 
past year withholding contact information from the Pentagon -- 
effectively barring U.S. recruiters from reaching out to an estimated 
65,000 high school students.

"If the death of a Puerto Rican soldier is tragic, it's more tragic if 
that soldier has no say in that war," said Juan Dalmau, secretary 
general of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP). His efforts are 
saving the island's children from becoming "colonial cannon meat," he said.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, all schools receiving U.S. 
federal funding must provide their students' names, addresses and phone 
numbers to the military unless the child or parents sign an opt-out 
form. Puerto Rico received $1.88 billion in U.S. education funds this 
year. For five years, PIP has issued opt-out forms to about 120,000 
students in Puerto Rico and encouraged them to sign -- and independista 
activists expect this year to mark their most successful effort yet.

Such actions come as other antiwar groups on the island are seeking to 
undercut military recruiting, as well. For example, the Coalition of 
Citizens Against Militarism, an association of pacifist groups, plans to 
visit about 70 schools on the island in the coming days, meaning that 
many students will receive two, or even three, opt-out forms by the end 
of August.

Antiwar advocates have even gained direct access to Puerto Rican 
classrooms under a controversial directive issued last September by 
Rafael Aragunde, the island's education secretary, granting "equal 
access" by pacifist groups and military recruiters.

Although he will not bar recruiters from schools, Aragunde said, he has 
a "lot of sympathy" for what pacifist groups are trying to accomplish. 
"I've always felt that one of the byproducts of a good educational 
system is that you have citizens who will defend pacifism," he said. "I 
think that just like we have to insist on ecological values, we have to 
insist on pacifist values." Aragunde described his relations with 
military recruiters as "cordial."

Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel 
policy, acknowledged that the counter-recruiting campaigns are having an 
impact. "We're drawing less than the national average" in Puerto Rico, 
he said.

In the 2003-06 period, 4,947 Puerto Rican men and women enlisted in the 
Army or Reserves, or approximately 123 people per 100,000 residents, 
according to Pentagon data. That is below the average contribution of 
U.S. states, and far below the numbers in states such as Alabama, 
Kansas, Montana and Oklahoma, each of which enlists more than 200 men 
and women per 100,000, according to Army data.

"We're not taking more than our share from Puerto Rico," Carr said. 
"We're taking less than our share, because that's what they'll give us." 
Carr said he suspects that opt-out rates for states in the continental 
United States rarely break beyond 10 percent -- a far cry from the 
nearly 60 percent on the island.

Reaction outside the gates of the Ramon Vila Mayo school this week seem 
to confirm that suspicion. A few students shrugged off the political 
activists' overtures, while others smiled and declared their interest in 
joining the "Yankee" military. But most of the teens politely accepted 
the forms, nodded and even fetched pens from their school bags.

Calls for Puerto Rico's independence have existed since the days of 
Spanish colonial rule and continued after the United States seized 
control of the island in 1898. In the 1950s, a branch of the movement 
attempted a violent uprising. Although many Puerto Ricans express deep 
patriotism for the island, the independence impulse has never translated 
in the polls -- either in elections or in successive plebiscites on the 
status of the territory, in which independence has repeatedly been rejected.

Leaders from the island's two major political parties say that their PIP 
opponents are exploiting young people to advance their separatist 
grievances. And Pentagon officials accuse the activists of 
"manipulating" impressionable young people.

"What's going on in Puerto Rico is an artificial circumstance, where a 
group is trying to persuade students to take their name off a list, and 
of course that's going to meet in some change in behavior," Carr said. 
"In the event that someone approaches a young person and their voluntary 
behavior is to take an opt-out card and give it to their teacher, 
there's nothing we can or should do in that case. That's free speech. 
But it's curious speech, because it's manipulating the flow of 
information . . . and that is unhealthy."

The Pentagon said it is on track to meet its recruiting targets for this 
fiscal year. However, despite a $3.2 billion national recruitment 
campaign, the military was forced to bring back 1,000 former recruiters 
to help with the summer months -- the peak recruiting period -- and late 
last month introduced a $20,000 "quick-ship" bonus for recruits willing 
to enter training before October. Carr said that Puerto Rico's 
anti-military drive could force recruiters to focus on states such as 
Texas, where they meet with less resistance.

Maj. Ricardo Sierra, who runs eight of Puerto Rico's 14 Army recruiting 
stations, rejected the notion that anti-recruitment efforts are 
affecting his operations. High school students are not his target 
demographic, he said, because few speak English well enough to pass 
military entrance exams. Instead, Sierra said, recruiters are meeting 
targets by contacting college-educated students.

"We do target [high school students], we do campaigns, we talk to the 
seniors, but we don't get a whole lot of them," Sierra said, estimating 
that the U.S. military enlists an average of 22 Puerto Rican high school 
graduates per year.

Senior chief Joe Vega, who heads the island's three Navy recruiting 
stations, said that "if Puerto Rico was a fully bilingual state or 
country, the recruiting contribution would be much higher." His top 
recruiter, Chief Select Ernesta Marrero, said that many young people 
sign up out of patriotism or a sense of obligation to the United States.

"Being part of the U.S. is what gives them the right to their freedom, 
democracy, the chance to voice their opinions -- it's the constitution 
that we [the military] uphold," Marrero said.

Sonia Santiago, founder of the local group Mothers Against War, said her 
volunteers visit schools to "unmask" the way in which recruiters promise 
"villas y castillas" (villas and castles) that they cannot deliver. One 
persuasive tactic, she added, is to ask children how their mothers would 
feel if they were injured or killed in war.

Aragunde, the education secretary and a self-declared independista, said 
that most Puerto Ricans do not view the U.S. armed forces as "their 
military." According to a recent poll by the Puerto Rican daily El Nuevo 
Día, 75 percent of commonwealth residents oppose the Iraq war -- a 
figure that has escalated with the number of Puerto Ricans killed in 
Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Pentagon lists 37 service members from the island as killed in 
action in the two conflicts, but local antiwar groups say the number 
exceeds 80, including suicides and soldiers recruited from the U.S. 

Deaths of all Puerto Rican troops make headlines here. The funeral in 
March of Army Cpl. Jason Nunez, 22, proved particularly emotional. In 
images broadcast throughout the island, his mother removed the U.S. flag 
from her son's coffin and deliberately dropped it to the floor. She 
later implored other parents not to allow their children to fight in the 
U.S. military.

Aragunde said such images shape public opinion. "You don't want children 
fighting on the streets, you don't want children cheating, nor stealing, 
and you don't want them to think that an alternative to solving any 
conflict is war," he said. "I feel it's my obligation to defend that value."

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