[Marxism] Puerto Rico resists military recruiting
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
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,
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
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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