[Marxism] Puerto Rico’s Financial Woes Revive Calls for Independence
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Wed Aug 17 09:07:48 MDT 2016
NY Times, August 17 2016
Puerto Rico’s Financial Woes Revive Calls for Independence
By MARY WILLIAMS WALSH
SAN JUAN, P.R. — In March 1954, Rafael Cancel Miranda smuggled a gun
into the United States Capitol and, with three other Puerto Rican
nationalists, opened fire from the visitors’ gallery. Five members of
Congress were wounded.
The attackers, three men and one woman, were swiftly arrested and tried.
Mr. Cancel Miranda, then 23, received the longest sentence, 85 years. He
served 25 years before his sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter.
Today, Mr. Cancel Miranda is the last surviving attacker. He lives with
his wife, Angie, on a quiet lane of bungalows in a part of San Juan
where the streets take their names from stars and constellations. His
eyesight is failing, but he still turns out for the occasional
independence event, where younger people receive him as a legend.
His ancient enmities are now fresher than ever because of the island’s
catastrophic $72 billion debt, which has placed Puerto Rico into what
amounts to federal receivership. A seven-member panel appointed by
Congress and President Obama will soon hold sway over the island and its
finances, which collapsed after years of long-term borrowing to cover
rising short-term costs. To longtime nationalists like Mr. Cancel
Miranda, it is yet more proof that colonialism is alive and well here.
This helps Mr. Cancel Miranda explain something odd that happened this
summer. In June, the governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro J. García
Padilla, traveled to New York City and told a special committee of the
United Nations that despite all appearances, Puerto Rico was still a
colony of the United States. He sought the United Nations’ help in
achieving self-determination for the island, which is a commonwealth of
the United States.
“Puerto Rico is hungry and thirsty for justice,” Mr. García Padilla said.
The special committee has called on Washington to “allow the Puerto
Rican people fully to exercise their inalienable right to
self-determination and independence.”
To understand why Mr. García Padilla’s remarks were so unusual, it helps
to know that his Popular Democratic Party claims to have already freed
Puerto Rico from the colonial yoke. The island’s independence is a
signature issue: The party takes credit for negotiating a unique status
for Puerto Rico — that of an “associated free state” — which is said to
provide the best of both worlds, statehood and independence, without
forcing Puerto Rico to choose.
“It’s a lie!” Mr. Cancel Miranda said in a recent interview. “We never
controlled our own country.”
Unusual events this year have brought many Puerto Ricans to much the
same conclusion. In January, in a double jeopardy case, the United
States Supreme Court held that Puerto Rico had no independent
prosecutorial authority — just the authority bestowed on it by the
United States Congress.
Few on the mainland may have paid attention, but in Puerto Rico, the
decision prompted the Popular Democratic Party’s president, David
Bernier, a candidate for governor, to call for “an urgent review of the
structure of the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States.”
The party that invented the “associated free state” was now questioning it.
Next, Mr. Obama’s administration invoked the territories clause of the
Constitution as it pushed for a law allowing Puerto Rico to restructure
its big debt. The clause gives Congress the power to enact “all needful
rules and regulations” for United States territories, and its use sent a
strong signal to Puerto Rico that the island had no power to carry out
its own law.
When Congress passed the debt-restructuring law in June, it placed
Puerto Rico’s financial affairs under federal oversight, handled by a
seven-member board. This was widely seen as proof that “associated free
state” was a meaningless term.
“Seven unelected people are going to be controlling our lives,” said
María de Lourdes Santiago, a senator from the Puerto Rican Independence
Party who, like Mr. Bernier, is running for governor. “It’s a dictatorship.”
She said the debt crisis had set profound changes in motion and she
hoped Puerto Rico could finally “have a legitimate process of
A White House spokeswoman, Brandi S. Hoffine, said it was clear that
“the people of Puerto Rico want the issue of status to be resolved,” and
referred to the recommendations of a presidential task force for how
that might happen. “The president remains committed to the principle of
self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico,” she said.
In an interview at his home, Mr. Cancel Miranda said the previous
decolonization — the one carried out by the Popular Democrats — had been
a sham, and had provoked the attack on Congress. He played grainy
black-and-white video footage of himself as a young man, refusing to
apologize for the shooting during questioning. Then he filled in some
But, he said, Washington had merely appeared to go along with the
proceedings — its main preoccupation was the Cold War. It wanted to
remove Puerto Rico from the list of colonies, but not give it full
autonomy, Mr. Cancel Miranda said, which might have meant losing the
island’s ports, airfields and other strategic assets.
Historians say United States officials helped to draft Puerto Rico’s
first Constitution, adding a provision — now in dispute — that
general-obligation bonds be paid before everything else if money was
tight. Washington also poured money into infrastructure on the island
and offered tax breaks to American companies that came to Puerto Rico
and created jobs.
For better or worse, those programs won over some elected island
officials who had previously favored independence. They devised the term
“associated free state,” which was said to mean that Puerto Rico was a
sovereign coequal of the United States, pursuing common interests by
mutual agreement. The term in Spanish, “estado libre asociado,” is used
in Puerto Rico’s Constitution. (The English-language version calls
Puerto Rico a commonwealth.)
In 1953, a United Nations special committee held hearings on whether
Puerto Rico’s name could be removed from the list of colonies. Mr.
Cancel Miranda said he was there, listening as American delegates
testified that Puerto Rico now had free elections, a Constitution and
other essentials of self-government. Other witnesses, however, said it
was all window-dressing.
When the committee reconvened and voted, Mr. Cancel Miranda said,
Washington’s view prevailed.
“That’s when the nationalists said, ‘We have to send a message,’” Mr.
Cancel Miranda said. “That was the reason for the attack on Congress.”
Their message was silenced for decades by long prison sentences. Over
the years, memories of the attack faded on the mainland. And in Puerto
Rico, the ballot replaced armed insurgency. The Independence Party is
respected but has not earned many votes — though its popularity is
growing, Ms. Santiago said.
Now, it seems that most Puerto Ricans believe the associated free state
was a sham, even if it is not clear what they will do about it.
“You saw what I said in 1954: ‘I’m not sorry,’” Mr. Cancel Miranda said.
“And 62 years later, I’m still not sorry.”
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