MIRIAM RAMIREZ DE FERRER, M.D.
When I am asked why I support statehood for PR. I list multiple reasons. All of them are important, but these days, I keep thinking of the reasons that are most important of all.
The events that are happening in PR remind me of an enlightening and awesome experience I had in 1989 when I had the privilege of being appointed by President George Bush as his representative in a US observer group to the San Salvador elections. Allow me to share that experience with you.
One day in 1989, I received a call from President Bush's White House inviting me, on behalf of President Bush, to travel to San Salvador as an observer to the Elections. Although I was very excited, my family became very concerned when news from San Salvador started coming through the wires. American soldiers had been killed while eating lunch in a luxury hotel where we would be staying, and bombs, guerrilla fire, and violence in the streets, were the order of the day. I admit that I also became concerned, but that did not stop me from going.
My first stop was in Washington DC where our delegation, composed of United States Senators and Representatives (representing the US Congress), and a well known Labor Union leader, boarded Presidential Plane Air Force 2 for our trip to San Salvador. I was the only female in the delegation. Our plane took off early in the day, almost at daybreak.
On the way to San Salvador, we were given an incredible amount of briefing papers. The members of the delegation spent most of the flight time reading this material. As we began to approach San Salvador, the Union leader began telling stories about his past experiences in San Salvador. This resulted in more concern for our delegation. For example, he pointed out that a high mountain we would be flying over was a hiding place for guerrillas, who would shoot at planes as they flew by.
These comments would create some anxiety in our delegation. When we arrived, the airport was deserted. We were led off the plane and escorted to bulletproof vans guarded by heavily armed soldiers.
On our countryside ride to the hotel, I saw old pickup trucks, and buses filled with dozens of persons. Some of the people were hanging from the sides and holding on to any prominent piece of metal, their legs almost touching the roads. When I asked our driver about this, he said, " there is no other method of transportation because of the strikes".
When we reached the hotel, we were advised not to leave the floor assigned to us. For our safety, we should not walk around or wander anywhere. We should travel as a group and would be protected by armed officials. As we went up the elevator, all floors had an armed soldier guarding it. I had an armed soldier outside my hotel room door.
Soon night arrived and it became dark, and believe me, it was DARK. There were no lights at all in all the city of San Salvador. I looked out my hotel windows and could not even see the houses near by, not even traffic. At a far distance I saw one car's lights as it wiggled fast through dark streets. I was told that the scared and intimidated people of San Salvador stayed home at night. The streets were lined on both sides by high walls, sometimes as high as 15 feet.
You could not see the houses or any people walking around. Most of the houses had armed guards at their entrances.
Taking advantage of my Spanish, I asked the soldiers who were guarding us to tell me how this all came about. "Las huelgas, seÒora, las huelgas " (the strikes, seÒora, the strikes) The labor strikes also took away electric service in San Salvador. And worse still, the sabotage and damage to the infrastructure was so extensive that the government did not have the people or money to rebuild it. It was not a matter of turning on a switch; it was matter of starting all over. Neither San Salvador's government or its people had the resources to restore what they had before, even less, to update it.
The next days we traveled all over the country. I had always wanted to fly in a helicopter and had many opportunities during the next days. As we landed in small towns throughout San Salvador, I saw images that reminded me of photos I have seen of Puerto Rico taken during the late 1800's and early 1900's, before we became part of the United States.
I visited towns with only dirt roads, no electricity, no water, and no telephone service. The people were very hospitable and would speak to me freely in Spanish. I was overwhelmed with their unfazed attitude as they reported deaths and guerrilla fighting. One town we visited had still not buried its dead from the night before. Children and adults as well, seemed coldly accustomed to these incidents. Our delegation was in shock to hear these stories.
We saw soldiers who were young boys, some as young as 12, carrying machine guns. Their parents would lie about their ages so they would enter the army and have a place to live and eat.
During these trips and during the days prior to Election Day we had a chance to talk to many people, including government officials. We could wander on our own, while visiting the different towns. Congressman Bill McCallum and now Senator Jon Kyl usually accompanied me as I visited with the people. No one ever restricted our conversations. The stories we heard went like this:
The first events that led to this terrible situation were simple labor strikes that shut down services to the people such as electricity, transportation, etc.
This became a fertile ground for anti-government revolutionary groups who advised workers and protesters. Sabotage became rampant and eventually destroyed the country's infrastructure. At first the government was able to restore services but later it could not, because it did not have the money to rebuild and repair the country's infrastructure.
Eventually the revolutionary groups and guerrillas took over. They would conceal their operatives in the mountains. When they felt that sabotage was not enough, they placed bombs in public places. When they felt that was not enough, they placed bombs in areas where normal law abiding citizens and innocent children were killed or maimed by these acts of terrorism.
The government, unable to control this situation, began strengthening its police forces and eventually mobilized their military forces. This resulted in serious confrontations, which resulted in a long civil war where the victims were the common citizens who lived in that country. It was a war of Salvadorian guerrillas and antigovernment revolutionary elements against the San Salvador people. It destroyed their homeland and caused many to have to leave their country and risks their lives to get to the United States.
I felt a sense of helplessness as I left San Salvador, and thanked God that I am a United States citizen, and where as long as the US flag flies above, these situations will not occur,Ö..or can they?
The present situation in PR has tremendous similarities with what I saw in San Salvador. For example, do these individuals respect our government, the US government, our US flag, and our system of democracy? What is the political philosophy of the individuals who are leading and advising the Puerto Rican strikers? What is the trajectory, philosophy, and political ideology of those who are the intellectual strategists behind the sabotage and violence. If PR were not a territory of the US, would these people stage a coup d'etat and bring down our elected government?