"CLARIFYING COMMONWEALTH, PLEBISCITE AND REFERENDUM"
THE SAN JUAN STAR, JULY 19, 1998
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A recent Readers' Viewpoint letter said I was wrong when I asserted in my July 4 column that Puerto Rico is not a nation and that U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans was wanted, and requested, earlier in the century by Luis Muñoz Rivera and José De Diego (as well as by other great patriots such as Barbosa, Degetau and Santiago Iglesias).
It is may policy not to respond to readers who disagree with what I say, especially when the criticism is not constructive and arises from well-known political agendas, particularly in today's confusing, turbulent and inflammatory political atmosphere. I will make an exception in this case, however, because it seems to me that this criticism reflects a lack of awareness of juridical and historical facts which need to be known (and repeated) in our already much-distorted political history. We must see things as they really arefree of emotion, sentiment, false nationalism or patriotism, political or ideological fanaticismnot as we would like them to be.
(1) Is Puerto Rico a nation? No. Juridically speaking, our island is not a nation and has never been one, as was the case of some nations in Europe which were wiped out by Communism and Nazism. In an inhabited region, there is an ethnic and sociological entity composed of people who share the same language, customs and traditions, common origins and place of birth. This is known in Spanish as a pueblo (in English, a people). When this pueblo becomes a free, independent and sovereign state, it becomes a political and juridical entity with international recognition and acceptance, which is known as a nation. So, we have today, for example, a group of pueblos which are free, independent and sovereign states, and which form part of an institution known as the United Nations.
Whether some political sectors like it or not, the historical truth and juridical reality is that Puerto Rico has always been and still is an ethnic and sociological entity, a pueblo, which is now a possession and an unincorporated territory of the United States, with its sovereignty and future political status in the hands of the U.S. Congress. This has been the case since Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States under the provisions of the 1898 Treaty of Paris.
I reiterate, therefore, my assertion that Puerto Rico is not, and has never been, a free, independent and sovereign state, or a political and juridical entity which can be characterized as a nation with the international recognition and acceptance given that term. If some political sectors persist in saying that Puerto Rico is a nation, I invite them to take the case to the United Nations, or the International Court of Justice. To date, I have not seen any move in that direction.
(2) Was U.S. citizenship requested by Muñoz Rivera and De Diego? Yes, it was! Efforts by Muñoz Rivera to obtain U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans intensified while he was the resident commissioner for Puerto Rico in Washington from 1910 to 1916. On May 5, 1916, Muñoz Rivera delivered a memorable speech in the U.S. House of Representatives where the Jones Bill, proposing U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans, was being discussed. In his speech, Muñoz Rivera said: "My country unanimously requested U.S. citizenship many times. It requested it under the promises of General Miles when he disembarked in Ponce... Give us statehood and we would welcome your glorious citizenship for us and our children."
The Jones Bill granting collective naturalized citizenship to Puerto Ricans, on a voluntary basis, became law on March 2, 1917. Muñoz Rivera did not live to see the results of his great effort. He died on November 15, 1916.
As to De Diego's efforts to obtain U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans, suffice it to say the following:
In 1906, at the 300th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, VA, De Diego said: "We wish to be citizens of the United States or citizens of Puerto Rico. In either case, with all the inherent rights of a natural sovereignty."
At a luncheon on April 9, 1910, in honor of three-time U.S. presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, held at the Inglaterra Hotel in San Juan, De Diego said: "If the U.S. flag in Puerto Rico covers an American territory, we Puerto Ricans, by natural rights, are perfect U.S. citizens. U.S. citizenship should not be imposed on a Puerto Rican if he does not want it, but if there is a law making all Puerto Ricans ipso facto U.S. citizens, then the ideals of the people of Puerto Rico would be achieved."
U.S. citizenship was granted on a voluntary basis, not imposed, as claimed by some political sectors. Only 288 persons rejected U.S. citizenship out of a population of around one million. Subsequently, most of these 288 persons requested citizenship and it was granted through special legislation by the U.S. Congress. It is not true that citizenship was granted to recruit Puerto Ricans to serve in World War I. All U.S. residents were then, and are now, subject to military service in an emergency, whether or not they are U.S. citizens.
Frustrated because of delays in Washington in granting U.S. citizenship and self-government to Puerto Rico, after 13 years struggling alongside Muñoz Rivera and others to achieve this goal, De Diego turned openly to independence, which he favored until his death in New York on July 16, 1918.
In conclusion, I must point out that De Diego also exhorted Puerto Ricans to learn English. At the luncheon for Bryan, De Diego said: " American must be bilingual and the American continent should be the condensation and synthesis of two races, as well as the condensation and synthesis of two languages. There are two things that cannot die in America: the Anglo-Saxon and Latin thinking, and the Anglo-Saxon and Spanish language. I wish I could have at this moment command of both languages to express myself in the explicit and great language of Byron and Longfellow and in the rich and crystalline phrases of Espromeda and Gautier Benítez."
Portraying Muñoz Rivera and De Diego as anti-U.S., anti-U.S. citizenship and anti-English, is a shameful distortion of the truth about these two great and beloved Puerto Rican patriots.
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