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The Hartford Courant

Puerto Ricans' Irony

U.S. Citizens excluded from democratic process


September 1, 2001
Copyright © 2001 ProQuest Information and Learning. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright Hispanic Publishing Corporation Sep 2001

Growing up in Puerto Rico , I remember how mystified I used to be about the Bermuda Triangle. How planes and ships, and all things disappeared in this area of the Caribbean so close to home. While hardly anyone talks about the Bermuda Triangle anymore, the concept that "things" still disappear in the Caribbean puzzles me and apparently still exists.

How else could we explain the disappearance of the civil rights of close to 4 million U.S. citizens? As everyone should know, certain rights of U.S. citizenry do vanish for the residents of Puerto Rico as if a red flag was placed on our world's map banishing U.S. citizens on that island.

It was in 1952 when the U.S. Congress established an incomplete replica of a democracy by creating the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico , truthfully affording great development but somewhat artificial prosperity. This idealism has matured into an underachieving socio-economic model that has stagnated the economic growth of the island and continues to undermine the basic rights of its U.S. citizens. How can Puerto Rico be expected to advance its socio-economic goals as a "semi-state" in a circle of influence that excludes them from democratic participation and tosses them a second-class citizenship?

Granted U.S. citizenship under the Jones' Act of 1917, Puerto Ricans on the island cannot vote in presidential elections nor are they allowed voting representation in the U.S. Congress. This concept isolates and deprives them from their full-earned rights, ratified by blood, time and again, as partners in this nation's wars and conflicts since World War I.

Puerto Rico , a Hispanic community with a larger population than 25 states of the union (or with more U.S. citizens than Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North and South Dakota combined), remains invisible to our nation's agenda, for the United States is a country led by politics and economic indicators, both of which are poorly represented by today's Commonwealth of Puerto Rico .

Sharing the legendary Triangle's corners with Miami, the socalled Capital of Latin America, and with Bermuda, a wealthy self-governing British Colony, Puerto Rico 's undefined future completes the inexplicable myth literally at the bottom, as it lags behind in economic growth and global integration.

Consider the following statements made by Herb Brown of the Citizens' Educational Foundation, a non-partisan organization promoting a self-determination process for Puerto Rico , which he based on economists' studies: "In 1980, Puerto Rico 's per capita income was 49% of Mississippi's, the poorest state of the union. By 1995, it had fallen to 45%."

"In 1980," Brown continued, " Puerto Rico 's per capita gross national product was 2.25 times higher than Chile. By 1998, their per capita GNPs were virtually equal. The Central American economies have reduced their GNP gap with Puerto Rico by 10 percent and Latin America by 24 percent... Yes, we are doing better than the Dominican Republic, but we are no longer catching up with Mississippi."

According to migratory experts, Puerto Rico had one of the largest migratory exoduses when 1.4 million Puerto Ricans migrated to the United States between 1941 and 1995. Today, close to half of all Puerto Ricans -3.2 million-reside in the United States mainland, versus 3.8 million back on the island. Puerto Ricans on the mainland enjoy more rights than their brothers and sisters back on the island due to a constitutional glitch. U.S. citizens should enjoy their rights anywhere in the world, regardless of the soil they stand on.

Ruled and regulated by federal laws, the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico have no vote for a president that has obvious authority over them and appoints the judges that mold the laws that rule their land. For the last century, U.S. presidents and Congress have sent more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans to fight, and very many to die, on behalf of the "liberty and justice for all" they themselves do not enjoy. In spite of this evident inequality, the Puerto Rican military lineage and heritage initiated in World War II with the Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment continues today. The two U.S. Army recruiting companies on the island lead all 230 other posts in the world in recruiting young men and women to sustain our national defense.

Seven U.S. representatives, two U.S. senators, 4 million U.S. citizens and thousands of service members should be entitled to a state; or the ability to sign treaties that could perhaps resolve issues such as U.S. Navy training on Vieques as a sovereign nation; or perhaps even affording more leverage for the Commonwealth to compete in today's global marketplace; all three legitimate options that need to be clearly set by the U.S. Congress to promote a self-determination process for the island seem to have fallen victim to the Bermuda Triangle.

It should be inconceivable to all U.S. citizens that someone migrating to the United States (legally or illegally) can obtain a full-fledged U.S. citizenship by passing a history test, when four million people-and counting-are a key part of that same history and have passed the ultimate test by sacrificing their sons and daughters to guarantee this great nation's way of life for more than a hundred years.H

RAUL DUANY is a freelance writer based in Miami.

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