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Terrorist Attacks Trigger More Status Ambiguity


Gene Roman

October 19, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Puerto Rico Herald. All Rights Reserved.

In the wake of the horrific events of September 11th, Puerto Rico’s status continues to be ambiguous and unresolved. This even as the 3.8 million U.S. citizens on the Island residents demonstrate their patriotic fervor in support of President Bush.

Governor Sila Calderon ‘s quasi-nationalistic statements initially positioned the Island as a separate nation in support of its North American neighbors despite its current status as a U.S. territory. On September 11, she issued the following statement from San Juan: "My first words, in the name of the people of Puerto Rico, are of solidarity with the North American nation . . . I trust that God will help the North American people recuperate from this terrible tragedy. The American people need Puerto Rico’s backing and we give it unconditionally. Puerto Rican democracy, like U.S. democracy, does not surrender, submit, nor will it give way."

On September 16th, however, a full-page ad in both the New York Times and the Washington Post written by Calderon read, "The People of Puerto Rico stand firmly with our fellow Americans."

These remarks are triggering a backlash from many of her fellow Puerto Ricans. An editorial in Caribbean Business asks, ‘the North American nation,’ not the rest of our nation? The ‘North American people,’ not our fellow Americans?

So, the ambiguity continues.

When Bush aide, Ruben Barrales, visited Puerto Rico in July he announced that the President was committed to "allowing Puerto Ricans to choose their destiny" but that the ultimate choice will be between "independence and statehood." This was a bold and courageous statement with serious implications for the Vieques controversy and the federal disenfranchisement of our fellow U.S. citizens on the Island.

While some Puerto Ricans according to Luis Brau of Santurce, appear to be "interested in nothing but Vieques" and do not feel a connection to the mainland terrorist attacks, many Puerto Ricans there and on the mainland are rallying behind the President in a state-like manner. Puerto Rico’s Urban Search and Rescue Team joined hundreds of other volunteers in helping to recover missing employees and family members. The U.S. Army activated reserve soldiers and National Guard troops from Puerto Rico to assist at the attack sites and to join mainland troops in the Middle East. Puerto Ricans have been fighting and dying in our Nation’s wars since World War I. But they have no voting delegation in Congress or a voice in choosing the Commander-in-Chief who sends our young men and women into battle. Puerto Rico’s status ambiguity and Governor Calderon’s support for the colonial Commonwealth formula expose her acceptance of a milder form of violence, namely, institutionalized second-class citizenship.

So how does the Governor respond to these claims of political disenfranchisement under Commonwealth? The party line is that this "best of both worlds" philosophy was voted on by Puerto Ricans and it is legal. I guess she forgot that both apartheid in South Africa and the segregation that denied African-Americans their voting and civil rights were both legal as well. If we have learned anything from the exemplary leadership of Gandhi, Dr. King and Nelson Mandela, it is simply that what is legal is not always just.

Even with all this evidence, Governor Calderon and her mainland allies like Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez of NY and labor leader, Dennis Rivera, refuse to concede that the present status is an obsolete and inadequate mechanism to effectively advocate for Puerto Rico’s needs at the federal level.

The Bush administration has courageously laid the foundation for the creation of a constitutional crisis. Only federal intervention can break the Calderon administration’s denial regarding the inadequacy of its status preference. In our system of federalism, only the statehood and independence options lead to permanent resolutions of the Island’s one hundred year old status dilemma.

So as the nation strengthens and builds coalitions worldwide, the question still remains unanswered: What will be Puerto Rico’s final destiny?

Gene Roman is the former Massachusetts Regional Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. He can be reached at


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