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Puerto Rican Independence By Hook Or By Crook

By Manuel A. Casiano

April 11, 2002
Copyright © 2002 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

To get something "by hook or by crook" means getting it by any means possible.

I believe that there are people in Puerto Rico who are dead set on forcing independence on the island by hook or by crook, democracy be damned.

How else can you explain the demonstrations now going on against U.S. Navy tactical operations in Vieques? The U.S. is at war. These operations are vital to our country's training efforts. Our sons and daughters need to be prepared for battle. Yet a small group led by independentistas and their sympathizers want to stop all training now.

They say they are protesting the presence of the Navy in Vieques. They say they want the Navy out. But the fact is that, after more than 62 years here, the Navy is getting out next year. Two of our presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have given their word: President Bush has repeated this same commitment—to leave by 2003—three times since he was elected. The deadline is just months away. We don't have very long to wait to see if two U.S. presidents will keep their word.

It is the independentistas who can't wait. They have to continue the demonstrations and civil disobedience. Why? After more than a century of evaporating support for their cause and barely capturing enough votes in elections and plebiscites to continue as a registered party, they realize that the great majority of their fellow Puerto Ricans will never vote for independence. Even if the Commonwealth party umbrella were not there for them to hide under. The fact is that not even 10% of our people will vote for independence. So what is their new strategy?

After many elections in which they have received barely 5% of the vote, they have come up with a new idea to get independence for Puerto Rico. Their alternative is to forget the democratic process and find a way to force independence on us.

Why did they start the Vieques confrontations, demonstrations, and civil disobedience when one civilian Navy employee was killed by error by a Navy pilot in training? To project to mainland politicians and stateside citizens that Puerto Rico is anti-American. By keeping the eyes of our fellow Americans on Puerto Rico and the issue of Vieques, they hope to wear down the U.S. federal bureaucracy, to wear out the politicians, to convince U.S. taxpayers that Puerto Rico is not worth all the trouble it is causing.

They are trying to create such a conflict over Vieques that the U.S. will get sick and tired of the splinter in its side and pluck out the problem by granting Puerto Rico independence. They know that sooner or later our mainland fellow citizens will get fed up with dishing out more than $16 billion a year of their tax money to an "anti-American" commonwealth. They want the senators and representatives in Washington—and stateside Americans—to become more aware of Puerto Rico’s supposedly anti-American attitude and the amount of federal funds we receive without paying federal taxes and say, "Who needs this?" Their strategy is to get Washington to send Puerto Rico packing.

It is an ingenious strategy. Vieques has become a hugely popular and highly emotional issue for many Puerto Ricans here and on the mainland. It is one that the independentistas have manipulated with skill to great advantage. They have even attracted a parade of politicians and publicity hounds from the mainland to romance Vieques in order to get Puerto Rican votes in their home states—and they have been successful in getting other Hispanic groups who know nothing about Puerto Rico to get on the bandwagon.

Our governor, Sila Calderon, virtually won the election by her sudden decision to traipse to Vieques one week before the elections, kiss the ground, and promise that when she became governor she would get the Navy out in 60 days. The independentistas know that she plundered many of the votes that would have gone to Ruben Berrios, the president of the Independence party, as a result of his tremendous sacrifice by camping out in protest for a year on the beach on Navy land in Vieques. By embracing the Vieques cause, she picked up at least 3% of the independentistas vote that Ruben Berrios would have gotten by his action. It was more than her final margin of victory.

The independence party can't get people to vote for independence and Puerto Ricans won't tolerate violence or terrorism. They tried that in the early 1970’s against stateside companies on the island and U.S. Federal offices in Puerto Rico and against tourists in hotels. They even blew up a few U.S. National Guard planes and were suspected of killing some Navy personnel riding on duty in a Navy vehicle. Years ago they shot up Congress and even made an attempt on the life of President Truman in Washington. They have tried everything. All they accomplished at that time was that the Puerto Rican people turned against them and they had to stop.

So now they have brilliantly started this Vieques issue as their only chance to gain independence for Puerto Rico by getting the U.S. Congress to become fed up with us. They know that Congress can do it unilaterally. They have cleverly hidden this agenda in a cloud of national pride and have manipulated people into believing that being pro-Vieques and pro-Puerto Rico automatically makes you anti-American.

Instead of lamenting his death, this group views the accident of a stray bomb that caused the loss of Navy employee David Sanes, one of our fellow citizens who was doing his duty on the firing range grounds, as a gift. It is their ticket to achieving their goal. They know that Sanes was the first and only civilian killed in more than 62 years of Navy exercises in Puerto Rico. They also know that the Navy has been a lousy neighbor. It has never bothered to be community-minded, as it is in the areas around military bases on the mainland. They know it has few friends locally, even if it has been a sizable employer here. Most important, they know that time is quickly running out. Once the Navy leaves, the independentistas won’t have an issue. Few people on the mainland will care what happens here.

So where does that leave us? Like lambs to slaughter.

If the silent majority doesn’t wake up today and start speaking up and taking a position, we will wake up tomorrow wondering what happened to our island. We will have been tricked and led into independence. We will have lost our right to choose.

By hook or by crook, democracy will have failed. We can't let this happen.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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