|Do Puerto Rican Military Volunteers Deserve The Vote?
In mid-September, some 600 members of the Puerto Rico National Guard left the island, bound for a mainland military base to receive further training. Soon they will deploy to the Middle East to form part of "Desert Spring," military maneuvers in the Persian Gulf area. If hostilities break out with Iraq, it is probable that these men and women will be in the thick of combat operations. So far, over a thousand Puerto Rican guardsmen have been activated to join the fight against international terrorism. Thousands more are on regular tours of duty with the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, many of whom will be put in harms way in any fight to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
With the current movement of U.S. military personnel from the comfort of their homes to far-flung places of conflict, it is appropriate to again remind ourselves that, unlike military men and women from Nebraska or California, Puerto Ricans in uniform have no voice in the policies that drive the mobilizations of American forces. Neither may they help choose their Commander in Chief, whose decisions will seal their immediate fate. Todays headlines trumpet the debate being waged throughout the country as to the advisability of war with Iraq and the level of effort that the nation will need to make to depose Iraqi leadership and its destroy presumed weapons of mass destruction.
While Senators from Connecticut, Texas and Florida argue the risks of future conflict, no voice of Puerto Rico is heard. As representatives from Virginia, New York and Kansas hear testimony from the Secretary of Defense and his top military brass, no questions emerge from Puerto Ricos members of the House of Representatives, because there are none, except for its Resident Commissioner, who has no vote.
As letters of support or opposition fly into Congressional and Executive offices postmarked Tucson, Chicago, Boston and Portland, few petitions emanate from San Juan or Mayaguez, since there is no Puerto Rico delegation to receive them. Because Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory, its roughly four million American citizens are without a voice in their government. Because the U.S. Government has not provided Puerto Rico with a Congressionally approved process of Self-Determination to achieve either Independence or Statehood, the Puerto Rican military man and woman may serve his/her country, but may not vote.
Ironically, this deprivation of basic civil rights has never affected the loyalty, dedication and valor of the Puerto Rican soldier, sailor, marine and airman as he or she followed our nations flag into situations of great risk. Since the 1st World War, over 200,000 Puerto Ricans have proudly worn the uniform of this country and some 2000 have made the ultimate sacrifice. Battle flags of Puerto Rican military units fly banners marked, Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait and Somalia and, more recently, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Four of their number has been awarded the nations highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor. Thousands more are recipients of the Purple Heart and the Silver and Bronze Stars. Puerto Ricans have fought for Americas freedoms, but they cannot vote for its leaders.
The rallying cry from Washington, in defense of military action abroad, is to bring representative democracy to the worlds disenfranchised peoples. We want the vote for women in Afghanistan. We want Iraqis to have a voice in their own government. We want peace in the Balkans so that its nations can achieve self-determination. We think that it is their right as human beings to possess these things. Should we feel the same way about Puerto Rico?
Is it time for Puerto Rican military volunteers and their 4 million brothers and sisters on the island to become full participants in the Democratic life of the United States? Please vote above.