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The Effects Of Colonialism

by Arturo J. Guzmán

Commentary, The San Juan Star

December 11, 2002
Copyright © 2002 SAN JUAN STAR. All rights reserved. 

A well-thought letter published Dec. 5 in Readers Viewpoint, allows me the opportunity to share some thoughts with those who, like the letter’s writer, feel frustrated and cannot comprehend why status politics consumes such an overwhelming amount of time and effort in our society.

Very logically, as was pointed out, our time could be best invested in addressing important and substantive issues and resolving the many problems that besiege Puerto Rico. From experience I can surmise that this well-intended logic is often postulated by fellow Americans who relocate in Puerto Rico and possess different political culture and values that resulted from the defined status of their former states of residence. Unfortunately, this "logical" argument is also promoted by others more mischievous, whom I call "ostriches", who pretend that we bury our heads in the sand and avoid the discussion of status as part of their strategy to preserve the territorial colonialist order. The lesson should be simple: Logic seldom, if ever, applies to Puerto Rico or Puerto Ricans.

However there are equally undeniable reasons why a solution to our colonial predicament becomes an essential pre-condition to fully addressing and resolving pressing social and economic issues in our society. It should be commonly understood and accepted that Puerto Rico’s political-economic status model is exhausted, and even at it’s height, proven incapable of resolving or even responding to the needs and aspirations of a citizenry that for generations has been striving to succeed as individuals despite the barriers imposed upon them by the restrictions and inequities of colonialism.

Under the straightjacket of the status quo, no local governmental administration is truly empowered to budget, plan ahead and resolve major problems and needs. The funds derived by government from local sources of taxation and income are almost fully consumed by its own bureaucratic gigantism, and as a result maintenance, growth, diversification, and development are contingent upon the largesse of the American taxpayer, and a metropolitan power that rules by benign neglect and in which we have no voice or vote.

The fact that most Puerto Ricans have come to recognize the reality that there must be a radical change in our relationship with the United States further promotes temporary "patchwork" solutions and forces improvisation. If Puerto Rico became an independent nation, its problems and needs would be addressed from a radically different economic and social perspective than if it became a state of the union. The frailty of the present and the uncertainty of the future, lead us to subsist by a estrange combination of colonialist osmosis and reciprocal indolence.

The other fundamental reason why status politics takes precedence over other seemingly more important issues is due to the intentional ideological structuring of our local political parties compelling Puerto Ricans to overwhelmingly vote for their status preferences above and beyond any other platform or programmatic considerations. The way we vote reminds me of an anecdote dating back to the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who replied when confronted with the scandalous conduct of a senator who was his fellow Democrat: "He may be an S.O.B, but he is our S.O.B".

This is a lesson that has never been lost on our local politicians, and at election time they wrap themselves in their parties distinct ideologies so that we the electors, often cognizant of an individual’s shortcomings, nevertheless end up voting for " the S.O.B.’s for the single reason that they are "our S.O.B.’s".

Our tragedy is further compounded by the fact that our local political parties and their politicians are fully aware that preservation of the status quo is essential to their continued existence. Although the Popular Democratic Party has the most to gain from maintaining the interests of the colonial oligarchy they represent, the New Progressive and Independence Party’s political and economic interests also depend for their own survival on the current order.

If Puerto Rico became an independent nation or a state of the Union, either change would bring totally new political parties and re-alignments. Politicians would have to run for election on platforms and programs that, as the writer of the letter poignantly indicated, should be of real and immediate priority. If our local politicians had to prove their individual worthiness on issues other than status identity, I would conservatively estimate that 98% of them would be jobless.

So cruel and pervasive are the effects of colonialism that we have been brainwashed into believing that change can only be attained through politicians and political parties whose subsistence is in direct conflict with their ideological rhetoric.

This brings me full circle to the beginning and to the logic of logic: as a people resolving the colonial condition must be of primordial importance if we want to forge a future with new empowerment, full economic and social tools to address and resolve problems; a new status that will provide growth, opportunity, and prosperity. But also, and for first time in over a century, a status that will allow us to usher a new political order that requires that those who seek elective office must aspire by proving the merits of their proposals, and not by hiding their inadequacies behind the cloak of an ideology.

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