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The San Juan Star

An Open Letter To The United States Congress

by Arturo J. Guzman

February 16, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The San Juan Star. All rights reserved. 

Now that the winds of war may inevitably be upon us, our thoughts and prayers are joined with our fellow Americans, particularly with those serving in our armed forces. Like our fellow citizens throughout the nation we in Puerto Rico are ready to answer the call to duty with pride and valor as we have for close to a century, but once again military service also reminds us that we are being summoned by a Commander-in-Chief we were not empowered to select or elect.

At times like this I always recall a visit I received many years ago from a terminally ill elderly gentleman who told me the story of his son who had been killed by an enemy sniper’s bullet in Korea. With tears of sadness and anger in his eyes he related how his son had given his life for our nation while jumping through the trenches delivering absentee ballots to his fellow soldiers so that their votes could be cast in a national election in which Puerto Ricans were excluded.

The devastating tragedy of this irony, is not only in what happened more than half a century ago in Korea, but in the fact that it could be repeated in Iraq fifty years later for war fronts have changed but our condition of enforced inferiority has remained unaltered. It is sad and cruel that a call to war is still one of the few circumstances under which Puerto Ricans living in the Island are extended equality under their American nationality and citizenship.

As members of the Congress you represent a nation that has demonstrated beyond doubt and throughout history its selflessness and willingness to sacrifice in defense of democracy and freedom throughout the world. It is our American tradition that by our example we can lead and demand of other societies and nations that they uphold human liberties and rights, yet in the 21st century our nation contradictorily maintains and preserves a colonial system of territories and possessions that denies some of those very same rights and liberties not to foreigners in other lands but to their fellow Americans!

It would be unforgivable to try and distract your attention from issues of national security at a time of national crisis. However, for over a hundred years there have been many other crisis and emergencies and we have patiently stood aside in the national interest and awaited our turn at justice. You must be made increasingly aware that we are no longer willing to perennially wait in silence because we have come to the realization that our tolerance has apparently been misconstrued as resignation, conformity, or submissiveness.

During the late fifties and early sixties, we remained hopeful that massive efforts to empower other Americans particularly in the South, and all great civil rights achievements would apply to all Americans regardless of color, creed, ethnicity.... native geography or language. We applauded the end of government sanctioned discrimination, the enforcement of federal and state laws that would ensure full equality for all Americans, and yet we have been left to remain segregated in a system of colonial apartheid that is abhorrent to the principles under which our nation was founded.

Our constitution and bill of rights never contemplated different classes of Americans to whom rights and obligations would selectively apply subject to their birthplaces. For us here in Puerto Rico and for far too long the alternative has been made clear: If we want to achieve full citizen equality we must either die in war or move to the continent.

The Congress must fully realize that the times are changing and for the first time the United States has come to recognize that the term Americans is not exclusive and applies equally to those born in North, Central and South America. Spanish has become second to English in the languages of the nation, and Latinos of all races, cultures, and ethnicity are becoming the second largest minority in the nation, so the skeleton of Puerto Rico is becoming harder to hide in the national closet. Attitudes of those who placed prejudice before justice are also changing in the Congress in some cases if not from conviction at least from the realities of political expediency.

So allow me to remind you that the world and our fellow citizens in your constituencies are ever more aware of the shame brought upon our nation by continuing this duplicity of demanding of others what we fail to demand of ourselves. The time is long overdue to grant the same civil rights and liberties to your fellow Americans in Puerto Rico that our nation is demanding for people suffering in Iraq and elsewhere in the world under our adversaries and enemies.

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