"DECOLONIZING P.R. JUSTIFIES FALLEN WAR HEROES"
THE SAN JUAN STAR, VIEWPOINT, MONDAY, MAY 25, 1998
Today, Puerto Rico joins the union in honoring the men and women who gave their lives for their country. What began as the memorial of the fallen heroes of the Civil War is now a memorial day to those killed in the Spanish-American War, World War I and II, Korean War, Vietnam War and the Persian Gulf War. It is also a day to honor those who while serving in the U.S. armed forces during peacetime made the supreme sacrifice.
As a World War II veteran, I wish to once again pay a humble but heartfelt tribute to those who sacrificed their lives for our nation, the United States of America.
Memorial Day to us in Puerto Rico means honoring over 1,000 Puerto Ricans killed in action in the wars in which the United States has been involved, and who together with over one million fellow U.S. citizens from the mainland, Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Mariana Islands, made the supreme sacrifice to preserve our democratic system. A system the United States not only wants for its own people, but for people in the rest of the world.
When it is taken into account that Puerto Rico's participation in the above-mentioned wars was greater than the participation of 22 states of the Union, it is very easy to understand why in a recent statement President Clinton said he believes that Puerto Rico should have the political status that its people want to have, and supports federal legislation to start a process to facilitate their choice.
It is ironic for some political sectors and leaders to remember and refer to Puerto Rico's war dead in demanding Puerto Ricans' right to self-determination, while putting blocks in the path of federal legislation which would give Puerto Ricans the opportunity to exercise their right to self-determination in a referendum process to freely determine which political status formula they consider best for Puerto Rico and the well being of its people on a stable and permanent basis.
When it comes to giving U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico equal political rights (which our war dead did not have) and the enjoyment of rights under a democratic system, there is no room to put federal legislation granting Puerto Ricans the rights to self determination and the process to exercise it on a cost accounting basis, as we witnessed in the recently held hearings of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. There is certainly no room to make the passing of such federal legislation dependent on how much it would cost the United States to solve Puerto Rico's status dilemma, which is not a matter of costs, but of justice and historical responsibility of the United States to Puerto Rico. I was disappointed that those Puerto Ricans who testified at the U.S. Senate hearings in reference did not forcefully raise this point.
When it comes to giving the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico equal political rights, at a time when the United States spends millions of dollars to assure the citizens of other countries the enjoyment of political rights, there is no room to talk about costs. And speaking of costs, it was pathetic to hear the incomplete, hollow and speculative report of the General Accounting Office a the hearing in reference.
On the occasion of Memorial Day this year in which we commemorate 100 years under the U.S. flag as an unincorporated territory, with vestiges of colonialism, the U.S. Senate will do Puerto Rico's war dead no greater honor than to approve and establish a feasible and realistic mechanism to bring about the decolonization of Puerto Rico before the end of this century.
As a tribute to our war dead, we Puerto Ricans should not ever forget the following creed of true Americans, which Puerto Ricans should be without turning their back to their glorious Hispanic heritage, but honoring the U.S. citizenship, which is cherished by the overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans:
"I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people; whose powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy, a republic; a sovereign nation of many sovereign states; a perfect Union, one and inseparable, established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes. I, therefore, believe it is my duty to my country to love it; to support its Constitution; to obey its laws; to respect its flag and to defend it against all enemies."
There is no room in the United States constitutional system for a political formula that accepts the above creed only halfway. This is the case, for example, of those who advocate permanent union with the United States for some things (primarily federal grants) but reject it for other things. The time has come to say what we really want to be and to call things by their own name without disguises and misrepresentations. It is a matter of to be or not to be. But we cannot have the best of both worlds. In other words, claiming that Puerto Rico is a nation with its own sovereignty and maximum autonomic powers, at the same time wanting U.S. citizenship, economic parity with the states and no obligations, like the payment of federal taxes, is a political gigoloism which is offensive to the intelligence of the members of the U.S. Congress and not in line with Puerto Ricans' sense of decency and self-respect.