On July 25, 1898, U.S. Army forces under the command of Gen. Nelson Miles landed in Guanica, Puerto Rico. The Caribbean island, then a Spanish colony, was one of the battlegrounds of the Spanish-American War. Miles, fresh from repressing Native Americans and striking Pullman workers, presented himself as a liberator, promising freedom and self-determination for the island’s inhabitants. We are still waiting.
At the end of the war there was no referendum. Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States as war booty. The island went on to become an unincorporated territory in which sovereignty belongs to the U.S. Congress, not to Puerto Ricans or their elected representatives.
That still hasn’t changed.
The United Nations accepted the U.S. argument that the Puerto Rican people had attained self-government through the 1952 constitution. However, even though we can elect our governor and legislature, Congress still has ultimate sovereignty over Puerto Rico. And we have no representation in Congress, or presidential vote.
Puerto Rico’s constitution prohibits the death penalty and spying on citizens on the basis of their political beliefs. But U.S. authorities have taken Puerto Rican prisoners away for execution on the mainland, and Puerto Rico is at the mercy of the Patriot Act, Homeland Security and the espionage of the National Security Agency.
The United States should also allow the U.N. General Assembly to look into the case of Puerto Rico. Americans should call for complete disclosure of actions taken by the FBI to undermine the independence movement. FBI documents released in the 1970s revealed massive surveillance and disruption of pro-independence organizations dating back decades. And there should be thorough investigations of the murders of independentista activists, like Santiago Mari-Pesquera, abducted and killed in 1976, and Angel Rodriguez-Cristobal, who mysteriously died in a U.S. prison cell in 1979.
We Puerto Ricans deserve self-determination and sovereignty. We’ve waited a century and a decade and a half. That is way too long.
Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican author, journalist and environmental educator.