USA, Puerto Rico, and John Wayne

The Puerto Rican Flag at the Mall, Washington, D.C.

I read today an article by a David Unsworth, published also today in an outlet called “Pan Am Post: News and Analysis in the Americas.” Unsworth’s article, titled “Puerto Rico: It’s Time to Give Them Independence,” repeats many misconceptions which have been uttered for decades; and displays a very familiar ignorance on the part of Americans about U.S. domination over Puerto Rico. In case Mr. Unsworth is not ignorant about it, then he is a demagogue.

According to the aforementioned outlet, Unsworth is a Boston native, with degrees in History and Political Science, who currently lives in Bogotá, Colombia, “involved in the tourism industry.” Unsworth’s article includes the following assertions:

1- “Last week, Alex Cora, the manager of the World Series-winning Boston Red Sox, and eight other players declined to attend the White House celebration. … For Cora, a Puerto Rican, his absence was in protest of the Trump administration’s handling of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island in September of 2017. Cora seems to suggest that Trump is responsible for the current state of affairs on the troubled Caribbean island, but its woes began long before Trump took office.”

2- “As tragic as this hurricane was, and the 3,000 casualties with it, there is an even more serious matter which affects the health and vitality of the island: Puerto Rico’s crushing and unsustainable debt. As of December 2018, Puerto Rico’s debt was estimated at USD $74.8 billion. In addition, Puerto Rico owes an astonishing USD $49 billion in its pensions obligations.”

3- “The real question that the United States should be addressing is this: Why is Puerto Rico part of the United States at all? I say it’s high time we grant Puerto Rico its independence, and let them go their own way. They represent a large net loss for the United States: they pay no federal income taxes, but take in an enormous amount of money from Washington DC.”

4- “The bizarre ‘limbo status’ that the United States currently enjoys with Puerto Rico is a bad deal for the American taxpayer.”

Mr. Unsworth here knows not what he’s talking about. If he does, then he’s a demagogue. Take your pick: Ignorant or demagogue/propagandist. In Fantasy Land, empires have colonies for the sake and benefit of the inhabitants of the colonies. In this world, that’s not the case.

The USA has been an empire since its inception, mostly at the service of capitalism -of profits, the exploited be damned, be they slaves of African descent, poor “Whites,” women and children exploited in the textile mills and elsewhere; Natives stripped of their lands and livelihoods and otherwise annihilated, and so on.

Puerto Ricans pay all the taxes and impositions that Congress has deemed fit to unilaterally establish. We pay no income tax, one of the few Congress has not imposed as part of their “taxation without representation.” (Although Puerto Ricans who are federal employees here do pay federal income taxes).We also help subsidize an American private enterprise -the American merchant marine- via a monopoly also established by Congress since the 1920s. And, as a captive American market, we mostly “buy American” since 1900.

For American capitalists, since 1900 we have been a tax haven, a source of cheap labor and great profits (with minimal or no taxes paid to the Puerto Rico Treasury).The profits, in the billions of dollars, have ended up in the USA, almost never reinvested here. So, Puerto Rico has been a U.S. cash cow for 120 years now. If the money of American taxpayers have been used in part -a minimal part- to make up for the resulting devastation and impoverishment, that’s something for Americans to take up to their federal government. Capitalists have been very happy with U.S. domination over Puerto Rico, thank you very much.

Puerto Ricans have fought and died in every damn U.S. war since WWI -and continue to do so. Most of those wars have been fought to aid in U.S. capitalist expansion. A John Wayne version of history would hide those and other realities. By the time most American manufacturers left Puerto Rico, Wall Street buzzards took over, aiding and abetting in turning Puerto Rico into a helpless debtor. Now they’re sucking us dry, and Mr. Unsworth delights in saying what we should “go our own way.”

Puerto Rico became a U.S. “possession,” a colony, in 1898, as a spoil of war. Not a great start. Since then, we have been exploited, we have even spilled our blood in battlefields, for the sake of Uncle Sam. That’s the truth. All those who stick to the Walt Disney version of history are part of the problem; Unsworth and many others keep exploiting us in another way: With demagoguery and outright lies.

Finally, Alex Cora is aware that Donald Trump is a monster, a full-blown narcissist who has bamboozled every stupid, fearful American into deeming him a “savior.” Trump could have sent one trillion dollars to Puerto Rico, and people like Cora and myself would recoil from being in Trump’s presence. He’s that disgusting. Meanwhile, Trump is turning the U.S. government into a totalitarian regime -with lots of help, of course. That’s what should concern Mr. Unsworth. Wake up to reality. John Wayne is dead.

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Writer, amateur saxophonist, lawyer. My book “El constitucionalismo y la encerrona colonial de Puerto Rico” is available at the libraries of Princeton and Yale.

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Roberto A. Fernández

Writer, amateur saxophonist, lawyer. My book “El constitucionalismo y la encerrona colonial de Puerto Rico” is available at the libraries of Princeton and Yale.