Puerto Rico- Its political history and future
This one chapter review attempts to help the reader perceive how the history of P.R. has been affected by the appointment of Rexford P.Tugwell, the last of the governors not elected by the people of P.R.
It also critiques the study of a 1965 scholarly review of how the revolution in administration happened, and proceeds to review events since. It is the plan of the author to update this review periodically to reflect more current events.
A Review of Rexford P. Tugwell's
"The Stricken Land"
and Charles Goodsell's
"The Administration of a Revolution"
Any student of the history of P.R. will be disappointed to discover in
the Goodsell book that few sources are available, or were in 1965 when
he published his important contribution via "The Administration of a
Revolution", that would help the writer answer the questions about the
political and economic evolution of P.R. after the arrival of the Americans
in 1898. Goodsell does a far better job than Tugwell in providing the
reader with a fairly objective study of what happened, how and why,
even though he had to write twenty years after Tugwell.
Tugwell's efforts, as Goodsell describes them, are a bit self-serving
and reflect mostly his bias and his personal memoirs. Still, he
acknowledges that Tugwell does give the reader a powerful insight into
the workings of how PR was changed as a result of his efforts, which
were well teamed with Luis Muñoz Marín. As the best known and revered
political leader in the history of PR, Marín has not yet been
over-shadowed by Luis A. Ferré, who still lives at this writing in 1999. It is
the work of Ferré that now deserves close study, for he created the
Statehood party, known in English as the NPP for New Progressive Party,
or in Spanish as the PNP (Partido Nuevo Progresivo). This party now
reflects the views of a majority that has controlled the legislature and the
governor's office for most of the years since 1968. The Populares came
back to control the legislature and the Governor's office, and during this
period of Hernandez Colón in the years of 1984-92 significant efforts were
expended to give the Commonwealth idea an "enhanced" or more
correctly- permanent- status to express the relationship between P.R.
and the U.S.
The purpose of this review is not only to reflect upon the accuracy of
the works of Tugwell and Goodsell, but to offer observations of what has
happened since 1965 when Goodsell published, and where is it taking
It is certainly fair to note that Tugwell found in PR an island that was
truly a "Stricken Land". To his perspective it reflected a prime evidence of
why liberal Democrats needed to take over America. Clearly, to Tugwell,
PR was an island ruled by the wealthy and 'greedy' land owners- both
domestic and foreign- individual and corporate. As a result he found that
the vested interests were not interested in helping the people escape
from ignorance, poverty or anything else save work. The Catholic church
was an unwitting accomplice thanks to its perpetual call for accepting as
many babies as can be conceived, without interference, as gifts from
The landowners agreed with this 'Holy' stand, as good Catholics, and
found all of the cheap labor needed to run the labor intensive sugar
industry as a result. From the time of the Spanish conquest until about
1994, PR raised more sugar than it consumed and the exporting of it was
the major product of the island until the mid 1950's.
It is not surprising then that an American idealist like Tugwell, found the
socio-political-economic system of his age to be faulty. The Great
Depression that began with the stock market crash in 1929 was still a sore
of great dimension through the entire decade of the 30's. It took the
entrance into WWII to provide the impetus for real recovery in America.
In PR the poverty was marked by an almost total lack of any of the
fundamental points of social infrastructure. Water and sewer systems
were primitive, and the resultant disease was just another problem in life.
Roads were equally lacking and were largely, like the narrow gauge
railroad tracks, available only where it served the needs of the sugar
industry. Electrical power was equally treated. It existed as a series of
privately managed companies that generated power for cities like San
Juan, Ponce and Mayagüez, but was not interconnected into an island
wide grid to give mutual support. More than that was not greatly needed
by the sugar industry that used steam power in the fields and at its many
mills and needed very little electrical power.
Into this island of misery came Rexford Tugwell, a veteran city planner
in NYC, a liberal Democrat and avowed socialist. What a fantastic
opportunity to prove what can be done by putting academic theory into
practice. Unfortunately, Tugwell came into power along with the war time
problems and that made it hard for him to accomplish much change that
could be seen. However, he teamed up with Marín and the campaign for
"Pan, Tierra y Libertad" (bread, land, and liberty) to give PR a social and
political revolution. Its economic efforts proved to be universally either
disastrous or else doomed to chronic high cost conditions that have
always been tolerated by simply being passed them on to the public.
Goodsell adroitly chronicles the development of the revolution and
splits his study into organizational parts-
The revolution is successfully described as having started with the
political process in a peaceful fashion. Given that the people had nothing
to lose, it is not surprising that Marín was able to gain control. Yet, it took
major political 'tactical' failure by his opponents in 1944 to finally put him in
the position of comfortable control of the political process. His support of
the Tugwell efforts to make the executive function a meaningful and
important player in the process is then chronicled in detail with each of the
major sections that follow.
He describes the efforts that went to the task of building the role of the
governorship from its 44 years of caretakership and political games that
were aimed at coping with governors, who were appointed by the U.S.
president. Men without qualification beyond political favor or being among
the retired heroes of the military were thrust into an executive branch that
could both drive the legislative process and administer the results. None
before Tugwell showed any interest in doing either. The chapter shows
how this happened under Tugwell, with major help from Marín, and why
such collaboration was essential to making the revolution work.
The development of administrative leaders of the likes of Luis Sturke,
known personally by this writer, and others was an essential part of the
plan. Adding staff from the ranks of the brightest to be found in PR was
equally important, as was the creation of a Civil Service to replace the
simple patronage system favored by default in the past. That it became
a model for the rest of the U.S. is not too surprising. No well developed
resistance could stop it once it got going. It was so successful that today
more people work for it than found in any government dealing with the
same size population!
The evolution of the budget under the design of Luis Sturke lead to the
control of the spending process in a way that gave the executive branch
of government a much stronger role to play. Goodsell's chapters on the
development of the structure to capture budget data and then to organize
spending are well documented. These efforts lead to the battle to make a
Civil Service. Codifying the work of government employees was
intended to take such employees out of the control of political leaders. It
did not. Ways were found to keep the workers mostly loyal to the party
that helped them get their jobs and keep them.
This in turn lead to the creation of the government sponsored
industries- many of which are still badly run. But, to the credit of those that
spawned it, nobody can say that if they had not been able to lead this
revolution, anything could have ever been found to change that which
needed to change, if PR was to ever have a chance to escape from its
'stricken' status! But, it is also fair to say that every government
sponsored effort to engage in industry that could be allowed to fail has
done so! This is true in both manufacturing and in agriculture. All those
that have been maintained have failed to be efficient, free of charges of
corruption, and even efforts to be 'high tech' have always been
encouraged as 'window dressing', that is acceptable as long as more
jobs are created in the process! Unions have been encouraged as
partners in such progress and it is not surprising, therefore, that the 1998
strike by phone workers was seen as a national defense of the people's
'patrimony'. PR has little experience in encouraging internal
entrepreneurial leadership and few of its people have enjoyed the kind of
mind-set needed to focus on service as the key to profit.
But, neither Tugwell or Goodsell had time or inclination to looking
beyond to see what the long term cost would be. They were simply busy
making the revolution happen. The greatest assistance had to come from
the U.S. Congress and ways were found to obtain it, in spite of the fact
that PR has never had a voting voice in the process! So, lets allow that
neither Tugwell, or Marín lived long enough to enjoy the ability to look
back to judge what happened. That is my task, along with many others
that write on the subject.
Among the other writers are men like A.W. Maldonado, born in PR, but
raised in near-poverty in NYC and eventually able to be a young army
officer on the south coast of PR in WWII. Out of this heritage came a man
that learned to write a lot about the advent and life of Sec. 936 and
project 'Operation Bootstrap'. His many published commentaries dealing
with industry on the island have consistently shown his conviction that PR
can not survive without significant subsidy from Washington and special
advantages like that provided from 1956-to the present under the Sec.
936 provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. While the tax free
advantages to allow corporate investment in PR to generate profit that is
free of tax is no longer available as an inducement for investment on the
island, the rush to leave the island is about as loud as the great "sucking
sound" predicted by one time (1992) U.S. Presidential candidate Ross
Perot, who predicted that the NAFTA trade act would leave the U.S.
without any employment! Corporate America is still building in PR where
it is profitable and leaving PR where it is losing money. Strange, but
companies without profit sustain losses that are also tax free, but
somehow they go out of business anyway everywhere! Each new
announced departure of a Sec. 936 company tends to give more
ammunition to Maldonado to write again of another example of a
departure due to the termination of Sec. 936! It doesn't seem to matter
that the company was losing money, or its products are now obsolete, or
that it is a closing decision that relates to some greater corporate plan to
trim out products or plants that are not part of the current short or long
term plan. He only counts heads!
Meanwhile, new enterprise in PR is constantly finding the advantages
of being close to emerging global markets in the age when getting
manufactured product to the point of sale 'just in time' is replacing the use
of the phrase as found in the 1980's to be dealing with the arranging for
the raw materials needed for manufacturing. The age of cheap and
powerful computers and advanced communications makes this possible.
So, while some of the 'body count' of employees working in the
so-called Sec. 936 sector of the economy is going down because of
technology, and the fact that new business staffing (not Sec. 936 related)
is not added to that number, while departing ones are subtracted, the
truth is that PR is doing very well. Its chronic unemployment is at least a
cultural reality that is encouraged by liberal policies in Washington. More
than a few people in PR are content to work for cash and collect welfare
at the same time. They live in an underground economy that appears to
be part of the sea of poverty spoken about by all liberal thinkers.
Strangely, these people may live in simple concrete houses or even
wooden shacks, if not blown away by a hurricane, but they also drive
more 'per capita', nearly new cars, eat well, and find plenty of time for fun
and games, than others. If they avoid drugs and bullets, they often live to
ripe old ages.
Most writers of the social scene from the states fall into a trap. They do
not realize that people in PR spend nothing every winter for heat, warm
clothing, or even window glass. They do not suffer greatly without air
conditioning, but they love it when they can afford it. With such low
requirements, a government that provides free medical and dental care,
who needs fancy shoes? Nobody starves or freezes in PR, but the
statistics suggest that it must be otherwise. One has to live there to see
why this is not so. So, this large 'underground' economy that works for
cash, causes the federal statistics to be 'skewed' in a way that aids social
bureaucrats defend their very existence.
What has been the legacy of the Tugwell era in terms of economic
circumstances in industry and agriculture? I leave it to others to provide
the hard data, but I can provide the broad observations.
First, Tugwell with Marín's help, put PR into all of the utility businesses.
Telephone, power, water & sewer, hospitals, and into agriculture via a
series of acts that created a Land Authority and an Agriculture Dept. that
has tried and failed to be productive at running many different types of
agricultural activity, including such adventures as trying to grow rice,
tomatoes, and pineapples. Of course, their most monumental failure
deals with the major source of island income for the 450 years prior to
1960. That is about when the aged and unkept facilities for the milling of
sugar cane started to lead to the time when the giant PR Sugar
Corporation would come to be a 'mill-stone' around the necks of every
government leader to occupy La Fortaleza, as the Governor's residence
Why did Tugwell's dream fail? Fundamentally, there is no logical
mechanism at work to avoid such failure. Government can not run or
manage any business the way profit seeking business people do. A
bureaucrat must not take chances that might fail, so in time, failure is
certain; a bureaucrat governs people at work, so one never wants to fire
or layoff anyone- after all one's own importance bears a direct
relationship to the civil service grade level that relates to the number of
people supervised! So, it is it easy to see why such leaders find it
convenient to go along with demands of organized labor to add people
and maintain inefficiencies. Yes, but the result is always failure,
especially when the costs are perpetually passed along to the
consumers that have no alternative. When the government business
closes, at least the 'blood letting' stops.
As a result PR spends billions to add technology to its infrastructure,
but, only when it is politically expedient to do so. Examples include the
building of a huge aqueduct on the north coast to move water back and
forth as needed because the lakes built in the past are 80% filled with silt
that is judged by the EPA to be contaminated with minerals that came
from the streams that fill the lakes! Dredging the lakes and drilling wells
into the water table would be far smarter, but not nearly as expensive
and therefore not as desired by those who pride themselves in creating
jobs by government fiat. Those jobs translate into votes that perpetuate
The PR telephone company has a lot of high cost equipment and the
latest in fiber optics transmission, but it also had 80,000 repair orders in
the winter of 1999 at the time that the phone company was finally being
sold to private enterprise. Competition from cellular phones easily
offered better and cheaper service for calls from one city to another on
the island that has the highest rates in the nation for such intrastate calls. It
is less costly to call NYC than from one end of the island to the other via
The unions that called for an island wide strike that came close to
shutting down all services in 1998 in protest over the sale of the island's
"national patrimony" are now happy with the new management that
listens to the problems of the workers with an intent to help solve them-
something that no bureaucrat could ever do without approval of a remote
political boss. As a result, the new PRTC may learn to compete and a lot
of attrition will not have to be replaced to keep the phones working. The
anxiety, however, will remain among those who see the economy as a
pie of fixed size. They can't understand that the displaced workers will
find, if they are willing to work, new opportunity by providing an expanded
service via the companies competing to grow the base of use and
service provided, not the number of employees supported by it!
The water and sewer authority now has a private management
company trying to run it. But, unless monumental funds are provided to
rebuild the infrastructure, towns like Humacao and many others without
water at least 50% of the time will continue to suffer. The occasional
drought makes it very tough and water has to be trucked to many parts
of many cities to keep people alive. The sewers are equally decrepit and
much will eventually be done, if the government can privatize and let
industry raise the money to rebuild the system. Of course, the federal
government regulations and control contribute very much to this problem
and a little of the cash needed to conform.
The Autoridad de Engeria, or PREPA, as the power company is
known in PR, is no different in terms of its management and efficiency.
The nature of the dangers of working with electricity, however, and the
importance of keeping the power grid working, have helped make this
socially needed industry able to keep the power on most of the time.
However, outages are common and of course, a hurricane is
In all of these cases one common thread keeps disaster from
happening more than it does- that is the willingness of good Puertorican
workers to pick up the slack. Stories of heroism abounded in the major
hurricane Georges of 1998. Men that stayed on the job to keep
emergency power working to control the flood gates in the reservoirs
avoided a more major disaster from happening. Workers knew how to
shut down the power grid so that it could come back on line faster than if
left to self destruct during the period of highly destructive hurricane winds.
By contrast, most of the phone system enjoys buried main lines and it
came back on-line quickly after the storm; but, thousands of houses were
without phones for months and many were still out nine months after the
storm. Nobody can figure out why? Getting a new power meter is almost
as difficult as ordering a new phone.
Meanwhile, the disaster of the agriculture department is manifest in two
major failings- the sugar industry and the Land Authority. The Sugar
Corporation finally reached a point in the second half of the decade of the
90's where it was so obvious that it did not want farmers to produce sugar
and when so few voters were left to work the sugar land, that it could
announce that it was giving the remaining three dilapidated sugar mills to
the sugar farmers and turning off the program of paying the landowners
an annual tax free subsidy for use of their land to grow sugar. PR now
imports most of its sugar and in 1999 it is harvesting and milling none,
save that needed for the Rum industry that is privately milled.
80,000 acres of prime farm land now languish under the control of the
Land Authority. This governmental body is under the Ag. Dept. But, it has
long been answering to the whim of political leaders that might come forth
at any time with a special need for land for some new project. Therefore,
it has been almost impossible for this authority to actually grant a legal
lease for any of the land it controls. Why and how can this work? The why
is contained in the notion of fear in the mind of every bureaucrat that
dreads making a decision that is wrong! To avoid it, each will demand an
endless stream of documents from any farmer to certify that such farmer
owes no taxes or has any obligation that could cause the bureaucrat to
have to answer a tough question from an anxious superior.
The farmers have little problem with this condition as long as they get
a letter that says a lease will be drawn with certain terms and conditions.
Because the farmer is growing a crop for a few months before
harvesting, it is not too important to have a perfected lease. But, what if
someone wants to grow fruit trees and needs a twenty year lease to
make it worthwhile? There is no way for a farmer to take such risk without
a legal lease, and yet the Land Authority is hard pressed to grant such a
lease, even when it is clear that such a crop does not impact other
farmers and only serves to relieve the need for costly imports. It appears
that one must either invest time, energy and lots of money in conforming
and forcing the issue; or find a political way to gain a favor in return.
When forced to negotiate, the Land Authority acts like it must demand a
high rent to avoid the charge that it is not getting a profit margin in leasing
the people's land! Of course, it would be smarter to sell the land to people
and let them pay taxes on it and enjoy the right to invest in it without
government control. Tugwell and Marín would not want to see that. Good
socialists know that government should own the land and the means of
production to keep control out of the hands of wealthy persons or
corporations. If such theory is correct, then PR lost the chance in 1944 to
make the government system work. It failed to do well running that which
existed and its fails every time to think of a creative way to expand and it
can not take risk.
The sheer weight of the support for the sugar industry which at one
time provided the backbone of the support for the Populares- the party of
Luiz Muñoz Marín- finally got to the point where you can count on
government to do the right thing- everything else had been tried and
failed! Because only a few sugar workers remained and because the
government was able to 'wash its hands' by turning the mills over to the
farmers, was it politically possible to act. But, what next? Will the Land
Authority finally move to a better position? Or will the government sell the
land that it owns and release control over that which it leased? Much of
the leased land has been turned back to the owners, (the government
never had enough money to buy all of it) but nobody has talked about
rescinding the law that no corporation can own more than 500 acres.
Nobody has talked of letting supply and demand control the value of land
or the crops that can be grown on it.
So, the legacy of Tugwell lingers...should the government own the
land? Should it own and control the infrastructure services? It has allowed
superhighways to be built as toll roads. It is amazing how much faster
they go into service when a profit can be made by collecting tolls! The
advantages to industry in being able to move big loads efficiently around
the island are enormously important to the future of the economy of the
island. Government controlled construction provides more opportunity for
corruption than that which is driven by private enterprise and competition.
The Campofresco Company of Paso Seco on the South coast
adjacent to one of the major toll roads (the Luis Ferré Expressway)
signed a contract with the government to take the entire output of the
government run pineapple farms on the North coast near Arecibo with the
intent on trucking the crop over the mountains to its processing plant.
Three years later the government is still failing to meet the quantity
demand that the processor can obtain, if allowed to manage the farms;
and the cost of moving the pineapples is exorbitant because the new
superhighway over the mountains is being built by the government at a
slower pace than anticipated and this requires trucking the long way
around! Of course, EPA and other compliance requirements always slow
down the bureaucrat that has no incentive to push and every reason to
So, Puerto Rico approaches the new century with a mixed bag of
circumstances. It is enjoying much of the same prosperity found on the
mainland and yet it fails to have full potential for its self development. The
federal laws and regulations do not reflect the interests of PR except
coincidentally. The lack of a delegation of voting Representatives in the
U.S. House of Representatives and two Senators in the U.S. Senate hurts
far more than can be measured. When the status debates rages- which
is almost always- the Commonwealth supporters pull up studies to show
how PR benefits from about $11 billion of federal aid each year while
paying taxes on income only for the costly Social Security and Medicare
systems. They want to show that as a State, PR would lose a perceived
'wind-fall'. Some, as a state would also pay income taxes while most
would not. Then Federal aid would be possibly increase more than the
added tax burden would cost; however, its cost would fall more on the
wealthy than on the poor.
But, they do not try to see how as a State PR can work for legislation
to improve its trade potential with Central and S. America; or how many
mainland corporations would be more prone to investing in PR, if it could
be done without the fear of some radical take-over that could cause
confiscation of assets?
The status issue will not be resolved until and unless the U.S.
Congress first passes legislation that requires a decision with known
consequences. As long as the 'none of the above' option exists, the
pragmatic folks in PR will outvote the idealists that want to be first class
U.S. citizens. Human nature always chooses to prefer "the Devil I know
over the one that I don't". If the choice is made while the U.S. enjoys good
times, it will be an easy one, as few people in PR listen to the siren song
of the Independentistas. The problems of language and culture and
dealing with things like the PR team in the Olympics or candidates for
beauty contests are not insurmountable issues to very many people in
PR. The assimilation into the mainstream of American life is far more
pervasive than most realize. The language of PR today is 'Spanglish'
save for the minority that are bilingual. The language of the world
commerce today happens to be English- not American.
The conclusions of this study are hard to make. Yes, it is clearly
understood how Tugwell and Marín brought a revolution to PR and that it
made a positive difference when conditions are contrasted say between
1960 and 1940. It is clear that the improvements continued ever since in
spite of many shortcomings in the way the government functions and
relates to the private sector.
It is also clear that the conditions of 1992, when Governor Rosselló
came to office were taking the island toward a show down with Congress
over so-called "Enhanced Commonwealth" that, if it had been possible to
engineer in spite of the U.S. Constitution, it would have been destructive.
How could the ever present trend of bigger government have helped
provide for the future of the people of PR? Only in one way would such
be possible. It would be a way that would cause revolt in the mainland.
If Congress could have entertained a way to give PR parity with
benefits, and entitlements without equal tax burden in perpetuity, then the
island could bask in the glory of a paradise where work would be shared
by all as employees of the government figuring out how to dispense the
federal largess. Of course, no Congress could get elected or stay in
office making such a deal for a territory when every state in the union
would claim that they wanted it too!
The big question now is: Can the current government manage to show
its success ala the telephone union chiefs that now claim that life is better
since the government did what the unions did not want them to do? Can it
move to further improve the competitive position of PR so that it can
make its way in a global economy? It has impressive evidence mounting
of its ability to provide a stronger infrastructure, but it has a long way to
go to show that the water and sewer services, phone and power are all
efficient and cost effective to the consumer. Privatizing the phone
company is a start.
Can the government find the way to effectively improve the
educational system via innovative use of computer technology to
augment its teachers and work to improve its students potential? If so, it
will have to overcome such delaying tactics as Court supported 'foot
dragging' caused by a single losing bidder, in the effort to build laptop
computers, a typical example of how the political 'borinqua' still impedes
progress; and it will have to find the way to build trade bridges to the
global markets with home-grown products that add profitable value
beyond a marginal one gained as low bidders for mainland sellers.
One other major point needs to be addressed. I call it as the "Egyptian
Syndrome". Moses took the Jewish people out of Egypt after they
experienced some 400 years of slavery. He didn't wander with them
around the Sinai Desert for forty years just because God didn't know how
to direct him to the "promised land". God knew that slaves do not make
leaders! All were totally dependent upon masters to tell them what to do.
It took three generations, born in the wilderness, to develop a leadership
able to confront the tasks of making a country in Israel. The same
problem infects some of the people of Puerto Rico. They have been so
dependent for so long that they do not believe in themselves. I have
seen in Luis Ferré and in the current governor Pedro Rosselló evidences
of leadership that may lead the people to the 'can-do' spirit that marks a
people's ability to compete in a global economy. PR has never been
lacking in spirited people; but, it has suffered from a Congress that has
allowed its 'benign neglect' to cause it to throw many 'bones' to the people
in PR. Combined with the fact that life can be easy where it never
freezes, where food is growing on the trees, and where minimal clothing
and education seem to allow for leisure time and recreation, it is hard to
want to work. It takes real leadership to persuade some people to give
up living in the streets in the states. It takes more to do it on 'la isla
If it can get the Congress to resolve the long festering status issue and
produce evidence that it can be far stronger than the weakest states in
the union, then PR will become the gem of the Caribbean- a fact already
known as a real potential to most who live there and to many of the
businesses that have built a way for all to profit.
Most writers of political and economic history tend to avoid dealing
with cultural and/or religious issues and trends. But, one can not really
consider the impact of events upon the times in PR since the 1960's
without recognizing that the island's culture and religious attitudes are
perhaps a larger part of the socio-political-economic equation than one
might expect. Why is this?
I will leave it to others, who specialize in gathering data to help
address these questions, but cite some general observations that may
play a part in how the island's future will be shaped.
The legacy of 100 years of Yankee Imperial Colonialism is real. True,
it is not the same kind of a legacy as is commonly found in other cultures,
lands, or islands, where true colonialism started long ago and lasted for
far more than one hundred years. But, it is part of a larger legacy that
must include the time of the Conquistadors and 400 years of hard
If the role of the Roman Catholic church is included, as part of that
imperial style of rule of the people, then PR is to some degree a victim of
the combination of all of the above. But, some forces have emerged to
offset this history and legacy. For one, a great many people of PR have
migrated to the mainland and returned with far broader perspectives than
when they left! Bilingual, sophisticated, and eager to work harder than
those that did not migrate, these repatriates tend to win the better jobs
and enjoy a higher standard of living.
They also may have been able to be exposed to both better schools
and also to a broader array of ideas, customs, and people than those
found on an insular island. This has opened the doors to a variety of
church efforts to come to PR and offer an alternative to the ancient and
fixed ways of the Roman church. Pentecostal and other Protestant
denominations have changed the church landscape and given the
people an opportunity for choice not available 100 years ago. This
seems to have given new impetus to the programs to expand PR's ability
to be a part of the global economy.
A growing sense of need to modernize the PR school system has
been clearly a goal of the current government. Its administration has tried
to 'leap-frog' the level of school performance of the past with a rapid
introduction to computer technology, for example. Funds from the sale of
the phone company are largely earmarked to help PR move forward with a
more modern school system.
If PR is able to move its people into the global economy it will be
related to new efforts to teach the business of the world's language-
English- in a way that leads to real proficiency. Given success with such
efforts, it is fair to say that PR may well be positioning itself for the new
century in ways that will help it earn its way. Given a choice by a U.S.
Congress to either be a state or be a foreign country, PR will certainly
choose the former, as the better of two choices. As long as no choice is
required, it is easier to live with the status-quo.
PR may be allowed or asked to make the choice for statehood or
independence in the next few years. If it has also learned to be proficient
in the business language of the world, it is likely that it will be an island
with a powerful economic machine at its base, and that lets it serve
people from all over the world. I believe that such a choice is likely to be
for statehood, but it is not certain. In fact, there is significant sentiment in
the mainland that statehood should not happen for PR, even it requested.
Many believe that PR is an economic 'sink-hole' for mainland tax
Others fear PR's possible insistence on using the Spanish language to
deal with other states, the federal government or mainland business. Of
course, it already deals with all three in English, but ignorance and
misinformation will need to be overcome before Congress will accept
even asking PR to decide. The potential is clear. PR offers a lot more to
the mainland than Alaska and Hawaii combined, if it can shake its image
as Tugwell's socialist experiment that demands eternal support from
Congress while not being able to work like first class citizens.
PR must know and feel proud of its ability to produce and then
demand equality with other states; or be prepared to come to the time
when Congress decides to return its 'War booty' to Spain, or set it
independently free. As long as Congress is willing to stall and not have to
decide, the party of the 'status-quo' will have a chance to preside over
the position of 'benign neglect' suffering the risk of a Congress willing to
'pull the plug'. The risk of doing nothing is just as real as doing something!
The words above would not yet be dry ink on paper in the normal publishing cycle of the past; and already the events of history are happening at such a fast and furious pace to show that the PR status issue is not quiet. In fact, it is raging anew albeit with a new cast of characters interacting with the established players of the two major political parties in PR. The Statehood party- the NPP- with incumbent Governor Rosselló in his last year in office, is looking at a stalemate on status. Thanks to the wonder of the PR Supreme Court requirement that let voters diffuse the statehood push with a choice of “none of the above”; the PDP or Populares are able to hold them in check with an uneasy alliance with the Independentista party.
All of this changed one day in April of 1999 when a PR civilian guard employed by the U.S. Navy to keep strangers out of the bombing range at the East end of the off shore island of Vieques, managed to get himself killed. He violated procedure to stand on top of the concrete bunkhouse designed to keep him safe in the event of a stray bomb that might land three miles off target! He liked to watch the explosions from this perch and did so once too often when two bombs landed nearby!
If this accident had been like the one many years ago when a PR national guard unit accidentally killed a mainland American during an exercise on the same lands owned and used by the U.S. Navy for training since WWII in 1942, the local papers would have expressed concern for the victims next of kin, and moved on with the program. But, this time it was seen by the media and more importantly by the Independentista party leader, one Rubén Berrios as a golden opportunity!
In the months since that time, he has carefully planned a campaign from a ‘squatter’ house built on the Navy’s beach as an act of civil disobedience. He managed to solicit easily all kinds of help in his campaign to get the U.S. Navy out of Vieques in a way that would ignite his own faltered leadership. Almost a forgotten man of his party, with new faces challenging his leadership, Berrios found that even the Governor would go to bat for his cause in the name of the people of PR- the nation of Puerto Rico to Berrios!
With a few articles planted to allege that the Navy was killing many more with poison from the bombs and shells hitting the island, and one or more allegations that the cancer rate among the 9,300 residents of the mid section of the island might be higher than any other place in PR, it did not take long to recruit support, not only from the Populares, but from another established political party that had been in decline- the Roman Catholic Church! Of course, its bishops, and archbishops and priests do not think of the church as a political party and it certainly is not registered as such in an island that takes government control of things political very seriously.
The Catholics were joined by an Episcopal notable, its Bishop, the Rev. David Alvarez, noted for his similar dedication to the cause of Peace, Justice, love and health for everyone. He shows a concern- especially for those 9,300 folks on Vieques that have lived with the U.S. Navy for fifty-eight years in a relationship viewed by some as a place to work and others as an impediment to island development. Short on infrastructure, as the island lacks much in the way of sewers, roads and even such other amenities as domestically produced potable water; and of course, a history of less than favored service from the old government run telephone service, the PRTC, is just part of the way of life on Vieques.
The siren call of support for ‘civil disobedience’ quickly grew out of the expected slow reaction of the U.S. Navy to the accident. Besides expressing remorse over the accident, the U.S. Navy failed to immediately suspend training on its land on Vieques, pack up and leave PR. Trained to fight to win, not surrender, the Navy doesn’t know how to handle this coalition that supported Berrios and his cause.
Finally, after thousands of man hours of work in negotiating for a solution, the U.S. President announced his final decision to bring a resolution to the stalemate that has left the Navy without this training on Vieques from April through February of 2000. The President announced that henceforth training would be limited to inert ordinance and on only half as many days as in the past per year. Further, by agreeing to let the island of Vieques voters decide via a referendum within the next 18 months of inert exercise, if the Navy should pack up and leave or be allowed to return to its cherished live fire exercises in exchange for a $50 million aide package on top of a $40 million package to come with the resumption of exercises with inert ammo, the President thought he could ask for P.R. support of his plan- and he did!
Of course, the opposition factions condemns the payments as bribery and notes that any one life is worth a lot more (an idea that can’t be challenged even though it may be irrelevant to a practice that had just two fatal accidents in 58 years) than any bribe money could justify. Worse, with a coalition of church groups of the protestant and catholic traditions contending that they alone can judge the immorality of the training program and are therefore driven by a few leaders to a call for a ‘Holy War’- a non violent one, of course!
So, the stage is set for a confrontation on the beach as soon as the Navy arrives to shoot and kill someone that wants to be a martyr! The Navy announced that it would take its March program to the Gulf of Mexico and bomb Eglin AFB in Florida instead of Vieques, thus attempting to diffuse the opponents looking to have a confrontation on the Navy’s own land on Vieques. The government of PR told the U.S. president that it would enforce the laws against trespassing on PR government land, but not on U.S. federal Navy land. So the Independentista leader Berrios is prepared and hoping for a TV showdown that puts him in jail! He hopes it will be U.S. Navy men that drag him off in front of the TV.
Numerous lay members of the churches have protested the simplistic thinking of the politicians and the so-called church leaders who hold high office in the each faith’s administrative organization. So, the confrontation between the handful of Independentistas who claim to have control over the people of Vieques vs the U.S. Navy has now moved to a confrontation between the U.S. federal government and the nation of Puerto Rico, better known as a U.S. colony or territory, depending upon one’s perspective; and now it is becoming the scene for a chapter in the religious war led by the high priests of liberation theology vs the state.
When the priests can contend that they alone represent the ‘moral high ground’, and have the mob behind to support simplistic notions of what is morally right and proper to obtain peace, justice, love, and health; they think that they have a strong hand! Unless they can heed the words of wisdom about church errors that have happened in history when priests move into the secular world and fail to understand all of the facts and relevant issues, these men are ready and have to now live with their decision to stand. They leave themselves no room to back up.
To get a full view of how this is a repeat of history, read Chapter XIV of “You Can’t Escape God” by Richard R. Tryon, Sr.It is found on this Website under the heading of Religion. In it you will find find a series of appallingly similar situations where the church accidentally or intentionally slips into the path of trying to own and rule the secular world; or if not to own and rule it to just control it.
To read more about the history of the status question one can find numerous articles written for papers such as the San Juan Star by prominent Puerto Rican writers such as Guillermo Moscoso, Passalaqua and others, but one of the most interesting to this writer was composed by daughter Amy Tryon Thornbury in 1988 as a senior thesis in her history major at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. It is reproduced in the same history section as this booklet.
What will the outcome of this religious confrontation be? What impact will it have on the status question for P.R.? Although Sila Caulderón, the Populares candidate for governor in the November 2000 election is currently favored, she is struggling with a party that views the Vieques issues differently from different parts of this island. Not everyone wants independence. The Populares like the federal money with minimal taxation and would be glad to make the territorial status permanent, if they could lock in full benefits from the federal government on a par with that received by the tax paying states!
What few in P.R. seem to realize is that the behavior could cause a Congressional action to discard P.R. and cast it to independence- a status sought by about 4% of the population. So, those that are playing the Vieques game tend to see it as a back-handed way to get independence without support of the majority! But, Congress may instead, accept that it is only fair to P.R. to tell the islanders what Congress will accept with each of the status options. Unless Congress defines the terms and conditions, nobody on the island wants to try to express a preference; and with the court saying that no island vote can happen without allowing the fifth column for ‘none of the above’, it is not likely that P.R. will ever be able to render a majority opinion unless it is a federally mandated referendum and such an option is not included.
With the global economy now clearly demanding that P.R. get its act together to learn how to compete with products that it creates, makes and sells, it is very important that the status issue be resolved. With a ‘lame-duck’ president in Washington dealing with an opposition Congress, we can expect to see more of the Clinton effort to show support for what the Republicans tend to profess they want, but can’t get around to doing- give PR a choice that can be determined. At a time when so many promising evidences are appearing to show that P.R. is ready to take its place among the other successful states of the world’s greatest Union of States, it will be very unfortunate if a Congress, enraged as it was in 1898 against the Spaniards, decides that this time it wants out!
In 1898 the national cry was "Remember the Maine...and the hell with Spain". The last part got stripped out of most history books. Will this be the time in 2000 when everyone gets fooled again? Keep in mind that most mainland Americans know so little about PR that they don't even know where it is or what it is. Given to believe that it is a territory under the control of Congress full of untrustworthy folks that were given citizenship without full taxation, many will ask some tough questions of their elected Congressmen and women. For example, why should our sons be asked to fight for our interests if they can't be fully trained just because one man was accidentally killed by standing where he did not belong? He knew he was in the wrong place, but he liked seeing the fireworks! Far more training happens in camps in the states with live ammunition, why should Vieques be exempt?
Others will ask, if non-voting Puerto Ricans can tell our president that his executive order is null and void unless he is willing to arrest thousands of people in PR, then does it follow that Americans only need to gather up such a crowd to force any president to do their will instead of what the political process allows?
Where does mild civil disobedience end and insurrection begin? Or do we live in an age of civil liberties where government should have no power? Should the church via some supreme leader be empowered to lead? Or just accept mob rule? This current issue may be a lot bigger than most perceive unless some control is put in place that does not enrage and cause a revolt at both ends of the equation.
The letter written by this writer to the San Juan Star about the news of Feb. 20,2000 clearly speaks to this question by noting what is happening in Iran at this time, after twenty years of rule by the church leaders. Here is what the letter said including praise for writer Maldonado:
Please publish my congratulations to Alex Maldonado for his splendid analysis of the mess in Vieques. His lucid portrayal of how an accident has been blown all out of proportion was dramatically reinforced by todays news from Iran. Yes, far away Iran, home of the Ayatollah Kommeni who took that country after the death of its Shah to the holy position via a Holy War or Jihad. This has led to its position of desperate need to take the clergy out of the secular world’s control, because clerics can not bring their narrow focus of religious concepts into the secular world in a practical way.
This discovery of this reality by the people of Iran is causing today, a massive electoral victory for a reform movement that is throwing out the dictatorial clerics, who want to think that Allah left them able to rule the people in the secular world! The Roman Catholic Church did it for hundreds of years before losing that control at the end of the middle ages and it has been maneuvering ever since to regain some of that control- even here in P.R.!
Thanks to the radical effort of the Independentistas that saw in the Sanes accident a way to rally almost all of the people of PR to call for a sudden and complete removal of the U.S. Navy from Vieques, the Roman Church has found a way to support leader Berríos. He, who lives comfortably on the beach, defying the authority for his illegal trespassing, accepts all ‘bed-fellows’ that promote his cause. Since some of the Catholic bishops have found support at least with the only bishop of the Episcopal Church, and with some other protestant leaders as well, Berríos now thinks that he can expect thousands to march for “Peace, Justice, Love, and Health” for the people of Vieques.
When these people discover that they are not quietly performing an act aimed at encouraging the civil disobedience on Vieques, but a radical reaction from Washington, they may wish that they had stayed home! Of course, if the majority now want independence, then they should all not only march, but find a way to visit Vieques when the Navy is ready to drop the first inert practice bomb. If they can make it look like another Waco, Texas massacre by the U.S. Navy, then surely world opinion will combine with that of mainland voters to cut PR free! Then Berríos and the church can take charge- or do some think that the current major parties will share in their leadership?
Clearly PR is a lot closer than most realize to not just identifying with the social goals of Tugwell, but to watching active bands work to achieve more of them than Tugwell or any of his successors ever saw or dreamed possible. At a time when the government and the people are enjoying unprecedented prosperity, at a time when efforts to make agencies free of inefficiency and waste, found throughout the ancient governmentally controlled infrastructure. The whole tide could be turned by a small band of those that preach nationalism, a form of racism that pits Americans from PR against those from the 'foreign' mainland.
These leaders have managed to join an alliance with those who preach a call for a Holy War for "Paz a Vieques" as a rallying point for four million people. They are being asked to support 9,400 people that are called Viequeneses- not Puerto Ricans- to free them from their circumstances. No evidence exists to show that the mainland of PR has ever done much for the people on Vieques. Now they are wondering if such are entitled to free government provided transportation to and from the mainland island? This is one of many simplistic points of attack. Make the mainland citizens of PR feel guilty for not having given a level plaing field to those forced to live on Vieques!
In 1942 only about one tenth as many lived on Vieques.Apparently they have multiplied without encoraging immigration! If they have suffered as much as the independentistas claim, how did they manage to multiply so?
The quest for a determination of status has continued in PR, but it looks like the passionate debates of those discussing the Young Bill in the House of Representatives have been replaced by civil disobedience unchallenged on the beach of Vieques, as a sign of how easy it is for a few in PR to lead the masses into a program that most do not understand or even try to recognize. While they shop at the new malls, play and sing, the leaders that can make a difference are quietly running a campaign to bring the Tugwell socialism into a new national movement. Christian leaders may be tolerated as supporters for a while, but they will find themselves in the way, if and when a new island leadership takes charge by default. This can happen if they can get the people of the U.S. mainland to agitate to get Congress to remove PR from the U.S.A.