Category: History

by Amy Thornbury

Why is this book compelling to those interested in the history of Puerto Rico? Its interest focuses on the struggle of an island people for national and cultural identity. One that is tied to 500 years of insular living on a small island 110 miles by 35 miles in size. It is clearly evident in the writing, that was driven by a set of interviews with leaders of the major political parties and augmented by research into the history of the subject, that the author captured much of the spirit and emotional energy that has made this a compelling subject to almost all people who regard themselves first at Puerto Ricans and secondly as Americans. This is the reverse of most whose families have lived in the mainland states of the U.S. for multiple generations.

Preface to

SINCE 1898

by Amy Thornbury

by her father, Richard R. Tryon
February 20, 2000

As a student of the history of Puerto Rico since 1942, when my father took a position with the Sun Oil Company in Yabucoa, P.R. about ten miles south of our home in Humacao; and as a parent of the author of this fascinating paper about the great status debate that has continued in ways that were not expected when Amy wrote this paper in 1988, I am pleased to have the opportunity to publish the paper here on the internet site.

The subject has fascinated me as a student of economics and political science, who graduated from Kenyon College in 1954, some thirty years before Amy started her college studies at Kenyon in 1984!

Amy completed her college studies with a degree in history from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo and graduated with highest honors. One can sense via reading this paper that her parents are not the only ones who are proud of her skills and abilities to deal with complex subjects in history.

It is timely to publish her work on this page as the U.S. is coming ever closer to finding the time to pay attention to what it owes the people of Puerto Rico as a result of the 1898 take-over of the island ruled by the Spanish for 400 years! We mainland Americans have generally been guilty of benign neglect for the very simple reason that P.R. is detached from the mainland by a 1,000 mile distance from Miami, Florida.

We are also detached because we have allowed a strange sense of status to exist since 1917 when we allowed all of the people of P.R. born after 1898 to become citizens of the U.S.- albeit without a vote! In 1952, as a result of the Cold-War and the need to avoid the appearance in the U.N. of being a "Colonial Imperialist Power", as the communists tried to brand the U.S., we managed to execute a further way to confuse everyone! We allowed the creation in PR of its own Constitution as an “Estado Libre y Associado” (An associated free state). We fooled the U.N. and a lot of people in PR at the same time into thinking that it enjoyed a kind of nationhood, semi independent of the U.S., with a territorial attachment and U.S. citizenship. Almost fifty years later, the Commonwealth party (the Populares) had to admit to itself and its members that the current status is not perpetual and the U.S. Congress has the power to change it without any agreement from the people of the island, even though nobody allows that Congress would want to take any unilateral action.

All of that would be called 'generally accepted thinking' of the relationship prior to the current events that began with the accidental death of one David Sanes, a Puerto Rican civilian guard at the U.S. Navy gunnery range at the East end of the adjacent island of Vieques, some six miles off the eastern shoreline of the main island. Vieques, with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants compared to almost 4 million on the main island, is split into three parts. The North-eastern end, like the South-western is owned by the U.S. Navy since 1942, and it serves as a gunnery range and practice area for Marines to learn their military arts of landing and bombing, etc. The local population lives in the middle third of this 30 mile long island that is about 4 miles wide at some points.

The Sanes death in April of 1999, provided the opportunity for one Ruben Berrios, the senior and fading leader of the Independentista political party to rebuild his career and his party’s hopes to win independence! He has lived since June of 1999, in civil disobedience style, on the beach of the Eastern end of Vieques to defy the U.S. Navy to attack and kill another man of P.R.! The major political parties of P.R., including the majority NPP or Statehood party, behind its popular, but 'lame-duck' governor and Democrat friend of President Clinton, joined to support the fight to stop the bombing of Vieques!

The leader of the Populares, Sila Caulderón joined with the governor to fight the U.S. Navy, but resigned from the common front when the governor agreed on his own to the resolution negotiated with President Clinton- chief architect of the U.S. foreign policy and commander in chief of the U.S. military forces.

The struggle against the U.S. Navy has a long history and many chapters of misunderstanding have combined with disinformation campaigns that some would claim have origins in both mainland and P.R. camps, to leave the island at this writing very confused. The emotional conditioning of a people beset by 500 years of dependency upon first Spain and then the U.S., when combined with so-called cultural and language differences, has led to a strange confrontation. Even the churches of P.R. have been split by priests, bishops and even arch- bishops of the majority Roman Catholic church, who have publicly called for acceptance of civil disobedience by those that believe that the U.S. Navy is a bad neighbor and worse, it is practicing activities that are immoral! Favoring peace, justice, health, and love, these religious leaders have jumped in with both feet firmly planted in 'thin air' to claim the moral 'high ground' with an arrogant demand that the Navy surrender its lands and leave P.R. to repossess the two thirds of Vieques that was purchased by the Navy in 1942.

To understand the history of this new confrontation that may cause the U.S. Congress to either take action to resolve the status issue by free choice of the people of PR, or possibly without a choice, one needs to study the writing of several authors. On this site, you can learn much from the writings of Tugwell, Goodsell and the Tryons.

You are invited to read and review any or all parts!

Richard R. Tryon
February 2000



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