Some acts of historical intransigence are forward looking. Galileo's apocryphal E pur' si muove... ("and yet it moves") referred to his forced recanting of scientific truth that unveiled the earth's movement around the sun. Although his reasoning eventually prevailed, his was the wistful whisper of a Renaissance visionary, a brilliant utterance of rebellion against the brute force that demanded irrationality for salvation.
But some acts of historical obstinacy are feeble-minded. They retard human progress and impose a heavy burden of unfreedom upon society. Such are the spiritual vestiges of slavery that colonialism has imposed on many political leaders in contemporary Puerto Rico.
The president and candidate for governor of the commonwealth party has recently revived this humiliating tradition of intellectual backwardness, just when a growing number of leaders within his party had begun to coast the gentle breezes of ideological freedom that flow from an era of interdependence and prosperity for small nations.
When commonwealth was installed, those who denounced it as colonial were shamelessly ostracized from the mainstream of civic life in Puerto Rico. The dark ages of the cold war used Puerto Ricans as pawns in the deadly game of a balance of terror and colonial leaders mimicked the rhetoric and political persecution of the American Empire's geocentric cosmology.
But the darkness could not hide the legislative history of the federal law that created commonwealth 52 years ago. It warned that, "the bill under consideration would not change Puerto Rico's fundamental political, social, and economic relationship to the United Sates." In other words, the US would continue to exercise sovereignty over Puerto Rico as a territory. But locally, colonial subordination was described with fanatic gibberish reminiscent of medieval ignorance: a "bilateral compact" for "the maximum of political autonomy compatible with federalism." Those who insisted on sovereignty were regarded as subversives and persecuted, imprisoned, or discriminated against.
It is historically disconcerting, as it must have been for Galileo, to see some otherwise sensible men and women grudgingly accept this state of unfreedom and become solicitous collaborators of the retardative forces of history. Here they became altar boys to the FBI, Navy intelligence and, recently, as in the case of the commonwealth candidate for governor, even to Homeland Security. In the words of Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda, they became "chauffeurs of North American whisky" seeking imperial accommodation through historical feeble-mindedness.
But the earth rotates and revolves and even military colonies must end. Fifteen years ago, the leaders of Puerto Rico's three political parties told the US that Washington had not provided the people of Puerto Rico with an opportunity to choose their political status, since taking over the island in 1898. (There goes the compact!) Moreover, they made it clear that, as the world turned, any proposed solution had to be of a non-colonial, non-territorial nature.
The US government's response, all rhetoric of self-determination aside, was blatant inaction. Hence, the recent proposal by the statehood party's candidate for governor that Puerto Rico (again!) request a non-colonial, non-territorial solution is rubbish. The growing Puerto Rican consensus for initiating a decolonization process through a Constituent Assembly on Status is the only novel proposal to pressure Washington into action, and by opposing the idea he contributes to status stagnation.
During a debate in the 2000 political campaign, the commonwealth candidate who was elected governor admitted to the Puerto Rican Independence Party candidate that a constituent assembly was an excellent idea. And although her party's platform provided for action on status if a procedural consensus was not achieved, her administration's combination of rhetoric and inaction simply mimicked that of the American government. Neither she nor her resident commissioner made any efforts to initiate a status process.
This dormant resident commissioner, now candidate for governor, seeks to ride the wave of status concern. He claims to support a status referendum next year, which he would not want to hold it this year with legislative majorities and an incumbent governor as back up. In order to make the earth stand still, he argues that the status issue must be wrested from political parties to allow "the people" to decide. But he wants the electorate to vote his party into the political power he now repudiates in order to do then what he refuses to do now.
His historical obstinacy belies his desire and commitment to resolve the status question. He claims, of course, to favor a constituent assembly, although he would provide various additional options-all of which have been unsuccessfully tried before, including the statehood party's unsuccessful option and the foreseeable monkey wrench of "None of the above"-in order to avoid a popular mandate. And in spite of history's impeccable documentation, last week he even argued that commonwealth is neither colonial nor territorial! Why then should any referendum be held for a problem that does not exist? His disingenuous response was his desire to give the opposition a chance.
This political generosity revels in the demeaning tradition of intellectual backwardness and doubletalk that attempts to paint political subordination as ideological freedom. The next step, I expect, is the mare's nest of a stump speech trying to convince us that the world is flat.a