Fellow STAR columnist Juan M. García Passalacqua has humorously-and tragically-identified the local politicos who oppose Puerto Rico's decolonization as "happy colonials." Lately they have been anxiously changing lanes in the narrowing race of U.S. Democratic candidates for president.
One of Puerto Rico's worst kept secrets is that there really aren't very many Democrats here. (Or for that matter, Republicans; but that's another story.) There are mostly Popular Democratic Party (PDP) leaders who favor the status quo-and some in the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (NPP)-who strive to pass as Democrats. Truth be told, they could care less whether the presidential candidate is liberal or conservative, a Northern Yankee or a Southern Dixiecrat. They really don't care if he is a pacifist or a warmonger; and they are ready to cheer whether he refers to them as "Hispanics," "Latinos," or "little brown ones."
Despite more than a century of U.S. colonial rule, the happy colonials are tripping over each other like rock band groupies desperate for bland declarations on status that include preservation of the status quo. This is something they can sell to an unwary electorate as everlasting love and undisputed commitment for greater dependence and "permanent union."
As reported by Robert Friedman (STAR, Feb.9), the decision to support Dean while he looked like a winner rested mostly on the status issue. The "premature" jump on his ship before it appeared to capsize was made after Dean, who had previously said he supported statehood, toned it down to meaningless pap. Since philosophy, ideology, or governing policy do not matter much, local opportunity shoppers keep shopping around for more of the same in the Kerry and Edwards camps. Even a leading would-be Democrat in the NPP unabashedly admits that after Dean's ship sinks, he will gracefully "jump from one ship to another and not land in the water."
Any major candidate's lip service even to vague decolonization principles clouds the colonials' happiness. Clark, the born-again Army General who apparently repented for the use Puerto Rico as a military colony during his years working for the Pentagon, makes them nervous. The local support from PDP dissidents or NPP adversaries makes them hostile. The happy colonials obstinately insist on colonial commonwealth as a decolonizing option, much like an alcoholic insists on just one drink as a thirst quencher.
Their extreme positions in the 21st century, A.D. look like desperation at the waning of colonialism. Perfect irrationality is impossible for any sane human being, but there are areas of the psyche where intelligence dares not tread. Too many speeches, Cold War college theses, and years of incumbency have taken their toll.
Commonwealth (and even some statehood) leaders have been content with a cultural nationalism that emphasizes Puerto Ricans' distinct identity. They have even been cosignatories of documents with independence leaders regarding the non-negotiable nature of our culture and the Spanish language under any status option. PDP and NPP former governors Rafael Hernández Colón and Pedro Rosselló did just that a few years ago with Puerto Rican Independence Party president Rubén Berríos. Some statehood advocates even acknowledge that Puerto Rico, sociologically, culturally and linguistically a nation, would continue to exist as a nation within a nation under statehood.
Still, they balk at the thought of Puerto Rico exercising the political sovereignty that flows from nationhood. True, they admit, Puerto Rico suffers from a "democratic deficit" or "colonial vestiges." But after hailing subservience as visionary and branding independentistas as subversives, rectification would expose them to ridicule. Yet the Handwriting on the Wall reeks of despair for them.
Next month, Roosevelt Roads Naval Base, in the eastern town of Ceiba and formerly the most important military base outside the continental U.S., will close. While Rubén Berríos, with widespread support and international solidarity, uninterruptedly defied federal law for a year on the beach in the restricted target area of Vieques, Pentagon authorities argued that military practice there was essential for U.S. national security. They lied, of course!
After sustained peaceful civil disobedience and incongruous prison sentences imposed on thousands, simply for a misdemeanor, convinced them that Puerto Ricans would no longer tolerate them there, they decided to vacate all premises. Hence, if the strategic military colony were no longer strategic or military, only a colony remained-neither useful nor cheap.
The realization of the Pentagon's realization that it was time to go has made the happy colonials anxious. A retired Army General from Arkansas who craves Puerto Rican cuisine and pronounced himself in favor of "constitutionally viable" status options consonant with international law further raised their blood pressure-even if his nomination was a long shot. Thus, if their happiness is to endure, they must desperately scramble to ensure the comfort of a presidential candidate's wink and a smile, so they live to fight another day. Or so they think.