Last week, the Republican vice president of the United States visited Puerto Rico. Richard Cheney, whose involvement in financial oil deals has recently been under media scrutiny, spoke of the lucrative war against oil-rich Irak and in support of U.S. aggression. As a rhetorical lubricant, he rubbed on huge amounts of antiterrorist ointment to make everybody feel better.
Still, Cheney left a trail of disappointment among the most devout Puerto Ricans who light candles in the altars of U.S. Republicans. (Democrats have their altar boys, too; but that's another story.) In their annexationist faith, they expected a revelation on status-or at least, a beckoning to a land far, far away where they could hope for the embrace of the colonial master.
But they got nothing. Cheney did what politicians in the colonial tradition do: he collected money. For them, a colony is a money making machine. The U.S. invasion of 1898 was not out of concern for Puerto Rican natives, but out of interest in a military colony. Naturally, the territory turned into an investment; and today the returns are high, even after the dismantling of military uses has begun. Puerto Rico, with its wide-open economy, produces for U.S. business interests many times over what American taxpayers pay to ensure that corporate interests keep the profits. (Economist Edwin Irrizarry-Mora, the Puerto Rican Independence Party's candidate for Resident Commissioner, impeccably documents this in his very readable 2001 text, "The Economy of Puerto Rico: Evolution and Perspectives.")
Yet, according to subsequent press reports, the Cheney people were disgruntled because they collected $200-$300 thousand for a status-silent talk. The colonial tradition of invading General Nelson A. Miles is to collect manifold returns from those to whom they came, "to bestow … the immunities and blessings of the liberal institutions of our Government;" and colonial acolytes had led them to believe that Cheney could fly back with half-a-million dollars after a 20-minute speech.
Cheney's entourage, accustomed to promise more and deliver less, grumbled predictably. And the local deacons' depression was also predictable because of high expectations among the faithful that the Republican high priest would grant a statehood blessing. But they failed to even get a polite indulgence for the afterlife.
If the meaning of Cheney's silence on status while picking up a quick buck was not clear, THE WASHINGTON POST'S prominent long feature in last Sunday's edition was. The article, "A Terrorist in the House," focused on the Grande Dame of Puerto Rico's 20th century history. Lolita Lebrón led an armed attack on the Congress in 1954 to call international attention to the commonwealth farce rammed down the throats of the U.N. General Assembly by the U.S. only a year before. The word "House" in the title of the article is, of course, a reference to the events in the House of Representatives. But because Doña Lolita has become a revered figure of Puerto Rico's distinct identity, the word "house" is also an ambiguous reference to Puerto Ricans as what the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover would have called "the enemy within."
Mrs. Lebrón, after 25 unrepentant years in federal prison, is "still a dynamic person, quick witted, utterly self-assured," "domineering, stubborn, [and] imposing", according to Manuel Roig-Franzia in a POST online discussion the day after publication. She is so widely respected, internationally and domestically, by independentistas, commonwealthers, and statehooders in Puerto Rico and in the U.S. alike that, as the author further admitted, "No doubt about it, Lolita's fame makes some people in the U.S. uncomfortable."
After 50 years of U.S. carrot-and-stick control over its military colony in the Caribbean, Puerto Ricans are still a Spanish-speaking nationality. Federal funds that increment dependence, and political persecution of independentistas by "liberal institutions" of the U.S. government, such as the FBI and the federal courts, have not erased the sinful pride in Puerto Ricans that regard Lolita as a symbol of national resistance, rather than a terrorist. The fact of the article's publication in the most important newspaper of the U.S. capital is itself a rightful reminder that, after 50 years, Puerto Rican subjects are still not worthy to enter the house of the lords. Hey, but keep the money coming!
This is distressing to those who expect a status solution to miraculously descend on colonial soil. Puerto Rican referenda in 1967, 1993, and 1998 were unproductive. Demands by Puerto Rico's three political parties for congressional action in 1989 failed. One-party initiatives, such as the commonwealth party's in 1959 and 1975 or the statehood party's in 1998, were ineffective in securing federal legislation for Puerto Rico's true self-determination. Former governor Rosselló's current plan to present the Congress with a petition for non-colonial, non-territorial options is a maze of worn tracks that, like San Juan's Urban Train, won't go very far-especially if he admittedly won't push any option but statehood. And the commonwealth party candidate's proposal to consult the people heralds that party's traditional inaction.
Only a group of elected men and women committed and officially empowered to formulate decolonizing proposals until a status solution is negotiated with federal authorities and ratified by both the U.S. and Puerto Rico has not been tried. This constituent assembly on status proposed by Rubén Berríos, the PIP candidate for governor, is the only real option for Puerto Ricans of all status preferences wishing to solve our subordinate territorial status.