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US Congressman Urging Independence for PR Lives Paradox

VIEWPOINT by Roberto Guzman

February 12, 1999
©Copyright 1999 The San Juan Star

An Open Letter to Congressman Gutierrez:

As both a Puerto Rican and an American I have followed your career as a US Congressman for many years now, and I wonder why you feel the way you do on Puerto Rico's status issues.

Sometimes you seem to be such a paradox.

While you obviously take pride in your job as an American lawmaker, you seek independence for the people of Puerto Rico, and would thus deny the nearly four million American citizens living here the same rights and responsibilities that, as citizens, you and your family enjoy.

While you claim to want only the best for the island in the Puerto Rican status debates, you join forces with groups that oppose political equality for our people.

Look around you. On the one side of the anti-statehood coalition, you have people like Jesse Helms, Gerald Solomon and Toby Roth, all right wing conservatives who have such a narrow definition of what it means to be American that even people like you would have a hard time fitting in.

On the other side, you have a commonwealth leadership that for nearly 50 years has deceived the people of Puerto Rico into believing that colonial Americans rule ended in 1952, with the advent of the commonwealth.

Did you know that the populares have given thousands of dollars to the racist "English Only" lobby, the same lobby that has tried to undermine the rights of millions of Americans minorities, including many of your own constituents?

By supporting Acevedo Vila and his colonial party, you have in fact supported a political situation that you publicly denounced as "clearly colonial" just a few days after the December plebiscite.

You also helped them perpetuated the most fundamental political myth in Puerto Rican politics, the irresponsible and unethical notion that you can have the sovereignty of one nation while embracing the citizenship of another.

This grand lie at the heart of the political confusion manifest in the Dec. 13, 1998, plebiscite.

For nearly 50 years, we have been tools, over and over again, that we can have it both ways, the "lo mejor de dos mundos" -best of both worlds- nonsense that keeps Puerto Rico in a permanent state of political apartheid.

By joining forces with the Republican conservatives, you have in fact played into the hands of those who consider people like you and me inferior to themselves, people who oppose statehood, because statehood Would give Puerto Ricans the right to have leaders like you to represent And defend us in a truly democratic way.

On a recent trip to Lajas, Puerto Rico on Jan. 16, you stated that the idea in Congress is that what is fair for Americans citizen in Puerto Rico is for us to achieve the same privileges as the citizens in the United States.

You also said that Congress does not yet recognize that Puerto Rico is a nation. Well, are we? Please keep in mind that nationhood is not simply a matter of irresponsible emotionalism.

It entails the willingness to assume all the responsibilities that true nationhood implies, embracing our own citizenship as Puerto Rico nationals, so we can then have the moral authority to demand sovereignty.

Politically speaking, Puerto Rico is not, and has never been, a nation. In this most fundamental matter, the simple truth is that we do not want to be a nation because we do not want to resign our American citizenship.

The El Mundo-Gallop Poll done near the end of 1998 had over 95 percent of all boricuas saying that their American citizenship was extremely important to them.

Even 48 percent of the independentistas stated that American citizenship was very important to them.

Furthermore, the past plebiscite had only 2.5 percent of the islanders supporting independence for the island. So much for nationhood.

Thus your colleagues in Congress are right. This is a civil rights issue. If we want to continue being citizens of the United States of America, and we do, we should be citizens on equal footing with our brothers in the US. Your status preference was rejected by over 95 percent of the people of Puerto Rico.

To conclude, I must say that if you truly feel that independence is the best option for Puerto Rico and that being Puerto Rican and American are mutually exclusive, then you really should put your money where your mouth is and come live in Puerto Rico and fight for your ideals.

It seems somewhat hypocritical for someone who is living the American dream to the extent you are to deny that same dream to the millions of Puerto Ricans who do call this lovely island home. Please stop undermining our struggle for equality. You are not our elected representative.

Roberto Guzman teaches in the English Department of the University of Puerto Rico at Aguadilla.

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