Originally published on EFRAIN’S CORNER / NOVEMBER 18, 2011
The year 1897 brought about the promise of autonomy for Puerto Rico. Over 400 years had passed since Christopher Columbus had come upon it shores with an illusion of promise to the indigenous when in reality it was in assertion to the Spanish Crown that “the island would belong to them.” During its 400 plus years of Spanish rule, Puerto Rico (Boriquen) suffered through the devastation of its indigenous population, slavery and disease.
From this devastation arose some prominent and revered figures such as Marianna Bracetti Cuevas, Segundo Ruiz Belvis, Ramon Emeterio Betances, Jose de Diego, Luis Munoz Rivera, Jose Celso Barbosa and Eugenio Maria de Hostos. These individuals, along with many more, challenged the Spanish Crown along the lines of slavery and autonomy. Slavery was abolished in 1873 and, in 1897, an Autonomic Charter with the Spanish government was granted to Puerto Rico. An opportunity to form local power, to frame a budget, fix import and export and have several elected representatives in the Spanish Cortes.
A very important clause in the Autonomic Charter to ponder was “it could only be modified by legal means, and at the request of the Puerto Rican legislature.” The Autonomic Charter and that very clause have been a source of argument on whether the United States violated any laws or not when it invaded the island in 1898. The charter was there but never went into full effect due to the Spanish-American War.
This leads us into the quagmire state that Puerto Rico has lived in since its invasion in 1898. It was the U.S. passion for imperialism, the belief in American expansionism, Manifest Destiny which led it on it quest to acquire land. Unfortunately, for Puerto Rico, the idea was dead when it was invaded, hence, it became a U.S. colony, only to be stuck in a state of experimentation with its inhabitants as subjects of U.S. imperialism.
Article 4, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution states, “..Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States..” This hasn’t changed and it still applies, regardless of the simple fact that in 1950, Law 600, allowed for Puerto Rico to draft it own constitution. While approved by the U.S. Congress, in 1952, the constitution of Puerto Rico is still superseded by that of the U.S. constitution. Again, the U.S. Congress has plenary power over its property.
I have reiterated that part of the U.S. Constitution on several posts due to its importance in understanding the current state of Puerto Rico’s status debacle. To fully understand the nature of the Puerto Rican, to understand the current state of the island and the many years in a state of limbo, one must delve into the many aspects which have brought it to its current state.
From its invasion in 1898, when it served as a perfect strategic ground for U.S. military forces, to the use of the its men as soldiers in wars, to the experimentation of it people, Puerto Rico has served the U.S. as perfect grounds for experimentation and its inhabitants have undoubtedly served well as its subjects. Is it no wonder that today it suffers socioeconomic strife among its own?
In a country that has seen the evil that imperialism is, it is no wonder that embedded in the psyche of the people, is the very fear that imperialistic damage has done in over 115 years. That moment, in 1898, when change for the better seemed so possible and within arms reach, was forever changed. It is but a mere ‘what if’. A mere taste of the autonomic apple that has been left to rot.