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The second American century has begun like the first: with U.S. attention riveted on Puerto Rico and Cuba.

Related Gully Stories

Vieques: Puerto Rico Under Fire
The U.S. is bombing an inhabited island. Why?

The Cuba Files
Radically moderate coverage of Cuba.

The Complete Elian
Top to bottom coverage of the Elian saga.

In Depth Puerto Rico
The Gully's complete coverage.

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Miami cops mop up after Cuban-American post-raid violence.

Vieques, Miami:
The Perils of Swallowing Nations

by Ana Simo

MAY 9, 2000. The operations to extract Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives, and to evict protesters from the Navy bombing range in Vieques, Puerto Rico, had more in common than Janet Reno, U.S. Marshals, and foreign-flag-waving crowds of American citizens.

Both are cautionary tales about what can happen when the United States swallows other nations, whether they're virtual, as the Cuban-American nation-state of Miami, or real, as Puerto Rico, a colony of the United States.

Two Sides of the Same Colonial Coin
Miami and Vieques are two dissimilar sides of the same, quaintly outdated U.S. colonial coin.

Cubans who came early fleeing Castro's 1959 revolution, itself partly a reaction to the U.S. stranglehold on the island, saw themselves not as immigrants, but as a nation in exile.

Two generations and several exile waves later, this remains the official party line in Miami, even if, as with socialism in Cuba, it appears to be largely ritualistic. While the exiles' effect on Cuba's internal politics is almost nil, their local impact in Miami is more tangible: the Cuban nation-in-exile has quietly transmogrified itself into a virtual nation within the American nation, courtesy of Fidel Castro's political longevity and U.S. foreign-policy paralysis.

Their intransigence in the Elian extravaganza, has made the "American" attached by hyphen to "Cuban" almost sound like an afterthought, less an embrace of American democratic values—free speech, in the first place—than a license to carve out a foreign enclave on American territory.

Similar Delusions
Puerto Ricans have similar delusions. Many advocates of Puerto Rico becoming the 51st state are nationalists; like Cuban-Americans, they believe that a foreign nation can exist within the United States.

navy go homeWhat they want, calling it statehood, is not just representation, but increased power of self-determination for their nation, something the very nature of federalism will deny them. Puerto Rican senators and congress members will not be going to the United Nations, but to the U.S. Congress, a vastly different place. No matter how loyal they may be to their constituents, they will have to serve the proverbial "one nation under God", not the Puerto Rican nation, which will remain politically disenfranchised and will eventually wither and die.

In particular, the secessionist farce in Miami should give pause to both Puerto Ricans imagining that statehood will give their nation more autonomy, and to the handful of mostly Democratic, vote-hungry politicians who have cynically paid lip service to this idea from the safety that improbability affords them. As recent events in Miami prove, if Puerto Rico became the 51st state, its bubbly ideal of nationhood may well be burst by Washington with the barrel of a Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun long before federalism kills it.

The spectacle in Vieques, on the other hand, should prod Cuban-Americans into considering the larger picture. That is, can they truly stomach a post-Castro Cuba tethered to the U.S. through them (the Trojan Horse effect), now that they're finally being downsized to what they've always really been: J.A.D.M. —just another damn minority.

The time may have come for them to dump their delusional Cuban-American nation in Miami—as delusional as the Puerto Rico nation-state—and embrace with a vengeance their U.S. minority status. With their relative wealth, political savvy, and single-minded energy, Cuban-Americans could help redefine "minority" and "immigrant" for the good of the entire country.

Haitians and other disenfranchised minority groups who enviously watch the Miami Cuban-Americans thumb their nose at Uncle Sam (a sport that Fidel Castro excels at) may be tempted to copycat. Don't. You should pick and choose: there's a lot that is admirable in the Cuban-American approach (self-centeredness, ambition, hard-work, entrepreneurial talent, political participation) and a lot that is less than admirable (intolerance, lack of empathy for the plight of others, authoritarianism, homophobia, and, yes, racism). Cuban-American themselves should pick and choose.

The Trojan Horse gallops both ways.
If Puerto Rico ever becomes a state, expect scenes of defiance and defiance crushed in San Juan that are much worse than those that you saw in Miami these past months. And if the U.S. doesn't quickly regain control of its foreign policy towards Cuba—normalizing relations, ending the embargo, and finding rational, effective, non-interventionist ways to foster democracy there—you can expect even worse scenes of violence and civil strife in the twinned cities of Miami and Havana in the near future.

teddy on horsebackIn one of those delicious ironies of history, the second American century has begun like the first: with U.S. attention riveted on Puerto Rico and Cuba. The difference is that there's nothing to celebrate any more: no old Spain to kick around, no Teddy Roosevelt charging up Cuba's San Juan Hill, no young American empire flexing its new muscles. The colonies have invaded the metropolis. It's payday, now.

Advice to Washington: relinquish the two damned islands. Let Bill Gates charge on alone.

Related links:

For up-to-the-minute info on Vieques protests go to Vieques Libre.

For Complete Coverage Puerto Rico


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