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Instead of being an abuse of their civil rights, the bombing is a reminder to Puerto Ricans, that they don't really have any.

Related Gully Coverage

Is Puerto Rico's Governor Out of Her Depth?
Calderón's strange silence.

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Rosamy Abreu celebrates the outcome of the July 29 vote demanding an immediate end to U.S. Navy bombing in Vieques. Bombing resumed four days later. Tomas van Houtryve

The Myth of Civil Rights in Vieques

by Chuck 45

civil ('sivel) 1. relating to citizens of state
civil rights 1. personal rights of individual citizen

AUGUST 14, 2001. Democratic pols in hot pursuit of the Northeast Hispanic vote have been, of late, falling over each other to blast the U.S. Navy's continued bombing of the tiny Puerto Rican island of Vieques. Taking their cue from activists, they usually talk about it as a civil rights issue. They say that the hardship and danger, the resulting elevated cancer rates and the damage to coral reefs, are an abuse of the rights of the island's inhabitants as U.S. citizens.

In fact, instead of being an abuse of their civil rights, the bombing is a reminder to Puerto Ricans, in Vieques and on the main island, that they don't really have any. If they did, they wouldn't need the Kennedys and Clintons and Rangels, and like as not, the Navy wouldn't be in their backyard in the first place.

Among the missing civil rights is the cornerstone of them all — the right to vote for federal representation. Puerto Ricans, while supposedly U.S. citizens, have no U.S. Senators and Representatives, and no vote for the United States Presidency. Worse, they have no right to vote to get the vote.

Neither can they determine their collective fate. The July referendum in which the vast majority of Vieques residents voted to evict the Navy simply doesn't count. The same for the frequent referendums to decide national status. All worthless. Puerto Ricans could vote twice a day every day for independence or statehood, or the Navy in or the Navy out, and it wouldn't mean a thing unless the U.S. Congress (in which they have no representation) gave it their approval.

Since 1898, Puerto Rico has been a United States colony, a territory administered on the highest level by a foreign power. The 1917 Jones Act did allow Puerto Ricans a bill of rights and a local government, but only gave them statutory U.S. citizenship. In other words, their "citizenship," dependent on an act of Congress, not the Constitution, is just a privilege with a lot of strings attached, not a constitutionally defined right with all the protections that implies.

One of the crueler conditions of Puerto Rican citizenship is that if they leave their homeland and move to New York or Chicago or any city in the United States, becoming exiles in someone else's Northern state, then they can vote on the federal level. Then they have rights, but not as Puerto Ricans in their own land. Morally, if not legally, that is not real citizenship. It is a colonial parody.

Without full, unfettered citizenship, there is no "civil" in rights. And "rights" themselves, which imply a whole world of entitlement, power, and legal recourse, are not a reality for Puerto Ricans who are still voiceless and voteless, whose very citizenship can be withdrawn or imposed by the whim of a distant Congress.

Related links:

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

For the U.S. Navy's viewpoint regarding Vieques.

For Complete Coverage Puerto Rico


The Gully In Depth

Puerto Rico
navy out All about Puerto Rico, U.S.-Puerto Rico colonial history past and present, and the struggle to evict the U.S. Navy from Vieques. ¡Viva Borinquen!

New World
new world Our Americas. Politics, democracies, failed utopias, and the sullen heirs of colonialism: from Canada to Argentina.

Gay Mundo
gay pride The Gully's ultragay coverage. Includes musings on activism, info on queers from Taiwan to Puerto Rico and more.

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