Puerto Rico Will Find Many Friends if It Breaks With Colonial Condition

Argentine sociologist Atilio Boron discusses Puerto Rico as a colony of the United States, its independence movement and the campaign to release Oscar Lopez Rivera.

As part of the Latin American Communication and Integration International Congress from and to the South held in Quito, Ecuador on July 22-23, we interviewed the renowned Argentine sociologist Atilio Boron on Puerto Rico as a colony of the United States, its independence movement, the campaign for the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera, Puerto Rico’s integration to Latin America, among other topics. He agreed to talk about the country he has visited several times and where he has lived on several occasions while teaching courses as a Visiting Professor at the School of General Studies and the Graduate School of Urban Planning at the University of Puerto Rico.

The first time he visited Puerto Rico was in the early seventies, when he was completing his doctoral studies in the city of Boston, in the United States, where he had a few Puerto Rican fellow students who talked to him about Puerto Rico’s colonial status. “But it was such a saturated speech,” he recalls. “They said: look, you’re going to get there and you’ll see what a century of colonial rule has done, people have forgotten their language … That I was thinking I would find a country where people hardly spoke Spanish. And what do I find? I find a country with an absolute Caribbean and Latin American identity, with a cuisine, with music, with dances, with a culture. I really found a country that is as Latin American as any other country in Latin America.”

The university professor lamented that when it comes to Puerto Rico people rarely take into account its colonial condition. He also stressed “the remarkable work of the Bolivarian revolution” in installing Puerto Rico in the Latin American regional conversation again. “The Cuban Revolution has raised the issue for a long time but it has now acquired more strength in recent years. And there is progress, now there’s not one Latin American meeting where the end of the colonial status of the Malvinas Islands and Puerto Rico is not mentioned. That’s a huge progress! But I think that Puerto Rico has to make a bigger effort to raise precisely this need.”

Puerto Rico Must Move South

The academic said that Puerto Rico’s social forces, and the social and political movements on the Island must assume more definite postures when incorporating their proposals and speeches to the region. Also, Puerto Ricans should look to Latin America as a whole, and look beyond Mexico.

“I think one of the mistakes I’ve seen of fellow Puerto Ricans is to think that by going to Mexico they were integrating to Latin America. No, in those years, Mexico was the Athens of Latin America, but not Latin America. I’m saying they should make an effort to come farther south, to get more in touch with Brazil, into Argentina, into Colombia. In the Pacific coast of Latin America, in Peru and Chile, they do not know the experience of Puerto Rico. In Argentina neither. I go and say ‘I went to Puerto Rico’ and their reply is ‘ah, Central America,’ I say, ‘No, it’s not Central America, it’s the Caribbean.’ But look, for the South everything north of Colombia is Central America. They don’t distinguish between the Caribbean and Central America; it’s the product of the ignorance manufactured by the right-wing, and by the mainstream media. So I think you have to somehow go out and show what Puerto Rican culture is about.”

“I think social networks are a great tool. And I don’t see much of you on social networks and I would love to follow you because I think it’s an extremely important case of resistance. Because look, there the Americans [U.S.] wanted to ‘annihilate’ you, leave you without a language, without a culture, leave you with nothing, and Puerto Rico is still there. So I think it’s very important. You don’t need to think that the government is going to do it. If you don’t do it, no one will do it. And those here, they don’t know, don’t understand. South America doesn’t know, doesn’t have the experience with the world of the Caribbean, except Venezuela. Puerto Rico has great musicians, great music, great literature, a lot of things to appreciate, but it’s an island and islands are complicated, it’s difficult to overcome insularity. I think it’s an optimistic message, not pessimistic. I say this with affection. I have enormous affection for Puerto Rico.”

Boron, closely following the case of [Puerto Rican political prisoner] Oscar Lopez Rivera and the campaign for his release, affirmed that “Oscar must also be released.” He added that Oscar’s case is being showed a little more in South American media. “But speaking in Puerto Rican, we must put in more fire to it. More fire because he won’t release himself. But I’m not the typical guy, and you have to do more to let more people know about his case. There are many people interested in Puerto Rico remaining as an American colonial enclave.”

VB: What would those interested that Puerto Rico remains a colony gain?

“What would they gain? They would continue to enjoy the privileges they have had so far. There have been people who have had a great time with that neo-colonial status. All the political leaders linked to the empire have done very well. Now with [Barack] Obama the whole thing got complicated for them. There’s crisis and Obama said No. US$72 billion is a huge figure. It’s a very difficult situation. Now, the big problem is how a pro-independence alternative that captures a majority of the people of Puerto Rico hasn’t successfully being raised. What are they going to do? Who’s going to pay that? The situation is very difficult. Now, the big problem is how it has not succeeded in raising an independence alternative to capture a majority of the will of the people of Puerto Rico. The pro-independence activists were and remain a minority, at least, an electoral minority. On the other hand, the nationalist sentiment in Puerto Rico is very strong. That’s the great paradox. But there comes all the confusion created by the PPD (Popular Democratic Party, party that favors the status quo). At the end what they did was to sell the idea of a light annexation, at the price of maintaining a facade of the Puerto Rican national identity. I think that [concept] is also in crisis and perhaps it can bring the possibility that there’s an independence movement saying: well, if Wales wants to be independent, if Scotland wants to be independent, if Catalonia wants to be independent, then why we in Puerto Rico remain a colony? Why? What does Puerto Rico win? What is the gain?

Well, they have to break that and they will find many friends. There’s space, you realize, for serious political work that allows real progress.”

Atilio Boron was one of the keynote speakers who participated in the international conference about journalism from the perspective of the South, and was in charge of the closing conference, presenting his paper ‘The Media and the Battle for Democracy in Latin America.’