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 U.S. role in the Caribbean, target Puerto Rico

From the Series
 "The Other Side of the Coin"

L. J. White

Most Americans are not aware are of the Caribbean region, the nations, the people, their struggle.  The majority back in the mainland envision the Caribbean as a place of used to be pirates, romance and most of all that two-week cruise they worked for all year.  I saw it just that way until I set sail for the Caribbean a few years ago aboard my sailboat,  "Attitude Adjustment", little did I know the name of the vessel would be so fitting. 

The Caribbean region is compromised of countless Islands.  The Bahamas on the north, with unbelievable crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches and fantastic fishing & diving.  Cuba,   "The Pearl of the Antilles", just ninety miles off Key West, is the biggest and perhaps most beautiful Island in the Caribbean.  Hispañola (Santo Domingo), with Haiti occupying about one third of the island, it is the land of magic, Voodoo and mystery it is also the first independent republic in the hemisphere.   The Dominican Republic, which occupies the ret of the island, home of Diego Colon and the Colonial City, the oldest city of the New World.  Puerto Rico, without a doubt is " The Island of Enchantment " rich with malls and Chain Stores..... it is just a joke. 

The American and British Virgin Islands are known as the chartering capital of the world.  Martinique, Granada and the rest of the Island belt ending with Trinidad and Tobago on the south side, just off the Venezuelan coast, with a special mood of its own, not to mention Aruba and many more.  Between the magnificent contrast are literally hundreds of Islands and keys making up the Caribbean.  Aside from the beautiful Islands, which are rich in culture and tradition, we have their equally gorgeous and hospitable inhabitants.  In the case of the Dominicans, they are simple yet beautifully natural and sincere people. However, there is another strong influence in the region, the United States.

Puerto Rico, a mountainous island measuring a mere thirty five by one hundred twenty miles lying south east of Hispañola, under U.S. influence and partial control since the 40's or maybe earlier in some ways.   Upon your arrival in Puerto Rico the American presence is not apparent, nor is the tremendous influence it has exerted upon the Island and its inhabitants, mostly descendants of Taino Indians, Spaniards and African slaves. 

To the many visitors that come to the island it is just a well-deserved tropical vacation filled with exciting landscapes, mountain ranges and a delightful exposure to a different and colorful new culture and customs, finding them amazing and entertaining.  San Juan, being the Capital, has the most accommodations including an International Airport where just about all tourists arrive.  When I first visited Puerto Rico, as a tourist in the seventies, I had no conception of the problems they faced and what the U.S. had brought to this small but "Enchanted Island". 

Only upon my return in the nineties, to cohabit within their people, did I begin to understand the realities faced by their society.   Actually, by living among the natives I began to comprehend their culture, way of life and idiosyncrasies making up this marvelous Caribbean community.  The natural beauty in Puerto Rico is abundant, from El Yunke, a small but breathtaking rain forest to the many beaches surrounding the Island.   Boquerón Beach and resort town, on the west end, is alive with colorful shops and entertainment.  You can sit and sip on a Piña Colada in a rustic and quaint romantic setting enjoying sailboat silhouettes against incredible sunsets.

Rich culture, customs and history make Puerto Rico individual and a unique part of the Caribbean. It also houses many U.S. military installations and bases.  They are widespread throughout the Island such as, Roosevelt Roads, Campamento Santiago, the Airbase in Aguadilla, Coast Guard base in San Juan are just a few among them.   Arecibo, on the north coast, is home to the observatory said to house the largest Radar Dish in the world, transmitting signals into outer space in search of intelligent life. 

Coast Guard surveillance in the waters around Puerto Rico is constant, military exercises on land or seas are not uncommon and the people often openly protest these kind of activities.  There were demonstrations against the Lajas radar and the proposed relocation of the South Command from Panama to the island.   Now the latest controversy is the U.S. intervention in the island of Vieques, a few miles of the south coast.  This action taken by the U.S.  Government has brought widespread protest.  The peaceful and religious demonstrations have reached numbers more than 85,000 people carrying flags and religious signs.  Over a mile of the Las Americas Expressway was filled with people protesting.  

This posture by the U.S. military forces and Government, agreements or not, is totally uncalled for and violates not only the human rights of the people but their wishes for safety and a peaceful environment.

What of the people, what has it done to them?  Do they want the U.S. to be so influential over their lives?  Does Puerto Rico want to be a state or are there circumstances forcing a do or die situations? 

American influence goes well beyond military installations in Puerto Rico.  Just about any store that is found in the states you would probably find on this unique Island, of course, malls included.  Puerto Rico is officially  "A Free Associated State", a paradox per se, that the population as a whole cannot swallow themselves. 

As for the consensus of opinion, back in the States, Puerto Rico is a bad word costing the taxpayers millions of dollars.  They are discriminated against by Americans, unfortunately they are the brunt of many distasteful jokes.  For the most part the islanders call the Americans, Americanos or Gringos.    They love to talk on their Cellular phone to their spouse or family member going through tolls in their Maxima or Ford Mustang and while shopping at Wal-Mart.

United States media never reports the huge amounts of money of private industry takes back to the States while paying substandard wages, thereby offsetting the millions claimed as a loss by the government.  The infrastructure is poor, making matters worse.  There are approximately a bit over three million inhabitants in Puerto Rico and about one and one half million vehicles.  One small problem, they did not allow for enough parking spaces, except in the malls of course.   The Utilities, Hospitals and highway systems are poor by American standards, specially the medical facilities.  Sanitation such as sewers and public waste disposal is inadequate and poorly maintained.

Politics are a mixture of American corruption with a “Latin Flair”.   Police department, FURA (rapid deployment forces), Recursos Naturales (natural resources) are among many clones of US agencies.    Puerto Rico’s people are by law American citizens, having all the benefits Americans enjoy specially, Social Services and Social Security just to mention a few.  However, by birth the people call themselves Puertoricans, somewhat a confused society.

Crime and drugs are abundant and growing, especially in the major cities, there seems to be no hope in sight.   In August of 96 well over one billion dollars worth of drugs were confiscated.  In the same period many execution style murders were reported throughout the Island.  Family unity and bonds are very strong among this society.  The increasing drug problem is undermining one of their most precious assets, their love of family and children.

Small Local businessmen are suffering the effect of major U.S. conglomerates and large department stores.  The life style of the people is rapidly changing, leaving in its wake a poor clone of the American life style, a nightmare of sort with no feasible solution at hand.

By nature, the inhabitants of this plush island are expressive loving people with a strong sense of culture and tradition.  This is responsible for their colorful art, unique cuisine, music of almost hypnotic rhythm and their individual way of life giving them a fitting place in the Caribbean.  Spanish is the official language, endangered by the possibilities of Statehood and the School System.

Slowly, and by U.S. manipulation, these good people are changing into something they are not, nor can they ever be.   Many of them have struggled long and hard to achieve independence and retain their language, customs and wonderful traditions.   However; it has been to no avail, they are being lost day by day.   The sense of pride as a free nation is only apparent in a few that still believe in the independent movement, a seemingly unrealistic dream without the help of the United States to ensure a smooth transition.

Why is it that the U.S. does not encourage Puerto Rico’s independence by helping this Island nation through the transition?  Instead, more American interest pours in while the people live in political limbo without a real solution or definition in sight. 

No other nation in the Caribbean is in the position Puerto Rico is in today.   America has brought modern technology, among a host of other amenities enjoyed by the islanders.   At the same time, it has introduced all the evils of the American system to this small island without the basic infrastructure, knowledge or ability to cope with them, being completely misled.

Believe it or not, a large segment of this society is not even aware of what is happening; Sound familiar?   In my travels I have covered the entire island finding many towns large and small where you see a Burger King in the corner and on the opposite side of the street, small hamburger or hot dog stand remind you of the poorest areas of the Dominican Republic.  In fact, there are large areas of Cabo Rojo, a medium size "Pueblo" or town, that resemble the village of Luperón in the Dominican Republic, one of the poorest towns of the country.   The Dominicans have a legitimate excuse for this type of scenario, Puerto Rico does not!

Although located in the heart of the Caribbean the island is quickly moving away from what makes the Caribbean, " The Caribbean ".   Instead, it is becoming over crowded, not with people, but with "Mickey Dee´s" and a host of franchises and industries influencing the people, their way of life and the economy. They are becoming, if not there yet, a consumer economy as opposed to a producing one. 

As Puerto Rico faces the new millenium, it is confronting many challenges.  One of the most important issues to this tiny Island is political status.    Not able to manufacture or produce a substantial national product, achieving an adequate trade balance, it is totally dependent on the U.S.   Local and federal government employs a large percentage of the population, far more than the private industry. 

Unemployment figures are high and pay scales are low.  American influence has damaged the basic way of life in Puerto Rico in the final analysis, should it continue as it has it will irreversibly and adversely change this Caribbean community.  Through tourism and other industries, this Island can achieve autonomy, although small in sizes, the people make up for the geographical measurements.   Puerto Rico should make a decision to regain the identity and pride it has lost along the way. 

In the eyes of most Americans Puerto Rico is a burden, costing a great deal of money in subsidization with little to offer, except that vacation we talked about at the beginning of this article.  Some islanders view it as progress, dollars, citizenship and the benefits that go with it.  Others see it as a colony, exploited by the United States and American private industry, while poisoned with a life style not natural or acceptable.

American taxpayers are not being educated to the realities and consequences of U.S. Foreign Policy abroad and the media does very little to shed light on the issues and problems of nations like Puerto Rico.  Unfortunately, the majority of Americans have "Tunnel Vision" when it comes to foreign affairs.   Actually, it is not their fault; it is the negligence of the Educational System, the corruption within the Government, the greed of the multi million dollar companies.   Furthermore, the one-sided, manipulative reporting by the media are just a few reasons the American Public cannot see...

"The Other Side of the Coin".  

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