On Sunday an alleged 2 million people hit the streets of Manhattan for the Puerto Rican Day Parade and later today who knows how many will greet U.S. President Barack Obama as he visits the mainland of Puerto Rico. But between now and then there are a few issues which the President is likely not to address which are critical to the future of a healthy Puerto Rican community on the island and here in the United States.
Police Brutality and Police Inaction
This past weekend, the ACLU restated the fact that the island is facing a pattern of police brutality and governmental suppression.While the issue of the extreme violence faced by the University of Puerto Rico student protesters and supporters was addressed in the U.S. Congress, President Obama has turned a blind eye.
Connected is the spike in violence against queer Puerto Ricans and the impunity that has come with it. In the last year and a half there have been at least 18 killed in anti-queer, anti-transgender, anti-gay violence on the island. I think it is critical to use the words “at least” because these are the murders that the officials have recognized and identified. Chances sadly are that incidents of violence against the queer, transgender, lesbian and gay community on the island are highly underreported.
There should be no expectation that a police force which so willingly and with impunity enacts violence against their own, would protect segments of the community when under clear attack from others.
The Puerto Rican Colony and Political Prisoners
It is expected that among those “greeting” Obama will be those demanding the release of political prisoners like Oscar López Rivera and others, as well as independence for the island which has been under U.S. control since 1898. Already there have been acts of civil disobedience on the island that are expected to continue.
President Obama, to date has refused to identify Puerto Rico by it’s true status, that of colony, and so long as there is a denial of that, there can be no real expectation of change in terms of how the status issue is handled.
Using Puerto Ricans to Cover Up Failure on Immigration
It has been widely reported that Obama is hoping that his visit to Puerto Rico will help gain the Puerto Rican vote in the United States for his 2012 reelection campaign. Puerto Rico allegedly played a similar role during the President’s initial run for the White House. What Obama and his camp probably did not count on was the linking of his Puerto Rican visit with the issue of immigration, specifically the DREAM Act. After all, immigration is seen a virtual non-issue for Puerto Ricans today since Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and can travel freely between the island and the 50 states. There is a denial however as Puerto Rico as an immigration hub especially for many Dominicans, which has raised tensions both on and off the island as divide and conquer politics among Latinos has us fighting each other over scarce economic opportunities instead of unifying against the conditions that have created that situation. In a conference call yesterday, a young Dominican immigrant student, who would be DREAM Act eligible spoke out about her experiences in Puerto Rico.
“I arrived in Puerto Rico when I was 9 years old in a small fishing boat from Dominican Republic. I graduated a few weeks ago from high school with honors, but because I’m undocumented, I’m stuck with the impossibility of reaching my dream of becoming a doctor,” expressed Esmeralda Hidalgo, one of hundreds of undocumented students who graduate from schools in Puerto Rico. “I need President Obama to pass an executive order to stop deportations of DREAM Act students like me until we have the DREAM Act.”
DREAM Act student are left very vulnerable for the lack of immigration reform. Jose Rodríguez, spokesperson for the Dominican Human Rights Center in Puerto Rico, also joined today’s call and expressed that at least 3 immigrants from the island have been recently killed due to their immigration status. “There are hundreds of thousands of immigrants living in Puerto Rico who live in constant fear. We urge President Obama to at the very least stop deporting our youth right away until there is a legislative solution to our human rights crisis.”
I think it’s still very hard for many to conceptualize immigration as a Puerto Rican issue. The truth of the matter is that as long as the colonial status of the island remains intact, how the issues of violence, identity, access, and self-determination are dealt with will continue to happen in a lopsided and incomplete manner. Brutality is much more than the outright use of physical violence in order to control and create submission. In terms of Puerto Rico, brutality looks like over a hundred years of the United States manipulating the lives of our people. Basta ya!