The Left Press and Puerto Rico

Against the Current, No. 20, May/June 1989

John Vandermeer

A CURRENT clarion call in the left media is the well-deserved criticism of bourgeois media. This phenomenon is witnessed by numerous articles and editorials in The Nation, the publication of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent, and much observation and analysis elsewhere.

One target of this criticism is the refusal to cover issues that are obviously challenging to bourgeois power. While forced invisibility of particular issues is not the only mechanism of press control, it certainly is a major one. From the Christie Institute to East Timor, there is always a surfeit of candidates for the most under-reported story-of-the-year award. The left critique goes something like this. A truly free press would cover issues in proportion to their importance to constituencies. The bourgeois press claims a constituency considerably broader than its coverage suggests, arguably reflecting a higher goal, not explicitly articulated to even its own practitioners. As power concentrates, this critique becomes ever more palpable, and few who have given the problem any thought would disagree.

Part of the same analysis tacitly suggests that the left press is different, that it represents a well-defined constituency of workers, women, minorities, the oppressed of the Third World, etc. and, most importantly, that it represents its constituency well. Indeed, conservative analysts might detect a certain self-serving arrogance in the left critique of the bourgeois media and might, with a certain validity, suggest that some of the manure ought to be piled up right at home.

The issue that brings me to these observations is that of Puerto Rico. This small island nation and its diaspora in the United States are recipients of the worst the United States has offered.

Forcibly retained as a colony when even South Africa capitulates on Namibia, maintaining scores of political prisoners when even El Salvador is forced to release some, and retaining poverty statistics even worse than Blacks, Puerto Rico seems to be as invisible to the left press as the Christie Institute is to bourgeois propagandists.

While the excitement of insurrection in El Salvador captured a great deal of attention in the early ’80s, it was replaced with the reality of counter-revolution in Nicaragua in the late ’80s. Throughout this period a military dictatorship in Chile, for which the United States bears principal responsibility, attracted a low­ level, but constant attention.

And Puerto Rico-whose people are the third largest national minority in the United States, a colony of the United States in the age of Third World liberation, staging ground for the invasion of Grenada, practice field for the invasion of Nicaragua, storage facility for part of the nuclear arsenal, supplier of the vast majority of political prisoners in the United States — ranks at about the level of Uruguay, the most distant country in this hemisphere from the United States.

Why this situation exists is an interesting question, clearly a theme for someone’s doctoral dissertation. Perhaps Puerto Rico’s political status is too complicated an issue on which to build solidarity. Perhaps the bourgeois press was successful in its campaign to define Puerto Rico out of existence in 1952 when the U.5.-controlled United Nations changed the name of its status from colony to commonwealth. Perhaps the repeated mandates of the UN’s decolonization committee for the United States to immediately remove itself from Puerto Rico received so little attention because the bourgeois press had been so successful with its newspeak in the early ’50s.

Perhaps a false sense of imperialism suggested that the Puerto Ricans themselves bear the responsibility for promoting their cause as part of the U.S. left agenda. Perhaps the solidarity movement sees Puerto Rico as an issue of national minorities, while the civil-rights movement sees it as an issue of Third World liberation, with the issue itself somehow falling in the cracks. Whatever the reason, the silence of the left press is deafening.

The most recent example is the trial of the Hartford 15 [Puerto Rican independence activists on trial for an alleged Wells Fargo robbery-ed.]. This event is so incredibly outrageous that it admittedly defies description. The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted one of its largest ever military operations to arrest the defendants in the first place.

It routinely ignored constitutional provisions of both the U.S. and Puerto Rican constitutions. (Recall that the Puerto Rican constitution was imposed on the people of that country specifically for the purpose of convincing the UN to change the name of its status from colony to commonwealth, and that the United States’ agreement to abide by that constitution was one of the major factors convincing the UN to do so.)

The investigation that preceded the arrest dwarfed any of the well-publicized drug investigations for which the agency reaps such unbridled accolades from the bourgeois press. It included for each of the defendants sophisticated psychological profiles that are being used today to divide the accused and prevent them in consort, thus hopefully avoiding damaging political fallout.

Subsequent to the arrest the defendants were held without bail, in some cases breaking U.S. records for time spent under bail denial. The trial itself, cited by William Kunstler as “the most important political trial of the decade,” deserves far more coverage than it is getting in the left press. The U.S. government is trying, once again, to deal a death blow to the Puerto Rican independence movement; the left press seems to be in compliance.

The trial is complicated and confusing. That is hardly reason for ignoring it. That most progressives in this country know more about the latest maneuvers between the Sandinistas and the contras than they do about the latest maneuvers of the U.S. government to intimidate the Puerto Rican independence movement attests to a certain irresponsibility on the part of our progressive media.

Please let us have complete and continual coverage of the Hartford 15 case. Please let us have regular pieces analyzing events such as the incarceration of Alejandrina in the Lexington Control Unit, the U.5.-sponsored death squad that murdered the Cerro Maravilla martyrs, the torture and assassination of Angel in a foreign jail cell — the list is very long.

At a most general political level, Puerto Rico should be central to the progressive analysis. A major national oppressed minority from a country that is essential to continued U.S. imperial domination of the Western Hemisphere deserves more space than Uruguay.

May-June 1989, ATC 20

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