In July of 1898, amidst the Spanish American War, the United States made a move to invade Puerto Rico, setting off a chain of events that unfolded over the years. The small island of Puerto Rico rests in the Caribbean Sea, and is tied to the United States as an unincorporated territory.
The United States has committed several atrocities in Puerto Rico, a handful of which will be outlined here:
Also called “La isla nena,” Vieques is Puerto Rican municipality inhabited by over 9,000 viequenses. Vieques consists of about 134 square miles of land, or about 33,000 acres. The United States decided to use the area for Naval training exercises and tests starting in 1941. Over the course of that year, the U.S. took control of 70% of the island, or about 22,600 acres.
The United States would bomb Vieques for 55 years, ending in May of 2003. Over the course of this time, the island accrued 22 million pounds of military and industrial waste. Over 23,000 bombs were dropped on the island, and many of the island’s inhabitants suffer from the consequences.
Cancer rates in this region are almost 30 percent higher than on the mainland, and toxic chemicals in the groundwater have risen to dangerous levels, violating World Health Organization standards.
Experimentation with radiation
In 1994 during Bill Clinton’s term as president, the United States Department of Energy released information detailing the United State’s involvement in unsanctioned radiation experiments conducted on Puerto Rican prisoners during the 1950s and 1970s.
One man the United States experimented on was Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, an iconic leader of the Puerto Rican independence movement. After telling the world of his being experimented on, the United States responded with claims that he was insane.
Pedro passed away in 1965, and was carried to Old San Juan Cemetery by over 75,000 Puerto Ricans.
Dr. Cornelius Rhoads
As an American doctor and pathologist, Dr. Cornelius Rhoads is widely known for his extreme methods of experimentation on humans. Funded largely by the Rockefeller Institute, Rhoads infected numerous Puerto Rican citizens with cancer cells; thirteen of which died.
After an investigation conducted in 2003 by bioethicist Dr. Jay Katz, it was found that many of the accusations against Rhoads could be proven by documentation.
In one document, Rhoads wrote: “The Porto Ricans [sic] are the dirtiest, laziest, most degenerate and thievish race of men ever to inhabit this sphere… I have done my best to further the process of extermination by killing off eight and transplanting cancer into several more… All physicians take delight in the abuse and torture of the unfortunate subjects.”
As part of FDR’s “Operation Bootstrap,” Puerto Rican women suffered the consequences of a female sterilization policy implemented in the 1950s and 60s. La Operacion is a documentary illustrating this policy’s effects on Puerto Rican citizens. By the early 70s, almost 35% of Puerto Rican women were sterile. By 1981 this number would rise to close to 40%.
One of the largest criticisms of this policy is that a large number of Puerto Rican women were misled about what the sterilization process entailed, as well as how the process would affect them.
Puerto Rican Status
While Puerto Rico has been recognized as a United States territory for over 100 years, its citizens lack many basic rights while having to obey United States federal law. Puerto Ricans cannot vote for presidential or congressional candidates, and the person designated to represent them, the Resident Commissioner, cannot vote on legislation. As you can imagine, this means an entire people largely has no say in how their territory is governed.
One of the most extreme examples of how this affects Puerto Rico every day is the 1920 Jones Act. This law demands that any goods purchased by Puerto Rico must be transported to the island through the United States Merchant Marine, which is one of the most expensive operations functioning today.
It’s been estimated that Puerto Rico would save about $150 million in product export if this law did not exist. This would allow them to lower prices and become competitive in the global market. Not to mention, other United States territories, like the Virgin Islands, do not have to abide by the same laws as Puerto Rico.