July 28th marks the 35th anniversary of the political assassination of two Puerto Rican independence activists, Carlos Soto Arriví and Arnaldo Darío Rosado, in the infamous Cerro Maravillai case. This case, which was widely followed among Puerto Ricans, involved an agent provocateur that led the activists to an ambush that resulted in their brutal murder by paramilitary agents within the colonial police force. The event led to two investigations, the second of which revealed a conspiracy to cover up both the assassination plot as well as the destruction and manipulation of evidence carried out by the colonial police and justice department, and well as the federal justice department and FBI. Cerro Maravilla symbolizes for many the most outstanding recent example of repressive measures, from surveillance to political assassination, unleashed by US imperialism against the anticolonial movement in Puerto Rico.
The recent revelations of NSA spying by Edward Snowden have provoked mass outrage across the globe. Much of the consternation comes from what is commonly understood as a violation of privacy. In the official media, Snowden’s actions have been framed as a debate between ‘national security’ and ‘privacy’. However, framing the question in these terms is pure subterfuge. The Puerto Rican experience shows that the true objectives of surveillance programs by intelligence agencies like the NSA, CIA, and FBI having nothing to do with ‘security’ or ‘protection’ but rather political repression. Systematic surveillance can only be understood as an essential part of state repression, the purpose of which is to intimidate those that question the status quo by promoting a culture of fear. One can never be separated from the other.
The systematic surveillance and repression of Puerto Rico’s anticolonial movement is obviously just one example of many. A brief historical sketch of US imperialism’s repressive efforts against anticolonial forces in Puerto Rico must begin with the political intrigues that preceded the 1898 military invasion as well as the martial law that characterized both military and civilian colonial governments in its immediate aftermath. This history goes on to include the surveillance and repressive attacks against the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party and its followers from the 30s through the 50s, which included massacres of unarmed civilians, political assassinations and imprisonments, the harassment and attacks against labor unions and newly emergent socialist organizations of the same period, as well as COINTELPRO operations against resurgent nationalist and socialist political formations during the 60s and 70s.ii Indeed, in 1987 it was revealed that over 130,000 files on individuals and organizations had been accumulated through systematic surveillance on the island. This history is an integral part of the parallel campaigns of systematic state repression unleashed within the United States against groups such as the Black Liberation Movement, the American Indian Movement, the Chicano Liberation Movement, radical labor organizations, progressive students and antiwar activists, as well as communists.iii As such, what constitutes a scandal for the broader public is in fact part of the daily reality for those that fight for freedom and an end to oppression.
Snowden’s revelation that the United States Security Group Command’s Sabana Seca installation, located in the northern coastal municipality of Toa Baja, is part of an international surveillance network, which includes the Fornstat program, comes to no surprise to Puerto Rican anticolonial activists. From Sabana Seca, US naval intelligence monitors and gathers Internet, phone, and other forms of communication. In 1999, Duncan Campbell and Mark Honigsbaum of The Guardian already highlighted the naval intelligence’s “Echelon” operations from Sabana Seca and other locations both in the US and internationally as part of joint US British surveillance programs.iv
What is critical to highlight about US imperialism in Puerto Rico is the continued military character of colonialism on the island. For the benefit of those that may be unaware or who take the position that US militarism characterized only the past history of colonialism in Puerto Rico, a few contemporary examples serve to illustrate the point. Over the past decade and a half, Puerto Ricans have mobilized en masse to oppose a proposed military radar system intended for the Lajas valley in the southwestern part of the island, to end the practice of using the eastern island of Vieques as a bombing range by the US military and its allies (It should be noted that there was also a successful campaign to end the militarization of Culebra island also off the eastern coast of the main island in the 70s), and in more recent times against a system of potentially toxic and environmentally destructive antennas used both by the military and cellular companies that have proliferated across the island. In an article in the current issue of Claridad, the spokesperson for the grassroots Coalition of Communities Against the Proliferation of Antennas, Wilson Torres, sheds light on the US military’s Full Spectrum Dominance program currently being implemented in Puerto Rico. v
Understood in the context of pervasive unemployment, which serves to ensure an ever present pool of recruits used as cannon fodder in US military campaigns throughout the world as well as the structural dependence of large parts of the colonial economy on the Pentagon, this picture constitutes the modified form of US militarism in Puerto Rico in the present context. One may add the militarization of the colonial police force in the ongoing attacks against residents of public housing and other marginalized communities to this reality.
It would not be difficult to draw parallels between much of what is described immediately above and the realities faced by many North Americans. Heavy-handed policing and economically depressed communities dependent upon military or prison industries are a familiar reality for many. Yet the notion that the United States of America is characterized by a repressive state is much more difficult for the average person to accept. The narrative of 9/11 provides the pretext that results in the conflation of national security and state repression in the minds of many.
Notwithstanding, the revelations about the NSA spying program have provoked the condemnation of all except the most recalcitrant sycophants of US imperialism. Yet, it is absolutely necessary to place these programs in the context of the long history of state repression and militarism. Those on the left must push to extend the public discourse beyond questions of personal privacy to a discussion of systematic political repression within increasingly militarized “liberal” democracies. The experiences of anticolonial activists and militant, class-conscious revolutionaries from Puerto Rico lend valuable insights that add to the discussion around the significance of what Snowden’s leaks reveal: systematic surveillance and state repression are two sides of the same coin.
An insightful comment by Marx, writing in the New York Daily Tribune about British imperialism in India during the mid 1800s and often repeated among Puerto Rican comrades, is a useful starting point for the US left:
“The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization lies unveiled before our eyes, moving from its home, where it assumes respectable form, to the colonies, where it goes naked.”
Carlos Borrero is a New York based writer.
Monsanto has been under fire lately, and things aren’t much different in Puerto Rico. The biotech giant is being criticized for refusing to testify at a government hearing regarding the sale on the island of their own genetically-modified seeds.
The website Corpwatch cites a recent article from the commonwealth’s Spanish-language El Nuevo Dia newspaper in which Monsanto is reported to have shut-down requests to send a representative to an upcoming GMO hearing.
The hearing, a meeting of the Puerto Rican Senate Agriculture Committee, involved the potential creation of a “Seed Board” and certification and licensing system that would regulate the development and sale of seeds on the island.
According to Corpwatch, Monsanto spokesperson Eric Torres-Collazo told the committee that “Monsanto does not produce, sell (or) offer… basic or certified seed with the purpose of planting in Puerto Rico.” That hasn’t satisfied the committee members, though, since Monsanto does indeed engage in some sort of GMO operations on the island.
“Among Monsanto’s arguments for refusing to offer testimony to the Puerto Rican senate committee is that it doesn’t grow GMO agricultural products for consumption on the island,” wrote Mark Karlin for Truth-Out, “it just creates the Frankenstein seeds there through research.”
Corpwatch, a blog specializing in corporate accountability, added that Monsanto’s operations in Puerto Rico, while not involving the planting of GMO seeds, are indeed extensive and not without controversy.
“Monsanto has also been embroiled in a legal controversy over the fact it plants crops on 1,500 acres, despite the fact that Puerto Rico’s 1952 constitution prohibits agricultural landholdings larger than 500 acres,” Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero wrote for Corpwatch this week. Meanwhile, he continued, “[l]ocal media reports have pointed out the irony that despite the fact that Monsanto is in apparent violation of the Puerto Rico constitution, it has received $4.9 million in subsidies from the local Agriculture Department to help it cover payroll expenses from 2006 to 2013.”
Senator Ramón Ruiz-Nieves, a member of the Popular Democratic Party and the chair of the Agricultural Committee, told reporters that he will ask Monsanto again to weigh in on an upcoming seed hearing. The full Senate Health Committee is slated to go over the creation of the potential Seed Board later this year.
According to the investigative journalism site Counterpunch, no state in the US aside from Hawaii has had as many GM crop experiments-per-mile than Puerto Rico as of 2005. “Puerto Rico attracts agricultural biotechnology companies because of the tropical climate that permits up to four harvests yearly and the willingness of the government to fast-track permits,” Counterpunch quoted Margarita Irizarry and José Rodríguez Orengo of the University of Puerto Rico’s Medical Sciences Campus. “Furthermore, the opposition to GM foods is almost non-existent on the island and no particular environmental group is protesting the presence of Dow, Syngenta Seeds, Pioneer HiBred, Mycogen Seeds, Rice Tech, AgReliant Genetics, Bayer Croposcience and Monsanto.”
Monsanto has come under increased scrutiny as of late for its questionable farming and litigation practices that have been condemned by organic farmers across the globe. International protests against the GMO giant occurred last month in six continents across the globe, including one in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
By Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
We have repeatedly warned against using food crops to produce gene drugs and industrial chemicals since 1998. The inevitable contamination of our food supply has now come to light. But the more insidious pollution of our soil, water and air has yet to be assessed. Poisons can seep through the plant roots and dissolve in ground water. Pollen carrying the offending drugs and chemicals could be inhaled. Wild and domestic animals of all kinds are likely to feed on the crops.
On November 11, the US government ordered the biotech company, ProdiGene, to destroy 500,000 bushels of soybeans contaminated with GM maize, engineered to produce a drug not approved for human consumption. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) refused to give details on the protein involved because it is deemed ‘confidentual business information’.
It could be one of the following: the HIV glycoprotein gp120, a blood-clotting agent (aprotinin), a digestive enzyme (trypsin), an industrial adhesive (a fungal enzyme, laccase), vaccines for hepatitis B, vaccine for a pig disease, transmissible gastroenteritis.
USDA records show that ProdiGene has received 85 test permits for experimental open-air trials of pharm crops and chemical crops in at least 96 locations.
The ‘edible’ AIDS vaccine with the HIV glycoprotein gp120 gene has been condemned as dangerous by a number of AIDS virologists because the gp120 gene and gene product can undermine our immune system and generate new viruses and bacteria that cause diseases.
A day later, the US government disclosed that ProdiGene did the same thing in Iowa back in September. The USDA ordered 155 acres of nearby corn to be incinerated for fear of contamination.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The true extent of the contamination remains unknown owing to the secrecy surrounding more than 300 field trials of such crops across the country since 1991. Still others sites are in Canada. The chemicals these plants produce include vaccines, growth hormones, clotting agents, industrial enzymes, human antibodies, contraceptives, immune suppressive cytokines and abortion-inducing drugs.
The majority of engineered biopharmaceuticals are being incorporated into maize. ProdiGene, the company at the centre of the current scandal has the greatest number of pharm crops and projects that 10 percent of the US maize will be devoted to biopharm products by 2010.
Far from supporting even weak containment strategies such as buffer zones, ProdiGene has told its shareholders it is hoping to “gain regulatory approval to lessen or abandon these requirements altogether”.
Trials in other countries have also come to light. According to a recent report by Genetically Engineered Food Alert, a US-based coalition of environmental and consumer advocacy groups, Puerto Rico is one of four main centres in the US for these tests. The other three are the states of Nebraska, Wisconsin and Hawaii.
Another report by the same group reveals that these plants are by no means the only experimental GM crops grown in Puerto Rico. This Caribbean island has been host to 2,296 USDA-approved GM open-air field tests as of January 2001, making Puerto Rico host to more GM food experiments per square mile than any US state, except Hawaii.
Puerto Rico is not a state. Its residents are US citizens but have no voice or vote in the US Congress or in the UN.
Puerto Rico Farmers Association president Ramon Gonzalez revealed that he plants GM crops in his farm in the town of Salinas. He said that genetically modified crops in Puerto Rico are commercial and include a herbicide-resistant soya made by Monsanto (Roundup-ready) and a variety of corn that produces its own bio-pesticide, or Bt corn.
According to Gonzalez, the harvested GM crops planted there are sold as seed to be planted elsewhere. “Puerto Rico is the preferred place to make seed because our weather permits us to have up to four harvests a year.”
Local regulatory agencies seem to be unaware of the issue. A spokeswoman for the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board said that as Puerto Rico has no laws or regulations for GM crops, it has no mandate to intervene or investigate.
USDA spokesman Jim Rogers is reported to have said, “Nobody’s going to know all the possible risks”, and “We mitigate these risks to what we feel is appropriate”.
On the contrary, we do know enough of the risks for such crops to be banned immediately. The USDA and other government regulators have been warned, and they should be held liable for all damages along with the companies involved.