At the beginning of April 2007, people in Puerto Rico saw pictures of Jason Núñez Fernández from the town of Naranjitos on their television screens. The 22-year-old husband and father of two daughters had returned home in a casket covered with the U.S. flag, a casualty of Iraq.
More than 70 Puerto Ricans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. The majority of them were born in Puerto Rico, but some were from New York and other states.
We are again haunted by our colonial status.
Since U.S. citizenship was imposed on us by the Jones Act of 1917, Puerto Ricans have served as cannon fodder in every war the United States has participated in or initiated. Our youth have been dragged, again and again, to the slaughterhouse — first through the draft and then through the false promises of the poverty draft. More Puerto Ricans have fought in U.S. wars than have the citizens of 35 of the 50 states.
Broad-based peace groups like Mothers Against the War have many activities against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan throughout Puerto Rico. Sonia Santiago leads the group, and on Memorial Day she and others accompanied the mothers of soldiers who have died in Iraq to the cemetery.
Santiago talks about the human toll of the war in an article she published on Memorial Day. Citing data from a John Hopkins University study, she writes: “3,452 U.S. troops have died so far. An average of four die every day. There have been more than 40,000 wounded and more than 750,000 Iraqis civilians have died also.”
Santiago continues: “Mothers Against the War offer our most sincere condolences to all the Puerto Rican, Latina, U.S. and British mothers, but we also think of the Afghan and Iraqi mothers, because war does not discriminate against any culture or nationality, and the death of a son or daughter is felt by any human being, no matter where they are.”
The colonial governor of Puerto Rico, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, has called for an end to the war and the return of all the North American National Guard of Puerto Rico from Iraq. The Puerto Rican Department of Education has also opened the doors of the island’s schools to alternative recruiters, not just the military ones.
The social and economic situation in Puerto Rico and the Latino and Puerto Rican ghettoes of the metropolis facilitate the recruitment of youth into the U.S. military. The lack of work and the prevalence of violence (murder is the main cause of death for Puerto Rican men ages 18 to 35) make the colony a fertile recruitment ground. The military recruiters promise them the sky-high salaries, scholarships and other privileges associated with the license to kill or be killed.
This is what entices Puerto Rican youth to enlist, not the myth of the U.S. battle to promote democracy in the world, even though there are probably some who enlist out of pure idealism. In our case, all the humbug about “common citizenship” and “common defense” makes the Puerto Rican people, because of our colonial situation, more vulnerable to the false propaganda of patriotism. Without a doubt, the promises and the money play a larger role in the decision-making process.
When I saw the wake of Jason Núñez Fernández on television, I saw Doña Marlene, with the wrath of a wounded mother, tear the foreign flag off her son’s casket and, with love and tenderness, cover her son with the solitary star of her flag — the Puerto Rican flag.
Without a doubt, not a single Puerto Rican should offer his or her life for the imperial interests of the nation that has denied us our right to self-determination and independence for the last 109 years.