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Author: Olivia Kinnear

More Than 4,000 Files Illegally Tracking Puerto Rican Independence Sympathizers Publicly Available

The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture (Instituto de Cultural Puertorriqueña) announced that, “[o]ver 4,000 files illegally created by the Intelligence Division of Puerto Rico’s Police against thousands of citizens sympathetic to Puerto Rico’s independence from the 1950s though the 1980s are now available for public viewing in Puerto Rico’s General Archives. (AGPR).” The existence of these files points to wide scale political persecution which likely divided families and friends, much like the Red Scare did on the mainland. Jorge Irizarry Vizcarrondo, the Institute’s Executive Director, said the following about the files (Latino Rebels’ translation): The accessibility of these files makes it possible for the necessary investigation and study of one of the darkest moments we experienced in Puerto Rico. The illicit and violent act to create files —the political persecution it implies— divided entire families, communities and destroyed places of learning and workplaces. The investigation and access to this information should give us the tools to fully understand what happened and its implications. Only then can we move forward and put this matter into its proper historical perspective. There is a PDF online which lists the names of all of the people illegally tracked during this time period. For those who read Spanish, you can read the official press release here. If you would like to contact AGPR directly you can call 787-725-1060 ext. 2022 (hours: 8:30am to 4:00pm,...

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Sterilization: the Untold Story of Puerto Rico

Throughout the twentieth century, the population of Puerto Rico has often been criticized as too large for the island. The solution has almost always invariably been sterilization of women of childbearing age. Declassified government documents have shown startling and often inhumane practices. The beginning of the twentieth century saw the United States’ attempts to reorganize Puerto Rico’s economy. These changes primarily centered around trade liberalization, specifically between Puerto Rico and the United States. In the early 1930s, a series of birth control clinics were opened and subsequently shuttered due to pressure from the Catholic Church. In 1937 Dr. Clarence...

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Breadfruit: A Colonial Legacy

Breadfruit is common to many tropical places, including the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Oceania. Most botanists believe it originated in Oceania on islands like Tahiti and New Guinea. British botanist Sir Joseph Banks spoke of the nutritional qualities and hardiness of the breadfruit and the breadfruit tree to King George III and convinced the King to import them to the royal colonies for the slaves to eat. The 1788 envoy to Oceania became infamous for reasons entirely unrelated to breadfruit (read more about the HMS Bounty and its mutiny, 1789), and it failed to bring any trees to the New World. Other naval ships were sent out between 1791 and 1793 which succeeded in bringing breadfruit to major slave port cities such as Kingston, Jamaica and St. Vincent. From there it spread to the rest of British, Spanish, and French colonial holdings in the New World. Almost universally black slaves refused to eat breadfruit, particularly on British colonies. However, one notable exception was Puerto Rico. Breadfruit is enthusiastically embraced by Puerto Rican palates, incorporated into many dishes, and missed terribly by Puertorriqueños who have left home and live in a place where the superfruit is not available for sale. Thanks to the mass propagation methods developed by Global Breadfruit, the large population of Puerto Rican descendants living on the East Coast of the US will soon be getting a...

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The secret race-based military tests of the US Government

The United States government declassified documents regarding the forcible testing of mustard gas, and other chemical agents, on over 60,000 enlisted men during World War II in the early 1990s. As a result, the VA promised to find and assist all permanently disabled or injured veterans. The information about the mustard gas experiments was available publically, but it was not public knowledge. The documents were launched into the forefront of American society when NPR released two related stories one on how NPR (mostly Barbara Van Woerkom) tracked down more of these veterans than the VA did in twenty-five years, in a fraction of the time. The other story was a previously unknown story about a fraction of those 60,000 who were singled out for testing because of their race. In 2008, Susan Smith, medical historian at the University of Alberta published an article about these very tests, which said “[s]cientists carried out mustard gas experiments on African Americans, Japanese Americans, and Puerto Ricans for the same reasons that they did on whites: to save white American lives.” Even with damning evidence, Smith’s article received little attention and the tests remained unknown until June 2015. The various documents illustrate a horrific chapter in U.S. history. Volunteers were recruited to “test summer uniforms” with promises of extra leave and “a change of scenery.” These volunteers, all male, were continually told this...

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Women in Puerto Rican History: Blanca Canales

Not many Americans know about the Puerto Rican Independence movement. In many ways, it appears as though the violent struggle for sovereignty never took place. The height of the independence movement took place during the first half of the twentieth century and was led by Nationalist Party president and professor Pedro Albizu Campos. He was, however, imprisoned for twenty six years and so relied on other high ranking Nationalist Party members to run the rebellion. One of these members was Blanca Canales Torresola, one of two famous, high-ranking women in the Nationalist Party. The other was Lolita Lebrón who led an attack on the U.S. House of Representatives in 1954 which gained international attention. Canales led the attack at Jayuya, which were part of a larger attack called the October Revolution (October 30, 1950). The Gag law (Public Law 53) in 1948, which banned speech on any topic related to independence and the effective stranglehold the U.S. government had on the media in Puerto Rico, violence and injustice throughout the independence movement was underreported, if it was reported at all. If news of any violence ever reached the mainland, it was explained away as violence between different groups of Puerto Ricans, rather than the violent repression of a nascent democratic political society. Canales was only twenty-four in 1950. She had spent the time from her college graduation until 1950 organizing the Daughters of...

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