William Z. Foster on Puerto Rico:  An Open Letter to President Harry Truman (1948)

William Z. Foster

In 1948, CPUSA National Chairman William Z. Foster visited the island of Puerto Rico.  Upon his return, he made the following speech in the form of a open letter to US President Harry Truman.

It was quite in line, Mr. President, with American reactionary resistance to the demands of the Puerto Ricans for the most elementary economic and political reforms that you made your cold-hearted statement that “Too often we had our attention directed towards Puerto Rico’s problems.” That cynical remark should haunt you every time you think of Puerto Rico. Overfed American businessmen and tourists go their ways in the island unconcerned over the Puerto Rican people’s woes. And why should they be disturbed in their pleasures? . . . True to the interests of American imperialism, all you had to offer was a petulant complaint that you had heard more than enough about Puerto Rico’s problems. Did not Marie Antoinette reply once in this manner to an impoverished people demanding bread? Remember?

American reactionaries make much of the fact that the Puerto Ricans, after long struggle, were grudgingly granted American citizenship (in 1917) and the right to elect their own Governor (in 1947). But the plain reality is that, hedged about as they are by a colonial type of legal restrictions, the Puerto Rican people now have less political freedom than they had under the Spanish charter of 1897, instituted one year before the American occupation. Our American Declaration of Independence might well have been written to express the complaints and aspirations of Puerto Rico, except that the grievances of the Puerto Rican people are more numerous, more deep-cutting, and more devastating than were those of the American colonists against King George III. . .

Puerto Rico, a sub-tropical land of eternal summer, is one of the most beautiful islands in the world. It could be a veritable paradise, but American capitalist exploitation has turned it into a green hell for its people. That’s why, in recent years, about 350,000 of its citizens have fled to the United States. . . .
What we should do about this whole Puerto Rican matter, Mr. President, can be said briefly, under three heads. First, there must be unqualified national independence granted to the Puerto Ricans, who are a nation of over 2,000,000 people. Second, we should at once withdraw our military forces from the island. . . And third, we should make all necessary financial grants to enable the Puerto Rican people to build up an industrial system and a diversified agriculture in the island that will provide them with a developing prosperity. . . But then, I am very well aware, Mr. President, that neither you nor the reactionary Congress will do voluntarily any of these things. To get them done will be the task of the Puerto Rican people and of the growing labor and progressive movement in the United States. The Communist Party will continue to give its full support to this liberation struggle.

Categories: Colonialism, Economic Exploitation, History, Immigration, Imperialism, Puerto Rico

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