A Rejection Of American Mythology (Part Two)
“Puerto Rico has a history that is very heroic and prolific. Naturally, as a colony, there exists a history of double interpretation; the colony, and the history of the anti-colonial struggle. In reality, the colonial history does not apply to us. It is more fitting for the colonizer. Ours, the only one, is the anti-colonial history because it is the history of our native people who survived and are in constant battle to defeat the powerful colonial forces. It is the history of puertorriqueñidad.”
– Comandante Filiberto Ojeda Ríos
Imperialism is an ideology and an ideology needs a mythology to shape its culture. It’s the creation of an American mythology that cloaks US imperialism both abroad and domestically in a desire to “spread democracy” or “freedom” to those who are supposedly “struggling” to be free . It’s an American mythology that trumpets the hard won freedom from the British empire and mumbles the fact that it was only for white land owning men. It’s the American mythology that leads people to believe that Abraham Lincoln fought the Civil War to free the slaves. It’s American mythology that justifies war in Afghanistan to free women from the Taliban.
When the dust settles on the fallen American empire and archeologists sift through the rubble they’ll find that nothing has shaped American culture more than imperialism and that the mythology that was been built up to support that ideology was it’s greatest export. The difference between US imperialism and other empires is that it’s mythology is constructed around the deception that it’s “bringing democracy and freedom” to the world. It’s a mythology shaped around the idea that “US democracy” is democracy perfected and because the US built this perfected democracy from the ground up it is burdened to build US democracy for other nations and peoples around the world.
In affect US imperialism is a continuation of the European ideology of the White Mans Burden that justified the colonization of Africa, Asia and the Americas as well as the attempted genocide of those peoples. The White Mans Burden to educate and elevate non-whites to “civilization” is the template for US imperialism’s desire to “nation build” in non-white countries like El Salvador or Nicaragua or Guatemala or Vietnam or Korea or Somalia or Libya. US imperialism will bring democracy and freedom to our little lost brown brothers. It’s this thinking that has justified the wholesale destruction of nations in an attempt to bring freedom and democracy. The whole of US imperialism can be summed up in one statement during the Vietnam War, “It became necessary to destroy the town, in order to save it”. Whereas other empires had no clothes, were naked in their aggression, US imperialism clothes its ambitions in “nation building”. Meet the new imperialism, the same as the old imperialism.
In the wake of the US attacks on 9/11 the US government went into it’s shallow bag of tricks and dusted off the old divide and conquer techniques it had been using since the 1840’s. One of the greatest ramifications to come out of the US attacks on 9/11 was the redefining of terrorism to encompass all forms of violence against empire. It also did wonders for the evolution of the American mythology in creating a firm foundation for US imperialism’s credentials in the eyes of the world as judge jury and executioner of democracy. This American mythology that began some 160 years ago with Manifest Destiny was a foundation and the US attacks on 9/11 allowed the US to build on that mythology by becoming the defenders of democracy as it was defined by US imperialism. In defending US imperialist defined democracy it had the privilege of also defining its enemies. It gave US imperialists the latitude of labeling all those who fought against democracy, as it was defined by US imperialists, as terrorists. In essence if your struggle didn’t synch up with US imperialism then you were labeled a terrorist.
Former president Bush defined this new American mythology in one short mantra “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists” this was the theme of the new Manifest Destiny in the age of terrorism, condensed into a soundbite. This put struggles like that of Northern Ireland with Britain, the Basque with Spain and the Palestinians with Israel between rock and a hard place. The machine of American mythology had now incorporated and equated anyone who was not “with us” as “with the terrorists”. The struggles for freedom and democracy in Northern Ireland and in the Basque country and in the Palestinian territories didn’t fit the criteria of US imperialism and so they were relegated to being “terrorists”. The fact that that there is a a world of difference between the terrorist attacks on 9/11 in the US and the struggles for self-determination in Ireland, the Basque country and Palestine was of little concern to anyone outside of those struggles. The good will and sympathy that the world had for the US after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 allowed the US to strip away dialectical critical thinking on these struggles. There was now only the polarities of “us” and “them”.
As the US feasted upon it’s new found ability to turn the whole world upside down. The bones of it were thrown to countries like Britain, Spain and Israel. The ability to take the US imperial definition of democracy and terrorism as their own and apply it to their own imperial quandaries was a godsend to them. In Ireland the IRA felt the world looking at their actions for self-determination through the prism of the post US 9/11 terrorist attacks, as defined by the US. The ETA of Basque (a clandestine Basque separatist group) also felt the affect of this new “terrorist” paradigm. While Hamas in Palestine got the rudest awakening to the new parameters of democracy.
The IRA announced that it would put it’s arms aside because of the US terrorist attacks on 9/11, fearing that the world equate the tactics of their struggle with the US terrorist attacks on 9/11. Spain used the newly defined “with us” or “with the terrorists” paradigm as an excuse to go on massive raids rounding up and arresting hundreds of Basque independence sympathizers which decimated the ETA both financially and in terms of recruitment. Hamas set aside armed struggle to politically campaigning for power in the Palestinian territory, winning that political power in an overwhelming mandate, only to find that their democracy was one that didn’t fit the definition of either Israeli or US imperialists. Putting Hamas and the Palestinians backs against a different wall and leaving them with few choices in defending themselves.
These are the unrecognized and unspoken affects of the American mythology in the post US 9/11 terrorist attacks, as that mythology adapts itself to a new zeitgeist where people are rising up and taking the freedom that was always theirs as they’re doing in Iran, Algeria, Egypt, Syria and Yemen. It’s this adaption of American mythology that further buries the naked imperialism of the US in regard to the small Caribbean nation of Puerto Rico. While the US can pretend to negotiate peace between its British ally and their Northern Irish problem and condemn the ETA for their “terrorist” tactics against their Spanish ally and feign a neutrality in negotiating a solution between their Israeli ally and the Palestinians, the US has quietly done its best, to keep the dirty little secret of a colonial relationship it has forcibly maintained with Puerto Rico for well over a century, out of the limelight in all of these situations.
The story of Puerto Rico’s colonization goes back to 1493 with the Spanish. In 1898 it went from negotiating its autonomy from Spain to being a colony of the US the after the Spanish – American War. So while the new American mythology postures itself as the generous harbinger of freedom and democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan it harbors its own colonial dilemma. What the US doesn’t want you to know is that there has always been a strong and often times violent resistance to US colonialism in Puerto Rico. A resistance it labels “terrorism”.
If there is any doubt as to how the US equates those fighting for freedom and justice with terrorism, as it has in Northern Ireland and in the Basque country and in the Paletinian territories look at the how the recent capture or kill operation on Osama Bin Laden is eerily similar to another operation that took place in 2005 with Puerto Rican independence leader Comandante Filiberto Ojeda Rios. Filiberto is considered the founder of the armed underground clandestine movement to free Puerto Rico from US colonial rule. He was the leader of the EPB (Popular Boricua Army) also known as Los Macheteros.
On September 23rd of 1990 while awaiting trial for the $7 million Wells Fargo robbery of 1985 and he cut off the the electronic shackle on his ankle to live a life of clandestinity. While in clandestinity Filiberto mocked the FBI, CIA and other law enforcement agencies by giving television, radio and newspaper interviews. While these law enforcement agenices searched the 100 by 35 mile island of Puerto Rico for him, Filiberto was creating a mythology of resistance by living clandestinely in the open. He publishied articles in newspapers and issued statements on the ongoing Puerto Rican colonial condition from clandestinity. He lived among his people as he evaded the most powerful law enforcement agencies in the world. In doing so Filiberto was creating an alternate mythology to the dominant American mythology. It was a Puerto Rican mythology of resistance that could be used to shape a culture of resistance to the culture of imperialism.
In 2005 the FBI found Filiberto and they set up an operation to capture or kill him. Hundreds of FBI agents surrounded his house. Filiberto defended himself in a shoot out that ensued and Filiberto was wounded but the FBI refused to give him medical attention and let him bleed to death for over 24 hours. The fact that this took place on September 23rd, a day that Puerto Ricans celebrate an armed uprising against Spanish colonial rule that led to the abolition of slavery and 15 years to the day that he had escaped did not go unnoticed by Puerto Ricans. Former Puerto Rican political prisoner and prisoner of war Dylcia Pagan said it best when she said “…this is not just an attack on a leader of our movement but an attack on our very Puerto Rican-ness”.
When Osama Bin Laden was killed by the US government the similarities to the assassination of Comandante Filiberto were numerous. In the case of Pakistan the government was unaware of the operation on Bin Laden using the excuse that to do so might tip Bin Laden off to the operation. In Puerto Rico the FBI gave no warning to the colonial government of the island on their attack plans on Filiberto out of the same fear that doing so would compromise the operation. Both situations ended in what can only be described as murder. The latest story now, is that Bin Laden was unarmed and shot in the head. Filiberto was armed but wounded and unable to continue being a threat but the FBI saw fit to wait for him to bleed to death. The US equated the actions of these men because that is the paradigm of the new American mythology.
However just like there is a chasm of difference that exists between equating Bin Laden with Geronimo as the US military did in their operation to capture and kill Bin Laden, there is an equally large distance to between Comandante Filiberto and Bin Laden. That chasm of distance between Geronimo and Filiberto as freedom fighters and Bin Laden as terrorist is something that the new post 9/11 American mythology can choose to bridge. What we need to recognize is that, it is a bridge to far. What we need to do is reject the polarity and reclaim the dialectic. What we need to do is reject the development of this new American mythology with a counter mythology. One that doesn’t equate freedom fighters with terrorists.
For a quick background on the life of Comandante Filiberto Ojeda Rios check out the video i edited below. To hear Filiberto’s views on the colonial situation in Puerto Rico check out the series of YouTube videos FILIBERTO: THE CLANDESTINE INTERVIEW