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Puerto Rico is in an Abusive Relationship with the US

I cannot say I have spent a long period of time in Puerto Rico, but it doesn’t take more than a couple of trips to the island (venturing outside the large resorts) to realize that something is wrong with Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States. Living with Pedro means listening to a lot of rants and conspiracy theories, but after spending time in Puerto Rico and quite a bit of time with his large family, I’ve come to realize that his rants and theories related to Puerto Rico often have a pretty strong foundation. After my last trip, I came to a conclusion of my own, one that I am positive will anger many people and incite some heated debates, but still one I want to share.

Puerto Rico is in an abusive relationship with the United States

In order to do this theory and article justice, I have enlisted the help of Pedro, so that you will benefit from the opinions of a Missouri native (me) and a Puerto Rico native (Pedro).

Pedro and I, discussing super serious things, obviously.

Pedro and I, discussing super serious things, obviously.

We have looked up warning signs of being in an abusive relationship, and it is appalling,but somehow not shocking, that Puerto Rico’s relationship with the US shows several of the warning signs.

1. Limits your access to money, the phone, or the car

In the early twentieth century PR had aproximately 500 km of railway that covered most coastal towns.  My grandparents remember traveling between the major cities of the island on the train, they also lament that the system no longer exists.  In the late 1940’s with Operation Bootstrap (an economic initiative aimed at “progressing” the island from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing economy) emphasis was placed on the construction of highways and freeways.  Unable to compete with the increasing number of cars, buses, and trucks, passenger service was discontinued and by 1953 the railway system was dismantled.  Train tracks can still be spotted around the island, while the amount of cars (which are heavily taxed by the US) on the island is staggering.

Puerto Rico is tiny. Seriously, it’s only 3,515 square miles, which is roughly the size of Connecticut. If a train system makes sense anywhere, it’s in Puerto Rico. Imagine trying to drive during rush hour while there is also a parade going on – that’s what traffic is like in Puerto Rico. All. the. time. I am terrified to drive in Puerto Rico. Not only is it a constant battle zone, but the traffic patterns are largely unpredictable. A train/bus system would fix so many of these problems. The amount of cars on the island is so illogical that it is infuriating. It does not just pollute the small island’s air, it also poisons the sanity of anyone trying to get anywhere at anytime on the whole freaking island. The US has stolen Puerto Rico’s ability to travel as they would like to, all so the US can sell them more cars and charge them insanely high import taxes on every single one.

Puerto Rico. All day every day.

Puerto Rico. All day every day.


2. Hurt you, or threaten to hurt or kill you

In 1956 clinical trials began for the birth control pill in Rio Piedras (just outside San Juan).  Researchers chose poor Puerto Rican women as test subjects.  None of the women who participated in the experiments were made aware that they were test subjects.  Approximately twenty percent of women in these trials suffered from side effects including headaches, nausea, high blood pressure, and blood clots.  None of the complaints related to the side effects were investigated, nor were the deaths of two women who participated in clinical trials.   It is worth noting that at the time “the pill” was anywhere from five to twenty times as strong as the pills used today.

What?! I mean, WHAT!? I know I should no longer be surprised by the crazy shit that the US does to other countries, but, holy crap, using Puerto Ricans as full on guinea pigs?! Now I feel guilty every time I pop my no-baby pills in the vicinity of an older Puerto Rican woman. My reproductive system is benefitting from the misery of some ovaries she probably knows.

This is pretty much what the US said to their Puerto Rican test subjects.

This is pretty much what the US said to their Puerto Rican test subjects.


From 1956 – 1967 Agent Orange was tested throughout the island in various areas: in Mayaguez, Guanica, Joyuda, and Las Marias on the west side of the island; and in Luquillo and Rio Grande (near/in El Yunque National Forest, the only rainforest that is part of the US Forest Service) on the east side of the island.

What makes it worse is that the US is far from finished with Puerto Ricans as guinea pigs. They may not be making anything quite this heinous public for now, but there are small things being tested on Puerto Ricans every day. Think about the last time Burger King or Taco Bell came out with a new dish. Chances are, they tested it in Puerto Rico first. Companies will often pilot new things in Puerto Rico, essentially using the the people of Puerto Rico as one big test group without their knowledge. They observe the reactions and spending patterns of Puerto Ricans and then decide if the product is fit for people in the US.

3. Feeling Helpless

The general population does not believe they can survive without the US, the US has wrapped their hands so tightly around the necks of the Puerto Rican people that they feel that they actually need the US to survive.  This is easily demonstrated by the fact that in all four political status plebiscites Puerto Rico has held, Independence has received a minority of the votes (0.6% in 1967, 4.4% in 1993, 2.54% in 1998, 5.5% in 2012).

The US has truly beaten down the spirits of many Puerto Ricans. I distinctly recall Pedro’s mother saying “hay que querer la isla para vivir en la isla,” which means “You have to love the island to live on the island.” It was basically a nice way of saying “shit is messed up here and we can’t do anything about it. But it’s home so we accept our fate.” While there are still Puerto Ricans that want to be their own country, the majority have been brainwashed into thinking they would never survive. The economy is rough, unemployment is high, crime is on the rise – these are all reasons that some Puerto Ricans cling to the US. They may point to government programs such as WIC to prove that Puerto Rico needs the US. Some also bring up the ability to simply leave the island for more prosperous places in the States. While that’s all great – the US is largely responsible for some of the problems Puerto Ricans are trying to get away from. The US has forced Puerto Ricans to depend on them for food stamps and better job opportunities instead of letting the island work out things on its own.

4. Keeping you from seeing your friends and family

 The US controls all economic and political relationships with other countries, even those within the Caribbean. A good example of this is the case of  ex-governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá (in office 2005 – 2009).  Near the end of his first year in office, Acevedo Vilá met with Venezuela’s ambassador to the United States to express interest in joining the Petrocaribe initiative. As a member of Petrocaribe, Puerto Rico could have received fuel directly from Venezuela at low interest and with deferred payments.  The Venezuelan Ambassador also expressed interest in the possibility of trading pharmaceuticals (approx. 25% of PR’s GPD) for oil. Due to being a territory of the US, Puerto Rico was unable to join.  Aníbal Acevedo Vilá was the only governor of Puerto Rico to ever attempt to open commerce and trade to other countries. 

Does this read like a scary domestic violence story to anyone else? YOU BELONG TO ME. It’s like the US caught Puerto Rico texting with Venezuela and instead of being like, “Yo, Puerto Rico, what’s up with you talking up Venezuela, I’m mildly jealous,” The US was all like “F Venezuela! Don’t you ever talk to that piece of shit again! I don’t care if Venezuela is nice to you and genuinely makes your life easier, you’re MY territory, bitch!”



5. Physical Violence

In the 1940s the US Navy bought approximately two thirds of the island of Vieques located 20 miles from mainland Puerto Rico.  Interestingly enough, the Navy bought the eastern and western ends of the island effectively sandwiching the civilian population.  The eastern end was used for live ammunitions training, which included the use of depleted uranium ammunition.  After waves of protests, which began in 1999, the Navy left the island (2003).  Much of the island has been contaminated; contaminants found by the EPA  include industrial waste, unexploded ordinance, mercury, and depleted uranium just to name a few (it was declared an EPA clean up site). The population of Vieques suffer from a rate of cancer approximately 30% higher than mainland PR.

Ok, imagine your boyfriend decides he’s moving into your house and then takes over a few rooms. Then he gets out his little chemistry set and DIY bomb-maker’s book and just starts doing his thing, you know, being incredibly dangerous and careless. Oh you don’t like me putting your life and health and danger? You’re worried about the long-term effects? LOL I DON’T CARE. Yep, that’s basically what the US did to Vieques. 


All of Pedro’s observations and arguments come from a variety of credible sources. All of my thoughts come from the pit of rage in my stomach. 


14 Responses to Puerto Rico is in an Abusive Relationship with the US

  • Awesome blog! There are many others we can add too, but you got the main ones. Also, I must add that there were massive experimentation in women in the 70s… they started “operating” women taking out all their reproductive system stating they might get cancer… there was no cancer found. One of these subjects was my mom and the reason I’m adopted.

    • reasek says:

      That’s truly terrible. It’s incredible what is going on in PR that people in the US do not know about at all.

  • Please note that governor Rafael Hernández Colón, around 1992, also tried to establish direct trade with China or Japan (sorry, can’t remember right now). The US found out and put an end to it immediately.

  • You may find this post interesting: Dispatch From the New Puerto Rican (Diaspora) –

  • Jared says:

    One of my favorite topics!!

    Where to begin…hmmm??

    #1 From the top…cars are heavily taxed by the US in Puerto Rico? Really? What’s the tax? The only items I’m aware of that Puerto Ricans pay to the US government are for Social Security and Medicare. You can argue there are some indirect payments because of the Jones Act requirement to use US flagged vessels, but that’s a much more complex debate than “the US taxes cars in PR”. The US doesn’t charge import taxes on cars…the Puerto Rican government charges those taxes.

    For #2, it’s extremely disgusting what the US government has done to it’s citizens in all types of “medical” tests, but they have not only been done to Puerto Ricans. I think presenting the government’s actions as against Puerto Ricans does not properly portray that the US government does it to all their citizens. They don’t single out Puerto Ricans. Here’s one example: . That took me about 30 seconds to find in Google.

    #3 While its great for independence supporters that the US can be blamed for maintaining Puerto Ricans under “colonial” rule, the truth of the matter is, as you point out, that Puerto Ricans themselves have decided not to give up their current status. Yes, in a free, democrat election, Puerto Ricans did not vote for independence. And until someone presents how the island would function without the federal money (off the top of my head 25% of the island’s GDP), as an independent country, with a strong plan to move forward on its own, few people will support independence.

    #4 I’m not sure how the comparison of trying to open trade with Venezuela equates to the title here of “Keeping you from seeing your friends and family”. However, as I said above and will repeat below, the federal government does this to states and territories as well. It’s not something uniquely directed at Puerto Rico. At least Puerto Ricans have their own Olympic team. Maryland doesn’t get that.

    #5 Again, this article presents this situation as something the US government did uniquely to Puerto Ricans. I believe the federal government in the past has been equally abusive of its citizens regardless of where they come from. Poke around on Google and you’ll find some examples.

    Overall, Puerto Rico is a place with amazing potential that for a variety of cultural, historical and financial reasons it does not achieve. Some can be blamed on the Spanish, some on the US, but the blame also needs to be shared by the Puerto Ricans themselves.

    A few of my ideas that Puerto Rico could be successful at:

    -a higher education hub that could be a link between Latin America and the US. Puerto Rico is an extremely unique position to take advantage of its Latin culture and it’s ties and knowledge about the US. (Remember, more Puerto Ricans live outside of Puerto Rico now, than in PR, that’s an awful lot of knowledge about the US and other countries, by Puerto Ricans).

    -it would be a great place to be extremely forward thinking in terms of renewable energies. It’s a great microcosm for implementing and testing ideas that could be rolled out to other countries and the US. Technology companies could be brought to PR by selling that idea to them. PR could be the world leader in a variety of technologies (renewable energy, transportation, education).

    What Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico need to fix before things get better:

    -the permit process, it’s extremely poorly planned, inefficient and costly.
    -transportation is expensive (ex. deliveries)
    -government is way, way too large and extremely inefficient. 78 municipalities? I can spend pages and pages writing about this one.
    -not sure how to categorize this one, but for a recent job hiring in my company we had 11 people who confirmed their interview appointments with us for a given day and time. 2 of the 11 showed up. None of the other 9 even called to offer an excuse or explanation. The next week…2 of 6 showed up. I offered a job to someone once, but she told me that the maximum 45 minute drive she would have to make (not every day mind you…probably once a week) was going to be too tough on her car and she’d prefer to stay unemployed. These examples are a few of what’s been typical for me during 13 years working in Puerto Rico.

    I happen to see Puerto Rico as a microcosm in many respects of what has happened, is happening or may happen in the US. It’s a great place to study how people’s actions result in consequences. Fortunately, I believe, because of it’s size, it’s easier to make changes than in the US.

    I want more PR articles!!!
    Jared recently posted..The 5 Spanish Irregular Verbs That Will Boost Ability to Build SentencesMy Profile

    • Laura Virella says:

      Here’s one more for you!
      Dispatch From the New Puerto Rican (Diaspora) –

    • Jerry says:

      I completely agree with you Jared

      this was a pretty fun and interesting read, but PR is not composed of only Pedro and his opinion, and our relationship with the US is even more complicated now than it was 50 years ago.

      When i meet a puertorrican indepent/nacionalist I always ask them this one question that you addressed nicely above:

      Why has the independence movement in PR failed to convince the mayority of puertorricans time and time again of its virtue? On free referendums, they always come dead last and have been left unsubscribed as a party for the past 2-3 elections due to lack of support from mainland puertorricans.

      usually what follows is avoidance of the topic altogether and a shift to a tirade about the gringo “opression” along with colorful nacionalist quotes which expired a century ago and bear no current relevance to the common puertorrican and our present economic-socio-political crisis. Their discourse is quite literally stuck in the early-mid 20 century. This was heavily reflected on this blog entry.

  • Jonathan says:

    There’s nothing we can do as American citizens? I’m american born from an asian country and have lived in PR my whole life. It cringes me to believe that the U.S thinks that coloniasm is still a thing. Look at the Phillipines and their almost exact situation with PR. The only thing they did right was say NO to uncle Sams. I believe Puertoricans are submissive, and the last 500 years since its discovery is my proof.

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