David and Lili's World Tour


December 2004

Randy and I visited Roberto and Nilke in San Juan. We enjoyed Atlantic and Caribbean beaches in between footbag net and takraw sessions. Fun!

The Free Associated State of Puerto Rico is a colony. The USA took it from Spain at the end of the Spanish-American War at the same time it took the Philippines, Guam, and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Puerto Rico citizens are subject to US federal law, they use US dollars, and they carry US passports, and there are no customs or immigration checkpoints to travel back and forth. But unlike American States: They use the metric system. They have their own Olympic team. The people do not vote for US president. They do, however, send representatives to Washington DC, but the representatives do not vote. The official language is Spanish.

The most obvious legacy of US influence is the car culture, with good roads, strip-malls (with the same chain stores) and lousy public transportation infrastructure (because it is assumed that everyone has a car). The roads are outstanding for a Caribbean island. You cannot drive far without seeing the police.

So is Puerto Rico a separate country? They just put their status to a vote. Many people want the island to become a full-fledged US state; others want to become an independent republic. The vote decided to leave things exactly the way they are; proponents of this say they get the best of both worlds: the USA with a latin-Caribbean touch. My friends all voted for independence, but they understand why others fear the economic and political shocks that would accompany going it alone.

The USA uses Puerto Rico as a testing ground for new pharmaceutical drugs and new menu items for fast-food joints. And up until two years ago, they tested bombs there, too, on the island of Vieques. We went to Vieques (nice island!) and saw the military installations. The troops are gone, but some depleted uranium (DU) remains (used in armour-penetrating ordnance because of its very high density), causing a high incidence of cancer. (The US military continues to use depleted uranium bombs despite the innocent civilian cancer rates). The people of Vieques are happy that they finally kicked the US military off their island.

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