CIA Plots Puerto Rico Statehood


Who could have ever asked for a better, more effective public relations man? Typically, such people send out press releases and they schmooze with their counterparts in the news business so as to influence them in whatever direction the client wants to influence them, and that's it. That old saw about advertisement goes as well or better for public relations: "Only half of it does any good. The problem is to determine which half." Imagine if you will a PR guy who writes up lots of editorials extolling the virtues of the client's position, sends them out to large and small newspapers around the country, and has them reprinted verbatim, without attribution, as the editorial opinion of the receiving newspapers.


We are talking about the late Scott Runkle, president of Washington International Communications. I had the pleasure of watching the man in action from my office two doors from his at the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, the office of the Governor or Puerto Rico in Washington, for several years. His service to the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party (PDP) went back to the early days of the commonwealth status, the mid-1950s. He had been very close to the governor and founder of the PDP, Luis Mu–oz Marin. In fact, it can be said that virtually from its inception in 1952, Runkle had been the chief publicist not just for Mu–oz, but for that nebulous rearrangement of the old territorial status dubbed "commonwealth" in English and estado libre asociado (freely associated state) in Spanish. Mu–oz, who had been reared in the Washington area as the son of Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner (non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives) Luis Mu–oz Rivera, was certainly no piker at selling himself, whether in Puerto Rico or the U.S. mainland, but the remarkably good press that both Mu–oz and commonwealth received in the U.S. through the years is also heavily attributable to the work of Runkle as well.

When Mu–oz Marin's anointed successor, Rafael Hern‡ndez Col—n, made it back into the Puerto Rico governor's mansion in 1985, he did the sensible thing and put Runkle's company back under contract, though Runkle by this time was past the usual retirement age. It was in that last capacity that I got to see the man's remarkably successful work. In fact, from time to time I helped him compile some of his press releases when they dealt with economic matters. The editorials, on the other hand, were almost always pure paeans to the wonderful commonwealth status and I usually didn't see them until they came back in the form of newspaper clippings.

In 1991 Runkle, by then 77 years old, suffered a ruptured aorta, something that is almost always fatal, especially for a person his age. Fortunately, he was meeting with Governor Hern‡ndez Col—n at the time and he was able to get the best emergency medical treatment available in Puerto Rico at the University Medical Center. Within a couple of months, with the help of a new nylon aorta, he was back on the job promoting commonwealth, that is, Hern‡ndez Col—n's "improved" version of it in which Puerto Rico was to get both more autonomy and more federal money. Not even Runkle could make that sound palatable to U.S. lawmakers. Defeated in his effort and suffering greatly in the polls, Hern‡ndez Col—n retired and the PDP was swept out of power in 1992. Runkle had worked his last for Puerto Rico, but I managed to get a four-year reprieve.

The next I heard from him was a couple of years later when a card arrived for me in the Puerto Rico office from France, where he had been vacationing. He recounted to me a very enjoyable but exhausting day of sightseeing. That same day I received word that he had died in France from heart failure.

I thought of Runkle the other day as I was reviewing a pro-statehood web site called the Puerto Rico Herald. They have been in tall clover lately what with the reelection of statehooder Pedro Rossell— as governor in 1996 along with Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero Barcel— and the narrow passage in March by the U. S. House of Representatives of a Puerto Rico status plebiscite bill that is so tilted toward statehood that it is hard to escape the conclusion that Romero himself had a hand in writing it. Remarkably, on that web site is a list of 32 U.S. newspapers with the complete texts of their editorials and columns generally favoring the pro-statehood legislation. If the legislation was not actually written by a Puerto Rican statehood partisan, many of these editorials read as though they were. Included among them were two powerful newspapers that Runkle always had virtually in his hip pocket, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

What, I wondered, has happened? Can one anonymous public relations man make such a big difference? Is there now so suddenly a new generation of newspaper people who have forgotten the persuasive arguments of Runkle that they used to pass on as their own? Did the Popular Democratic Party, as well as Runkle himself, make the critical mistake of not grooming anyone to step into his shoes and keep his old contacts in play? I began to reflect on his methods and the reason for his success, and why it apparently has not been replicated.

"You have to understand what pressure they're under to fill that editorial space every day," he once told me. "I'm just here to give them a hand. Most of them know next to nothing about Puerto Rico. All I have to do is write something that sounds plausible and sometimes is tilted a little toward their particular interests or ideology and they'll print it every time, that is, as long as I don't push too much on them and wear out my welcome."

He made it sound really easy. I wondered how widespread was the practice in the public relations business, and I also could not help being struck by the cynicism of it all After all, he wasn't just influencing editorialists to see things his way, he was feeding them canned editorials. Apparently it wasn't so widespread that the statehooders had as yet caught on to it, because he pretty much seemed to have his way with America's newspapers when it came to Puerto Rico and its political status.

I had a particularly eye-opening experience one day after reading a piece by the noted New York Times columnist, Tom Wicker. Governor Hern‡ndez Col—n had made a swing through the states, and one of the people who had interviewed him, ostensibly, had been Wicker. The subject of the interview was primarily the grandiose plans that Puerto Rico had for helping its neighbor, the Dominican Republic, with its severe electric power problems. Plans were in the works, said the governor through Wicker, for Puerto Rico to build an undersea cable between the two islands so that Puerto Rico might share its power surplus with its neighbor. Financing for the project would come from something called "936 funds," after the section of the Internal Revenue Code that permitted U.S. companies to accumulate tax-free profits in Puerto Rico.

Here, then, was the real purpose of the article. The tax provision was eternally under siege, and Hern‡ndez Col—n had decided to defend it by showing how it was furthering U.S. policy interests in the Caribbean. There was a general problem with this approach in that the tax-free profits belonged to the companies and there was little the government of Puerto Rico could do to channel them into the Caribbean. The specific problem with the scheme in question was that Puerto Rico has severe electric power problems of its own, and any cheap financing that might be available should be directed toward that problem, not toward some highly dubious scheme, both technically and economically, to share power across the treacherous depths of the Mona Passage.

But appearances are everything in the PR business. Reality counts for nothing. What would any New York Times reader outside Puerto Rico know about any of these matters? I happened to see Runkle the day the Wicker column came out and asked him with a smile, "Didn't I see your fine hand at work in Tom Wicker's column today?"

Wearing the expression of the cat that had swallowed the canary he responded proudly, "Modesty forbids me to comment on that," and he left it at that.

In his sly way Runkle seemed to have given me more than I had asked for. My question was intentionally ambiguous, and so was his answer, but his manner conveyed something that would be well-nigh unthinkable to the average newspaper reader. But then they would also be shocked to learn that many of the unsigned editorials they read are not actually written by the newspaper editors themselves. Could not the same thing be true from time to time with respect to the signed work of a prominent columnist?

Concerning The New York Times, surely it could not be the case that such a major opinion leader, able to get the best writers and researchers that money can buy, would be so desperate to fill its editorial pages that it, too, would be susceptible to Runkle's offerings. Yet I know a former Puerto Rico government employee who got a look at one of the Runkle editorials that he hand delivered to The Times office, and, lo and behold, it was published exactly as Runkle had written it. I did not confront Runkle with this intelligence, though I learned of it while he was still in the nearby office, but he did volunteer to me once one source of his great influence with America's "newspaper of record." It was nothing more than the "old boy" network in action, he would have me believe. You see, the man in charge of the editorial page of The New York Times had been a colleague of Runkle's in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the national intelligence forerunner of the CIA, during World War II.

Scott Runkle: Spy, Propagandist


Here is Scott Runkle's background as I was able to piece it together. He had graduated from one of the Ivy League colleges, Dartmouth, I believe, in the mid-1930s, with a liberal arts major of some kind, and he was particularly good in French. He had gone to work immediately for the OSS, specializing in things related to France, which was no doubt of great importance during the war. A couple of things he told me suggested that he was not just a minor bit player. In my readings on intelligence matters I ran across a passage in which the observation was made that those OSS agents who had been infiltrated into France after D Day went by a special nickname, "Jedburghs," and later constituted something of an elite club within the CIA. I showed Scott the passage and asked him if he had been one of those. "No," he responded. That had originally been the plan, but the decision had been reached that it would not be prudent because he knew the codes.

Taking him at his word, I found this tidbit quite tantalizing. Those who would later constitute an elite corps within the CIA were in 1944, on the eve of the invasion of the European mainland, lower in the OSS hierarchy and were thus more expendable than was Scott Runkle. One might think that he had made a bad career decision in leaving government service, so well situated was he in the waning days of the war. The government, too, would seem to have lost a valuable commodity at the end of the war when one of their experts on France, fluent in the language, ostensibly left their service to become Paris correspondent for Time magazine.

Time obviously valued his expertise, and here is an anecdote that reveals the expertise further. When Oliver Stone's movie, JFK, came out, Runkle was among those who, with offhand remarks, showed me that he had the conventional take on Stone's opus, that it was just some more wild conspiracy theorizing. I let it pass at the time. Later, I caught him off-guard with this: "Scott," said I, "You're an intelligent guy, and very well read, too. How could you possibly swallow that ridiculous stuff we have been fed by the Warren Commission?"

"Well you can't read everything," he said. "As far as the Kennedy assassination is concerned, I just go with what the 'good press' tells me," which I took as a very curious admission, indeed, from one actively engaged in manipulating that "good press."

At that point, in an apparent attempt to change the subject while not appearing to do so he said, "I knew John Kennedy quite well when he was a Senator. You know, he was a big critic of French colonial policy, particularly with respect to Algeria, and he used to pick my brains on the subject."

Not letting him off the hook, I responded, "What you are telling me reinforces the theory that Kennedy was killed for policy reasons. No one as interested in French colonial affairs as you are telling me Kennedy was could have possibly repeated their errors in Vietnam the way Lyndon Johnson did. He was planning to get out of Vietnam, and that's one of the main reasons he was killed."

At that, Runkle folded his tent and simply broke off the conversation, but he left me well impressed with his prominence as an expert on France and with Kennedy's foreign-policy acumen in seeking him out.

It was the best of times to be a young American bachelor, well-paid and fluent in French, in Paris in 1945. We were their liberators from the Nazis, and the French women were duly appreciative. This was what Scott really wanted to talk about. They were very fond recollections for a man now in his twilight years, and it was with no small amount of envy that I heard him out. Eventually it was not a mademoiselle but a senorita who had won his heart. He married the daughter of parents who, like so many, had fled the political violence in Spain only to get caught up in the larger European war. He also had a change of jobs which took him away from France and back home to the states. He became the U. S. correspondent for Paris Match in Washington.

When he told me of it he knew the apparent change to a less-desirable job needed some explanation, so he volunteered that his wife was pregnant with their first child and the sanitary conditions in the post-war French hospitals were not among the best. He acknowledged that his wife, who was a virtual native, would have hardly known or expected better, but, in so many words, that was his story and he was sticking to it.

I never delved into the actual mechanics of how he got these plum journalistic jobs, virtually starting at the top of the profession, and he volunteered nothing about it. I did ask once if he had been a journalism major, or if he had had any courses in journalism, and he responded in the negative. That is really not too surprising because journalism majors and journalistic courses of study are actually of fairly recent vintage, the absence of such credential-granting gatekeepers having been one of the profession's strengths in the past, to my mind. Still, I would have loved to have known how he went about applying for and getting the Time and Paris Match jobs. Somehow, I had the feeling that they had been assigned to him.

I heard of no other full-time work for an employer after Paris Match and before he landed the public relations contract with Governor Mu–oz Marin of Puerto Rico sometime in the mid-1950s, though I know he did do some major public relations contract work for Japanese automobile exporters. He once showed me a very slick and professional short, anonymously-authored book on Japan he had done for them. All in all, it looks like a very peculiar career progression, a steady retreat from prominence after his first civilian job.

Runkle was not at all what you would imagine as the head of a public relations company. He was not exactly the typical hard-charging, extroverted glad-hander. He struck most people as reticent, almost secretive in his manner, a small, quiet person whom you would have to see several times before you remembered what he looked like. As with so many people in Washington, public policy was not just a job for him, it was his passion as well. He had a large bookshelf well-stocked with such things as biographies and memoirs of public figures and books of history, particularly military history. In particular, he had a good collection of books on the Korean War, and I had done thirteen months in Korea with the U.S. Army, so we lent Korean War books to one another and discussed them. He really struck me as more like the professors who had been my colleagues before I went to work for Puerto Rico than the public relations man that he was.

The day I learned of Runkle's death is worth remarking upon not only for the fact that I received a post card from him that very same day. Reflecting upon his career, a long-time acquaintance said to me, out of the blue, "You know, he was an intelligence officer." It was the first time I recall that the topic of Scott Runkle had ever come up between us. "Well, I know he was in OSS in World War II, but do you mean he continued to work in intelligence even while he was working for Puerto Rico?" I asked.

"Yes," he responded.

"How do you know?" was my natural next question. At that he demurred and said he'd rather not continue the conversation.

The next day I encountered the acquaintance again and repeated my question of the day before.

"Well, they're all dead now, so I suppose it's okay if I tell you. I heard Governor Mu–oz talking about Runkle's exploits to his, the governor's wife. He said that that quiet little fellow was a brave man and had done some very dangerous things as an intelligence officer. I also visited him in his office when it was just across the street from the Soviet embassy, and he had some pretty elaborate-looking radio equipment there."

There you have it. To be sure it is only a single source, and mainly hearsay at that, but it is completely independent of all that I had learned about Runkle's OSS background and of his amazing ability to get his writings published in newspapers around the country. Apart from the unlikely event that Runkle would have broken his code of silence, himself, or the Central Intelligence Agency would own up to manipulating public opinion through our national media, it's about as good a confirmation that Runkle was a career-long OSS-CIA agent as one is likely to get.

The Mu–oz Metamorphosis


In point of fact, the real blockbuster here was not the confirmation of what by this time had become pretty obvious to me, Runkle's intelligence connection, but the fact that Puerto Rico's pivotal figure of the twentieth century, Governor Luis Mu–oz Marin, was fully aware of the fact and nonetheless worked extremely closely with him. The implications of this revelation are absolutely enormous, possibly casting new light on much of modern Puerto Rican history, not to mention the light it casts upon the workings of the CIA and its involvement in domestic politics and the media.

Though he would not become Puerto Rico's first elected governor until 1949, he had been the power of Puerto Rico politics since 1940 when the Popular Democratic Party, the party that he founded, won a narrow upset victory and gained control of Puerto Rico's legislature. Mu–oz became president of the Senate. The strongly leftist nature of the party is illustrated by its slogan, Pan, Tierra, Libertad (bread, land, liberty) and its symbol, the pava, a red silhouette of a farmer in a traditional straw hat (pava). Mu–oz made no bones of the fact that he favored independence for Puerto Rico and a large percentage of his followers supported him for just that reason. Others supported him for his strong, Roosevelt-like rhetoric against the island's powerful moneyed interests, particularly against the sugar barons, the big land-owners both native and from the U.S. mainland who often bought the votes of economically-desperate landless agricultural laborers. The secret of his initial electoral success is that he was able to shame so many into voting for their longer-term economic interests.

And, initially, he delivered. Working closely with the last and most activist appointed mainland governor, Roosevelt brains-truster, Rexford Guy Tugwell, the law which had been on the books for a long time limiting ownership or control of land to 500 acres was enforced, and many jibaros, or Puerto Rican mountain folk, became land owners for the first time. A government Land Authority took over control of much of the sugar land and many of the mills, a government Planning Board was established, and the government got into the manufacturing business. Using the windfall of rebated U.S. excise taxes on Puerto Rican rum, the sales of which had soared during the war when many U.S. distilleries had their production diverted to fuel and European sources had been cut off, the Puerto Rican government built factories to make boxes, bottles, cement, shoes, and textiles.

This headlong rush upon a socialist road was taking place against a strongly-contrasting U.S. backdrop. The famous "iron curtain" had descended over Eastern Europe, Greece had become a battleground between factions aligned ultimately either with the Soviet Union or the United States, as had Italy, though without the wholesale bloodshed. To counter the new perceived international threat the U.S. had reorganized its security establishment in 1947 with the National Security Act, the act which, among other things, created a separate Air Force from the Army, a cabinet level Department of Defense, and a Central Intelligence Agency to consolidate intelligence gathering and covert operations. It didn't take very long for the active involvement in the domestic politics of countries around the world known as covert operations, all in the name of fighting communism, to become the dominant activity of the CIA.

The ardent cold warriors of the CIA have shown themselves to be particularly hostile toward independent-minded social democrats such as Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. It is hard to imagine their tolerating under the American flag a practicing socialist and advocate of independence of the Mu–oz stripe. Though the symbol and the slogan of the PDP remained, as did the Planning Board and the Land Authority, over the period 1945-1950, Mu–oz' policies underwent a remarkable metamorphosis. He had pragmatically set aside the status issue to get his party in power, but the "Libertad" in the party's slogan was unmistakable. He stood for independence. But at the end of the decade he used his enormous personal prestige to put the old wine of Puerto Rico's colonial, territorial status into a new bottle called "Commonwealth," and the people bought it.

The standard explanation for Mu–oz's abandonment of independence is that in his campaigning around the island he had come to the realization that the common people, as opposed to the urban intellectuals, feared the economic consequences of independence greatly, so it was a political loser. That their fears were not without foundation is said to have been brought home to Mu–oz by a study prepared by economist Ben Dorfman of the United States Tariff Commission in 1946. "It was not that independence was impossible for the United States, but it is for us.' The realization that independence must be sacrificed was traumatic; after a long conversation with Dorfman, Mu–oz sat down and cried." -- Raymond Carr, Puerto Rico: A Colonial Experiment (New York: Vintage Books, 1984), p. 117.

On the economic policy front Mu–oz' transformation was just as dramatic. As we have noted, his rhetoric was pure economic populism. That's where the pan and the tierra come in in the party's slogan. The villains were the exploiters, particularly the big absentee owners of sugar lands. Once in office his policies were socialistic, and in that he was completely backed up by Governor Tugwell and by his boss, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, and they were roundly attacked by conservatives in the U.S. Congress for those socialistic actions.

Then, after Tugwell's retirement and the appointment of the first Puerto Rican governor, Resident Commissioner and Mu–oz party associate, Jesus T. Pineiro, in 1946 the emphasis suddenly changed. With legislation that was passed in 1947 and went into effect in 1948, Mu–oz stopped vilifying the Yankee exploiters and began to invite them in with the most generous inducements on the planet, 10 years without paying a dime of corporate income taxes. No state could match it nor could any country. U.S. legislation in 1921 designed to make U.S. corporations operating in the then U.S. territory of the Philippines competitive with foreign corporations exempted the former from U.S. taxes. For consistency's sake, the law applied to all the territories. A U.S. company excused from a tax in a foreign country would no longer have the foreign tax credit and would have to make it up dollar for dollar with U.S. taxes. Similarly, such a company excused from state taxes would lose the state tax deduction and his federal taxes would be just that much higher. No one, in short, could offer what Puerto Rico could in terms of freedom from the tax man, and advertisements were begun to welcome manufacturers to "Profit Island USA."

The standard explanation for the change is that "the Populares (PPD) realized by 1947 that their original program of agrarian reform and government-sponsored enterprises could not provide a decent living for more than a small sector of the population; moreover, both the industries and the farms set up under government auspices were economic failures." (Carr, p. 203) The man credited with the tax exemption idea is Teodoro Moscoso, the first head of Puerto Rico's Economic Development Administration (EDA), who purportedly paraphrased Oliver Wendell Holmes saying, "If the power to tax is the power to destroy, then the power not to tax is the power to build."

I had long wondered about this bold, audacious tax exemption move. It was so completely out of character, both for Mu–oz and the more prominent Americans involved with Puerto Rico. Both Tugwell and Ickes were strongly opposed to this "industrialization by invitation" idea. That it could spring from the minds of members of a Latin American left-populist party, who would more than likely regard it as "exploitation by invitation," always struck me as frankly amazing. That they would admit so quickly that their other initiatives were failures, even with the red ink, is no less amazing.

From 1979 to 1982 I was head of the Office of Economic Research of EDA in San Juan. At that time, I had the opportunity to have lunch with the late Hugh Barton, one of the earliest and best known holders of that same office. I put the question to him. "Did Moscoso really dream up the idea, or was someone from the states whispering in his ear?"

It was definitely all Moscoso's idea, he assured me. Now I wonder. You see, I have since learned--and it is no big secret--that Barton, like Runkle, was with OSS during World War II and we see now what that meant for Runkle's later activities. After Barton left EDA he continued to get consulting contracts from his Puerto Rico base with the U.S. Agency for International Development throughout Latin America. Surely, if it had been Barton himself or someone that he knew of doing the whispering, or perhaps even the arm-twisting, there is no chance that he would have told anyone outside the Agency.

When I shared a first draft of this paper with a couple of other old Puerto Rico hands I came up with more reasons to doubt Barton's assurances. Moscoso, one of them said, was primarily a salesman, and a very good one at that, but the tax-exemption scheme, he did not think, had been his idea. He named several associates of Barton who he thought were involved in the process. Chief among them was a graduate of Reed College in Oregon and former Rhodes Scholar by the name of Sam van Hyning. Van Hyning, he said, was also a former OSS man and had been very close to President Roosevelt's intelligence chief, William (Wild Bill) Donovan during World War II. He had been responsible for devising a system for estimating German battle casualties. Assisting van Hyning was an economist named Mo Moses, who was also an OSS alumnus. The only one of the team of advisers to Moscoso whose background my informant was unsure of was the senior partner in Runkle's public relations operation, Mort Sontheimer. Sontheimer was the man who dealt with the media at the publisher level while Runkle worked at the editor, columnist, reporter level. Should no prior connection to OSS ever be established for Sontheimer, his influence and his associations strongly suggest, nevertheless, that he was working for the Central Intelligence Agency in Puerto Rico.

The second source placed the responsibility back into the lap of Barton, speaking on better authority than the first could claim for himself, that at least Barton's physical presence in Puerto Rico had preceded that of the others by several years. His well-connected sources told him that Barton was advising Moscoso before the tax exemption scheme was put forward and that the others relocated to the island in the 1950s.

Speaking of behaving out of character, could we really have expected the inveterate meddlers of the CIA to keep their hands out of Puerto Rico's politics? We have already mentioned the super-heated international Cold War climate and Mu–oz's intolerable socialism. There was also the fact that Mu–oz had a considerable threat from his own left. The Independence Party finished second to the Popular Party as late as the 1952 elections. There were strong pro-independence elements within Mu–oz's own party. The violent Nationalist followers of Pedro Albizu Campos, who would later shoot up the U.S. House of Representatives and attempt to assassinate President Harry Truman, were also a factor in an island that had demonstrated its strategic importance during World War II. Moreover, economic development after the war was turning into an important ideological battleground throughout the world. America could not afford to permit its large Latin American possession to flounder economically.

Today (December 1965) the two most notoriously repressive federal agencies operate on the island: the C.I.A. (the North American Intelligence Service, the official agency of international espionage and terrorism, with an astronomical budget and complete freedom of action, which uses sabotage, bribery, blackmail, assassination, and the like in every country of the modern world) and the F.B.I (the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which does not operate with the brutally terroristic methods of the C.I.A.). We have, as well, the Intelligence Service of the United States Army, the Federal Immigration Service, the Federal Postal and Customs Services, and the Federal Communications Commission. -- RenŽ MarquŽs, The Docile Puerto Rican (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1976), p.71.


If they operate on the island, what might they do? Did the tax exemption idea have the stamp of approval of Barton's likely bosses at the CIA? The chances I would say are very great. The main argument I can think of against it is that, if it is too sensible and enlightened for Puerto Rico's PDP, the same thing might be said for the CIA. It is, to put it bluntly, not thuggish enough. But the boys over at Langley are fond of saying that their necessary secrecy prevents them from getting all the credit that is their due. We hear about the things that blow up in their faces like the Bay of Pigs invasion, or those covert actions that don't work out too well over the long haul like the overthrow of governments in Iran and Guatemala, but we don't hear of their big successes, and Puerto Rico's Operation Bootstrap, based upon the tax exemption, was undoubtedly a resounding economic and political success. Puerto Rico was transformed from an agricultural to an industrial island, the standard of living rose dramatically, and overt support for independence fell just as dramatically. The island was touted as a showcase for democracy and the free enterprise system, and the State Department brought officials from developing countries all over the world to see how well things were going. When President John F. Kennedy announced his Alliance for Progress for Latin America, Puerto Rico's Moscoso was appointed U.S. Coordinator.

Marques left one very important activity of the CIA off his list. That is propaganda. Knowing what we now know about Scott Runkle, we can say with virtual certainty that the CIA helped sell Operation Bootstrap, and with it Mu–oz and the commonwealth arrangement to the Puerto Rican and the mainland American public. How many of the public relations people and journalists on the island and the mainland are really CIA we can only guess at, but where there is known to be one there are bound to be others. Runkle did not carry around his own green light for his editorials to be printed.

Propaganda is the bread and butter of covert action. In "normal" times it is done both for its own sake and to sustain the infrastructure for expansion should need arise. Of the thirty-odd covert actions undertaken by the CIA in Chile between 1961 and 1974, propaganda was the principal elements of a half dozen. It was an important subsidiary part of many others, when Washington did not see times as normal.  ŇIn attempting to influence the 1970 Chilean elections, the CIA managed to generate at least one editorial a day at El Mercurio, the major Santiago daily, based on American guidance." 
In addition to buying propaganda retail--that is, supporting individual assets and stories--the CIA sometimes buys it wholesale. It subsidizes--or establishes--friendly media outlets that might not exist without American support. This is propaganda writ large, propaganda merging with political action. From 1953 through 1970 in Chile, for example, the CIA subsidized wire services, magazines written for intellectual circles, and a right-wing weekly newspaper (support for which had to be terminated when it was judged to have become so ideological as to turn off responsible Chilean conservatives. -- Gregory F. Treverton, Covert Action, The Limits of Intervention in the Postwar World (New York: Basic Books, 1987), pp. 14, 18. Treverton, it should be noted, can hardly be dismissed as some far out leftist. At the time of the authorship of the book he was a senior fellow at the ultra-establishment Council on Foreign Relations where he served as the head of the European-American project.


So Don Luis Mu–oz Marin made his great change of direction, and it proved to be, as they are fond of saying these days, a "win-win" proposition all around. Puerto Rico had its burst of economic development for which he got all the credit, with some help from the CIA's propaganda machine, and the independence movement on the island, which both Mu–oz and the U.S. government thought of as the biggest political threat, was neutralized. Imagine how dicey things would have been for the U. S. if Puerto Rico had continued to be the Poorhouse of the Caribbean while things were going so badly for it in that other last Spanish colony in the Western Hemisphere, Cuba.

Predetermined Statehood?


In 1989 I had an article published in the Journal of Hispanic Policy entitled "Industrial Policy by Accident: The United States in Puerto Rico." Now I am beginning to wonder if my friend Runkle might not have chuckled to himself as he read the paper, "He's doing our job for us, and we didn't even have to pay him. Just let them keep thinking it was an accident."

I do not intend to make the same mistake twice. A well-informed person following the heavily statehood-tilted legislation that narrowly passed the House in March in virtual national secrecy might conclude that the United States government is once again stumbling along on Puerto Rico without realizing what it is doing. Since the mid-1970s Puerto Rico has been virtually bribed to remain cemented to the United States with a rain of federal assistance, most notably more than one billion dollars a year in free money mislabeled "Nutrition Assistance." The bill, which we shall call the Young Bill after its principal sponsor, Rep. Don Young of Alaska, contains several pointed reminders that as long as Puerto Rico remains in its existing status limbo, that money is subject to the whims of Congress and could easily be snatched away. The bill also goes out of its way to calm Puerto Rican fears about losing their language and culture under statehood, making it appear, in fact, that the Spanish language might be in greater jeopardy under the existing arrangement than under statehood.

Without such advantages statehood lost to commonwealth 48.6% to 46.3% in 1993. Another major fear at that time was that the job-stimulating tax provision, Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Code, would be lost if Puerto Rico were to become a state, but the Congress took care of that. In 1995, with Republicans in control of both Houses of Congress, it eliminated the provision.

"Beg, bribe, threaten, promise. What more do we have to do to get that 46.3% up to 50% plus one?" the Congress seems to be asking the people of Puerto Rico. Well what about this? "You do your part and produce that simple majority, and we shall obligate ourselves to put the historic measure on a Congressional fast track, making passage of a Puerto Rico statehood enabling act considerably easier than the passage of an ordinary bill. Oh, and by the way, if you don't choose statehood in a plebiscite that would be held before the end of this year, you must hold another one ten years hence and every ten years thereafter until you do choose statehood. Do we make ourselves clear?"

This is the legislation that has received the overwhelming editorial support of America s newspapers, though they have not seen fit to do much reporting on the bill's particulars. It has completely gone without mention in the weekly news magazines and virtually without mention on the TV networks. Many Americans have been told what to believe about the Young Bill, but they have been given very little information with which to form an opinion of their own. From the quality of the editorials one might say the same thing for the newspapers themselves, but they have offered their opinions nevertheless. Please excuse my skepticism about their independence, but the indications are very strong that those who once gave the green light for Scott Runkle's editorials have now changed their signals. The decision has been made, it would appear, that commonwealth as the principal bulwark against independence for Puerto Rico, in the view of whoever is calling the signals, has outlived its usefulness. American public opinion counts for no more than what most Puerto Ricans feel in their heart, and the fix for statehood is in.

Knowing now that the strong pro-commonwealth editorials written by Scott Runkle that appeared in newspapers all over the country in all likelihood had the blessings of his powerful "other" employer, what should one make of "A 51st State," the editorial that appeared in the March 15, 1998 issue of TheWashington Post, since Watergate, very likely America's most politically influential newspaper? In the very first paragraph they seem to have gotten ahead of themselves and to have given us a preview of the type of pressure they will try to exert if everything goes according to plan and the Congress and then the Puerto Ricans knuckle under and produce the desired bare majority for statehood: "To end a century of territorial--some would say colonial--(The Post would never have breathed this word before ed.) rule by inviting Puerto Rico's bid for self-determination and then repudiating its choice of statehood would be the ultimate disaster."

The third paragraph could have been lifted out of the speech of any Puerto Rican statehood advocate at any time this century, but it never before graced the editorial pages of this very influential newspaper:

Commonwealth embodies the second-class citizenship (no federal tax but no federal vote) that generates perpetual discontent. Independence appears too bold for many. Statehood would extend to Puerto Ricans full citizenship rights and responsibilities. Termination of their second-classness is what the status bill is first about.


Could they make it any plainer? "As soon as we power-brokers get this bill passed you Puerto Ricans are expected to go for the not-too-bold alternative that will end your second-classness' once and for all," they might as well have said.

By what foolishness have the Puerto Ricans insisted on voting against statehood every time they have been given a choice, the reader must wonder. Oh yes, there is that matter of their cultural and linguistic distinctiveness, their resistance, to put it bluntly, to being ultimately swallowed up by their conqueror.

Don't worry. Those Neanderthal conservative Republicans with the idea that being an American had anything to do with speaking English were put it their place:

House supporters of a national "English only" movement sought to apply their rigid rule to the largely Spanish-speaking, culturally distinctive island that the United States casually picked up from Spain in 1898. Bill sponsors countered reasonably with an amendment to apply official mainland language requirements and to increase English proficiency in the schools. These are worth doing regardless of status.


They would be worth doing in Mexico as well, and so watered down were the English requirements in the Young Bill they would probably be acceptable there. Only the continuation of the current requirement that proceedings in federal court be in English would give them problems. This happy acceptance of dominant Spanish comes at a time that Hispanics in California are rebelling against so-called bilingual education which they feel confines them to the Spanish ghetto, that is, continues to make them second-class citizens. The Post is also intentionally misleading here. The amendment that was offered would have made English the official language of the entire country, not just in Puerto Rico. Were such a provision to be put to a national vote it would certainly pass as handily as Puerto Rico statehood would fail, but those of us who have lived in the Washington area for some time suffering under its arrogance know thatThe Post knows best. The American people know nothing.

Apart from misgivings about bringing into the Union a state where most of the people are monolingual in Spanish and don't really identify with the larger country in their hearts, Americans are also concerned about Puerto Rico's poverty and welfare dependency. The fact that Puerto Rico has a per capita income less than half that of the poorest state, Mississippi, should concern them, as well as the fact that over the last decade Puerto Rico has fallen farther behind even as federal expenditures on the island have soared to over $10 billion a year. Here is how The Post finesses that issue:

Puerto Rico's poverty, worse than the 50 states' worst, also requires attack regardless of status. Statehood would mean major extra federal welfare payments. But it would also mean additional revenues perhaps greater than these costs. The numbers need work.


Surely they must know that there is virtually no truth in that statement. The General Accounting Office has calculated that because of the numbers of people who would qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit and the very narrow tax base, less than $100 million in new income tax per year would be picked up. Supplemental Security Income for Aged, Disabled, and Blind, from which Puerto Rico is currently completely excluded, would cost over a billion dollars a year by itself. Returning Puerto Rico to the full food stamp program from which it was removed in favor of a Nutrition Assistance block grant in 1983 would cost perhaps a half billion more. The removal of the very low current caps on Medicaid and Aid to Families and Dependent Children as well as changing the special formulae, particularly in education, by which the island is currently funded would add hundreds of millions more to the cost. It would take very creative work on the numbers indeed to come to the conclusion that the additional revenues from making Puerto Rico a state could exceed the costs.

One keeps reading this editorial and dozens of others around the country hoping to see some realization of the biggest problem of all with Puerto Rico statehood, the thing that more than anything has kept the island so far from statehood all these years. The opposition to it among Puerto Ricans is wide and it is especially deep. The Post merely glosses over the matter by observing in its second paragraph that

In a straw poll on the island in 1993, a variant of commonwealth took 48 percent, statehood 46 and independence 4. But the variant now offered is less generous to Puerto Rico. Moreover, statehood is being made more attractive by the status bill pledge for Washington actually to act on Puerto Rico's choice.


The San Francisco Chronicle, in a March 27 editorial, by contrast and much to its credit, gets right to the point in the first paragraph, "But the arguments to date have not answered a fundamental question: do an overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans want statehood?" It might have noted, but did not, that when Alaska became a state 84% of its people were for it and in Hawaii 93% were in favor.

Toward the end of their editorial they raise all the proper questions concerning that issue. "The latest polls show the population remains divided. The statehood process should be about welcoming in enthusiastic newcomers, not a divided family. Even if Puerto Rico chose statehood by a bare majority, would this number be enough to signal Puerto Rico's firm purpose? Statehood is irrevocable, but what if a political reversal produced a secessionist boomlet?"

As one reaches the powerful Post's last paragraph, for an instant one thinks that the realization of this problem may have sunk in, but no, it's just a case of murky writing concealing more of The Post's attempt to stampede a reluctant country toward statehood:

Mainlanders would reasonably expect any Puerto Rican bid for statehood to be approved by a healthy majority. Mainland Democrats, with an eye partly on those new congressional seats, would welcome such a bid. For 58 years the GOP has formally affirmed Puerto Rico's right to apply for statehood. But 80 percent of House Republicans, though not the speaker, voted against the new proposal, and Senate Republicans are wobbling. Both parties and both branches need to think hard about just what mainland Americans owe their fellow citizens in Puerto Rico.


Translated, what this means is the greater welfare of the country be damned, the Democrats should be expected to put their party over their country. All six of Puerto Rico's Representatives, who, by the way, would not be new in the sense that they would be added on to the current total (The law limits the total to 435.), could be expected to be Democrats as could their two Senators. The Republicans, for their part, should forget both country and party and adhere to the commitments made by presidential candidates who have regularly paid lip service to Puerto Rican statehood, quite inconsistent with the desires of their constituents, simply because the meager little Republican Party of Puerto Rico is dominated by statehood advocates.

Now it's time to take some serious stock. Just as with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the strengthened General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the bailout of Mexico, the leaders of both the Democrats and the Republicans favor the legislation, which they are sugar-coating by calling it a bill for Puerto Rico's long-overdue self-determination. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott has calmed the American public for the time being by saying that he will not bring the bill up in the Senate this year, but rumors are swirling that the maneuver is a ruse to prevent the natural groundswell of opposition in the U.S. to form that would be inevitable should the voters come to realize what is at stake. Lott's professed reason for holding the legislation up does not ring true. He said that its passage by one vote in the House showed how controversial it is and the Senate lacks the time to address such a contentious issue. But the bill would hardly be contentious at all in the Senate, where the overwhelmingly positive vote on the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) shows us how powerful are the globalist expansionists and how weak are the Main Street conservative populists of the Patrick Buchanan stripe.

The editorials in The Post and The New York Times and numerous others around the country tell us that somebody wants very badly for this legislation to pass. Reflection upon the Scott Runkle career gives a very strong indication as to who that very powerful "somebody" might be. Absolutely nothing in the background of Senator Trent Lott suggests that he would be the man to stand in their way.

One hardly has to read The Post editorial between the lines to conclude that passage of the Young Bill is expected to be tantamount to making Puerto Rico the 51st state, and it will have been pulled off virtually out of sight of the American people. Perhaps someday, looking back upon the apparently thoughtless way in which the United States changed its national character forever, some historian will write a monograph entitled "Imperial Policy by Accident." It won't be me.

David Martin

July 21, 1998




Home Page    Column    Column 1 Archive    Contact