Javier Colón Morera & Idsa E. Alegría Ortega (eds.), Puerto Rico y los derechos humanos: Una intersección plural. San Juan: Ediciones Callejón, 2012. 481 pp. (Paper US$20.00)
This anthology represents an interdisciplinary contribution to a scholarly-activist literature on human rights, focusing on the current state of affairs in Puerto Rico. As a colony of the United States, Puerto Rico replicates the internalized attitudes of the colonizer, including in terms of human rights. Opening a historical record on human rights and addressing inequities and democratic deficits constitutes a trailblazing task. The book, which involves researchers and professors from diverse public and private universities, is written in an accessible language that allows readers to capture a mosaic of political, economic, theological, feminist, legal, and psychological perspectives, among others. It is built on an essential human rights premise: that a democratic and sovereign framework is a key component for the respect and enforcement of all kinds of human rights.
In “Una democracia degradada en los tiempos de los derechos humanos?” Javier Colón masterfully captures this reality and, instead of addressing democratic and colonial deficits from a stagnating and dated perspective, underscores its key role in the architectural foundation of human rights. The human rights indictment of colonialism is made clear and concise—the island does not effectively participate in the approval of governing laws, nor does it have any effective control of its internal processes. Idsa Alegría’s “Las barreras a la participación política de las mujeres y los derechos humanos” then provides an impeccable analysis and history of the feminist agenda’s insertion into the human rights world. Indeed, the Puerto Rican women’s movement has, like women’s movements around the world, been particularly effective in breaking the rigid public/private barriers in human rights analysis and in translating at a national level the struggle of women’s rights into one of human rights more broadly.
An essay by Esther Vicente and Patricia Otón focuses on sexual and reproductive rights. After running through international conventions and protections that acknowledge reproductive rights and, to a certain degree, sexual rights, discussing the importance of a women’s movement in making visible these rights, and reviewing recent decisions of the Inter-American region, they discuss the impact these have had on the island’s case law. In “Fundamentalismo religioso, intolerancia y homofobia,” theologian Luis Rivera Pagán offers an enlightened critical analysis of the obstacles that religious fundamentalism creates in a lay society, particularly for the LGBT community.
In “La libertad de expresión en Puerto Rico,” constitutional law scholar Carlos Ramos analyzes the dual dimension of freedom of expression—the individual right to search, receive, and disseminate any information and its collective counterpart manifested in the ability to receive any information and opinion. “El derecho a la información en la sociedad del conocimiento,” by José Sánchez-Lugo, addresses the specific human right to receive information, particularly in the “era of information and knowledge,” and critiques the frequency with which it has been construed as a simple access issue.
Both Yolanda Cordero-Nieves and Carlos Alá Santiago underscore the need to address human rights issues in the labor/employment realm. Unfortunately, except for the prohibition against discrimination that shares a civil/political dimension as an equality tool, labor rights are not traditionally considered human rights in the substantive and procedural framework. Thus Alá-Santiago (in “Estado actual de los derechos humanos laborales fundamentales en Puerto Rico”) must refer to the scenario of the International Labor Organization (ILO), thus far the exclusive setting for traditional labor rights enforcement, and often criticized as a specialized ghetto—an organization in which Puerto Rico has no membership due to its lack of sovereignty. Cordero-Nieves’s essay, “El discrimen político en el empleo público,” addresses endemic political discrimination and its impact both on the right not to be discriminated against and on the efficiency of government.
Discrimination against migrants—rarely publicly discussed—is the central theme of Ruth Nina-Estrella’s “Inmigración, discriminación y educación intercultural.” From a psychological perspective, she discusses discrimination against Dominican immigrants, the largest immigrant community in the island, and aptly conceptualizes the intercultural paradigm that incorporates human rights as a legitimate and acceptable social norm of coexistence. In “Trata humana en Puerto Rico: un problema en derechos humanos,” Cesar Rey provides a compelling indictment against sexual trafficking—a reality that is not well documented in Puerto Rico and which is often seen as a foreign issue and met with collective denial.
The LGBT sector has been increasingly successful in showing the island the scope and extent of discrimination against it. “Comunidades LGBT: con sus derechos en el closet,” by Osvaldo Burgos-Lopez, traces the increasing international and regional protection of these groups, highlighting key areas of marginalization such as same-sex marriage, adoption, and estate and damage rights.
In “Los derechos humanos en Puerto Rico: pobreza, desigualdad y políticas sociales,” Dagmar Gladiola-Ortiz, incorporating recent definitions of poverty that are consistent with international standards, argues that poverty and inequality are the end products of human rights violations. The High Commissioner of Human Rights defines poverty as a degraded expression of the human condition, as the absence of equity, as incorporating a higher vulnerability to crime and violence, as inadequate access or lack of access to justice as well as the exclusion from political processes and community life.
Environmental justice built from human rights such as equality, nondiscrimination and citizen participation—a subject that commands urgent attention—requires, as Carmen Concepción suggests, a delicate balance with economic development. Concepción properly highlights the disproportionate impact of economic development on marginalized groups. In “Bioética y derechos humanos,” Leonidas Santos y Vargas addresses the concern for environmental justice and the macro bio-ethical, global ethic or ecological ethic movements, for which the environmental and social themes are points of reference.
Without a theoretical compass a human rights critique is severely handicapped. In “Sobre el derecho y sobre lo humano: inventario de violencias,” Madeline Román offers a radical critique that challenges the modernist foundations of human rights and invites us not to lose sight of the need for deconstructions and reconstructions. The anthology fittingly concludes with Ana Maria García Blanco’s “La paz es posible,” which advocates for the education of children as a central axis in the reconstruction of Puerto Rico.
I hope this book becomes the initial production of a human rights series that also calls for annual conferences. Colón and Alegría have done an excellent job planting the seeds of future discussions on the protection and enforcement of human rights in Puerto Rico. It would be useful to translate this book into English to facilitate the understanding of these complex issues in the social, academic, and political context of the United States.