Civic and political groups blast plans for ROTC in public schools
José Alvarado Vega – PR Daily Sun
Civic and political groups denounced plans Wednes- day by the Fortupo administration to establish Army Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps programs in at least eight local public high schools, and vowed to organize campaigns to discourage their implementation.
Veterans Advocate Jorge Mas Marrero disclosed Monday that his office is pushing for Junior ROTC programs in public schools, saying the initiative aims to discourage students from dropping out of school, impart discipline, develop leadership and encourage the learning of English.
While denying the initiative seeks to increase recruitment of students into the U.S. armed forces or “militarize” schools, Mas Marrero acknowledged the Junior ROTC programs aims to sign up 10 percent of high school students.
Mas Marrero, a former military sciences professor at the University of Puerto Rico’s ROTC program, said Junior ROTC programs would only be established in schools with more than 800 students and which have backing from communities and parents. Education Secretary Carlos Chardon said Tuesday he has no qualms with including the program in public schools, but he noted it must be requested by school boards.
Puerto Rico Independence Party General Secretary Juan Dalmau said Wednesday that Mas Marrero’s justification that the program seeks to avoid school dropouts is “an insult to the intelligence of this country [sic] and a lie.”
“I call on the governor to stop hiding behind the Veterans Advocate and tell us if he believes in a culture of peace and education for our students, or if his mission is to transform our public schools into centers for military recruitment, so that our youth can serve as cannon fodder in American wars,” said Dalmau during a press conference at PIP headquarters in Puerto Nuevo.
Dalmau, who rejected the notion that the program benefits the Education Department by bringing in more federal funding, said the push for Junior ROTC programs is part of an “agenda to indoctrinate the youth with a pro-American and pro-war vision.”
Dalmau said the party will include a campaign against Junior ROTC presence in public schools in its periodic talks to public school students on how they can deny giving their personal information to military recruiters. He called on parents to discourage their children from joining the program.
“The reality is you don’t solve the school dropout problem by dressing up our youth in military drag and encouraging a militarist vision,” said Dalmau, who noted that the problem can only be addressed by providing schools with needed psychologists and social workers, designing “modern” and “dynamic” school curricula, and providing teachers with “the tools they need to do their work.”
Dalmau said ROTC officials are targeting schools with large student populations from low-income families, which he said are the most vulnerable to the “pipe dreams” offered by military recruiters.
The head of the National Union of Educators and Education Workers, or Unete by its Spanish acronym, said that having Junior ROTC programs in public schools would turn them into “centers of military recruitment”.
“Schools exist to promote the principles of peace, justice, service and other values and principles that make us better citizens. Schools don’t exist to promote war and militarism,” Unete President Emilio Nieves said in a press release, in which he called on Chardon to “assume a firm position in defense of the mission of public schools.”
Militarization through the kitchen
Mothers Against War spokeswoman Sonia Santiago said the initiative was an attempt by the Fortune administration to sneak military curricula “through the kitchen.” She also criticized the commonwealth Environmental Quality Board’s recent authorization of construction of training facilities to be used by the U.S. armed forces and the Homeland Security Department at the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Ceiba and in a Mayagiiez facility.
“We call on parents not to sign any document authorizing military officials to teach their children, because maternity is life and war is the anti-thesis of maternity,” said Santiago, a clinical psychologist whose son was injured in the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “We also denounce the building of military training centers on the island, where yoga exercises are not going to be taught but strategies on how to exterminate fellow men and women.”
Santiago said Mas Marrero should desist from becoming a military recruiter and stick to his job defending veterans, who, she said, are being mistreated despite their service. She cited news reports in which the Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledges the huge backlog of unfinished disability claims. This situation has led veterans to wait an average of six months to receive disability benefits and as long as four years for their appeals to be heard in cases where their benefits were denied.
The Associated Press contributed to this report