Don’t silence unpopular ideas


To the editor:

Since 1791, Congress has decolonized 37 territories into states, and one into independence.  They accomplished this through the territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College denies these facts. 

So how does a U.S. territory initiate a process of self-determination?

“I think that is a question that has not been answered,” said Centro director Yamir Bonilla. “The United States does not have a long precedent of decolonization unlike other nations like France and England that had clear processes and historical moments of decolonization. The U.S. has no real set form for decolonizing because in fact it is not decolonized.”

The 38 “historical moments of decolonization” cited above totally discredit Bonilla’s claim. The United States does, in fact, have a roadmap for decolonizing territories. 

But that is a radioactive topic for Bonilla. So much so that she has chosen to conceal it. This means that it’s OK for a CUNY-sponsored institute dedicated to the Puerto Rican experience to suppress evidence to advance its mission. This intentional exclusion of thought is often associated with George Orwell’s dystopian vision of a right-wing totalitarian society.

“Lesser known is Orwell’s scrutiny of thought-control in liberal, free societies like England” and the United States, says Noam Chomsky. The system of self-censorship that operates in the West is much more subtle.

Academics, journalist and politicians can silence any truth to block inconvenient facts or ideas without calling attention to themselves in a vast conspiracy. 

In “Freedom of the Press,” Orwell criticized the British intelligentsia for its refusal to denounce Stalin and the Soviet Union. At that time, the mostly left-wing British intelligentsia and press held Stalin in high esteem. 

“This was a phenomenon that Orwell hated,” wrote Malcolm Bradbury.   

Orwell specifically condemned “the servility and excessive Russiophilia of many English intellectuals” toward Russia, observed Bernard Crick.

“I have believed that the existing Russian régime is a mainly evil thing, and I claim the right to say so, in spite of the fact that we are allies with the U.S.S.R. in a war which I want to see won,” wrote Orwell.

At Centro, Bonilla’s whitewashing of historical evidence is driven by an unspoken political bias. Since its founding in 1973, Centro has worked out of a lefty, progressive political outlook that favors the status option of independence for Puerto Rico.      

“Those of us who have been involved in the field of Puerto Rican studies tend to favor independence and self-determination for Puerto Rico,” said Antonio Nadal, a retired lecturer emeritus of Puerto Rican studies, who taught at Brooklyn College for 44 years.   

Advocating for political independence is fine. But excluding facts judged politically unacceptable from the conversation — as Bonilla has done — corrupts Centro’s mission.

Public universities have historically not subscribed to the notion that there is only one moral, decent, acceptable set of beliefs worth debating.

The ideology of cancel culture at Centro has unfairly marginalized the well-researched work of people like Angel Collado Schwartz, Luis Davila Colon and Howard Hills.

“Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban,” observed Orwell.

Gene Roman

Gene Roman, Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, decolonization, Yamir Bonilla