|English | Español||June 25, 2018 | Issue #67|
Hermetically Open Letter
to the President of the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico
Day of Tiu, August 16, 2005
Distinguished Dr. Fernós López-Cepero:
I am, as you must remember, the linguistics professor who addressed you and the rest of the faculty in the Universidad Interamericana de Arecibo Theatre, on the occasion of your visit at the end of last semester. I spoke there of my participation in the symposium “Drugs as Medication: Arguments For and Against” that took place on Wednesday, April 27, 2005, one week before your visit to the campus.
The organizers of the symposium, particularly Professor José L. Sierra and Professor Lourdes Carrión, neither of whom I had met before their invitation, sent me a letter, a month in advance, formally inviting me to participate in the symposium, in the following terms: “We understand that you are a person who has distinguished himself with his work in the field, and for that reason we would like to invite you to participate as a ‘reactor’ and/or speaker on the issue.” (I have attached a copy of their letter.)
I immediately accepted the invitation formally by email (a copy of which is also attached) to Prof. Sierra, with a copy to Professor María Ramos López (may she rest in peace), then the head of my department, Humanistic Studies. In that letter, I included the title of the paper I would present, “Marijuana and Sovereignty,” with a copy of the chapter of the same title from my book FUMAndoMAFÚ: materials para la historia de la mariguana en Puerto Rico (1996, 2003), the first and still the only book that I know of on the history of marijuana in Puerto Rico.
Nevertheless, it was not until the very day of the symposium, once I was already inside the theatre, that Prof. Sierra informed me I would not be included in the speakers’ panel, and that I would have to limit myself to “react” to the speeches from the audience. I am not aware, even today, whose decision it was not to include me in the panel, nor am I aware what his reasons were… but I had no problem accepting it.
After more than two hours of presentations, Prof. Sierra recognized several “reactors” from the audience and allowed them to speak. When he announced that the panelists would now respond to the “reactors” (as he called them), I called him from my seat in the audience to ask if I could speak as well. He consented, and asked me to step up to the audience microphone.
I explained that I had several books from which I would like to read a few passages out loud, and that I would prefer, if he would permit me, to use the podium on the stage, from which the previous “reactor” had also spoken. Again he consented and introduced me: “We’re going to give a few little minutes to Dr. Escribano, who is a member of our faculty and also an expert on the subject.”
At this point, I would suggest that you read the word-for-word transcript (except for certain repetitive words that I have omitted and clarifications that I have added in brackets) of this part of the symposium, which I have attached. My transcription was taken from a DVD copy of the symposium that the campus audiovisual department kindly provided for me, more than a month after the event. You can check the precision of my transcription against the DVD itself.
I began my “little minutes” of reaction by asking the audience if anyone knew the traditional Puerto Rican, Spanish, Indo-European name for marijuana. Nobody responded. I turned to the members of the panel and asked them directly if any of them knew. Nobody responded. (Do you know it?) I then went on to discuss the etymology of “cáñamo,” the traditional Spanish and Puerto Rican word for “marijuana,” little-known today. The word “marijuana” is of relatively recent use; it does not have an Indo-European origin but rather an Amerindian one, and the Spanish Royal Academy did not include it in its official dictionary until its 1927 edition.
I opened with the definition for “cáñamo” that appears in the 1611 Dictionary of the Castilian or Spanish Language by don Sebastián de Covarrubias (“Chaplain to the Catholic Kings, Tutor to the King’s Children, and Consultant to the Holy Office of the Inquisition”):
“[CÁÑAMO.] Del griego ‘cannabis’. Planta conocida y muy útil para la vida humana porque del cáñamo se hace el cordel y las obras que constan dél, como cinchas, jáquimas, alpargatas, cordones de frailes, guindaletas, maromas y telas de lienzo basto, de donde se hicieron las primeras camisas o cañamizas...”
And I closed with another quote, also from Covarrubias’ dictionary – the definition for “cañamón”:
“[CAÑAMÓN.] La simiente del cáñamo. De los cañamones y miel, hacen nuégados para los niños y para las amas que crían. Quebrantados, es el pasto para los pajaritos enjaulados.”
Between these two quotes, and despite the fact that Prof. Sierra had only allowed me a few “little minutes,” I was able to make several points that seemed to me fundamental in order to counterbalance the panelists’ presentations. Among other things, I delineated the banking conspiracy that culminated in the U.S. Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. I spoke of the Narcotics Law #48, signed by Puerto Rican Governor don Luis Muñoz Marín on June 18, 1959, which legalized the cultivation of hemp for industrial uses. I mentioned the internal production of cannabinoids (anandamides) in mammary glands and their presence in human breast milk…
In sum, I refer you to the transcript of my “reaction” before the panel, as well as to the DVD, which can be found in the campus library. I believe you will find it interesting and highly relevant given the panelists’ presentations and the views expressed in the symposium. I further recommend reading my book, mentioned above, of which the only copies left are in the By The Book bookstore in El Condado. At the moment, I am preparing the book’s third edition…
Each one of the panelists responded to my “reaction.” But it was the penultimate response – that of panelist Rolando Torres, host of the En Hora Buena morning show on Radio Redentor – which, in its own way, took the symposium down an even more interesting turn…
“…I am a person who, as a radio host, is on the air every day on a morning program. I speak to more than 70,000 people daily. I meet them at activities for young people. And I have a habit of saying what I think very clearly. And I am concerned by the fact that – and with all respect to the gentleman here from the University – as I am listening to his point, I would also like to react firmly. I am accustomed to taking strong positions. I really would not send one of my own children to this professor’s classroom. Why? This is apart from the subject that we are discussing today but I must do it, as I am a communicator. I believe we diverge in terms of whether something is useful or not, or whether it is used or not. Just now, when the doctor to my side asked who smoked marijuana, the professor raised his hand. I think that if I were a young person, you, professor, would not be a good example for me. I would not send a child of mine to your classroom. I say this with respect, okay? I am not denying you respect by taking this position. But I don’t think I can leave here without saying this. We are on university grounds here, right? ‘University,’ as in, universality of thought and positions. I will take advantage of this opportunity, as we are in a university, to say that I do not think this is right from my point of view, that it is not prestigious for an academic department to promote, in a classroom, these types of movements. In Puerto Rico, all the people I know who use marijuana have problems – at home, with their friends or family, or with themselves. I cannot applaud this and I must declare that I cannot. At any rate, I express it in all respect to those present. And, finally, I invite you all to check out some brochures from our organization outside. It is called JIPA, Jóvenes de Influencia y Presencia Activa (“Youth of Active Influence and Presence”). We also do work at the legislative level, making proposals that promote a better quality of life for our young people… We are working on a project to stop the use of young people in beer advertisements; this is one of the projects we are working on. It is not easy but we are dedicating ourselves to it. We meet in different places all over the Island, with musical events, theatre, any type of activity that can support these young people with positive things and help them move forward. We are also at your service every day at Radio Rendetor 104.1 FM, every day from six to nine in the morning in the En Hora Buena show. Good afternoon to you all.”
So – based on the fact that I raised my hand in the audience when one of the panelists (the psychiatrist that Mr. Rolando Torres mentions) asked, with a strange and joking tone in his voice, “who here smokes marijuana?” – radio host Rolando Torres, without a single word having come from my mouth, decided to announce that he would not send a child of his to my classroom and that I am promoting some “kind of movement” in my class, and, as such, discrediting “this department…”
Just think about what a strange moment it was, don Manuel. A psychiatrist panelist is asking the audience, jokingly – amidst an ill-fated policy of prohibition that has been going on for 68 ruinous years, starting with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, and, because of it, amidst a war as well, the war “against” drugs – who among us smokes marijuana. And this is no less than a triple rhetorical challenge. Triple because, in the first place, given the present illegality of marijuana, answering in the affirmative would mean incriminating oneself. In the second, if neither the psychiatrist, the panelists, nor the audience, have smoked marijuana, then we are all talking about something none of us have the faintest idea. And third, by formulating his question in what linguists call the “present habitual,” that is, “who here smokes marijuana?” (as opposed to, for example, the “present perfect”: “who here has smoked marijuana?”), everyone who has smoked in the past but no longer does is subtly excluded from responding… Faced with such a rhetorical challenge, I responded with my own rhetorical riddle: I raised my hand and said nothing. And what would I have said had the psychiatrist panelist called on me when I raised my hand? Well, I don’t even know myself, because I was not called on. Nonetheless, communicator Rolando Torres did not hesitate to infer what he inferred…
Upon leaving the symposium – my students later told me – communicator Rolando Torres went directly to the Chancellor’s Office to lodge a complaint with the Chancellor of the university about this linguist who here writes you. And during subsequent days – again, according to my students – radio host Rolando Torres ranted about me before the “70,000” members of his radio audience, saying that I was promoting drug use among the youth. And God bless him, because he has every right in the world to express his opinion, correct or incorrect, to whomever he wants.
But my work is not the work of Christian communicator Rolando Torres. Mine is the work of a Puerto Rican linguist – as Christian as the next man, by the way – who has a responsibility to defend, from within Puerto Rican language, the wellbeing and material and spiritual liberty of the Puerto Rican people… including my children, my wife, and my mother, who, by the way, attended the symposium with me.
The day after the symposium, before arriving at my first class, linguistics, one of my students asked me if there was class that day. I told him, yes, but wondered why he asked. He told me that word was going around campus that Professor Escribano had been suspended. I told him that if I had been suspended, no one had had informed me of it, and I asked him who had told him that. He simply repeated that was the word on campus.
As one might expect, I went to look for a copy of the DVD of the symposium in order to review it, but the staff at the audiovisual department informed me that, contrary to the usual procedure, the administration had held onto the original and for the moment would not allow a copy to be made. Between the weeks that the administration held onto the DVD, and the weeks that it took the audiovisual department to find the time to make me a copy, more than a month would pass.
Toward the end of last week, I was on campus to check my mail – it turned out I had none – and try to find out if I would have a job during the upcoming semester. Nobody in my department knew what to tell me. Giovanna, our secretary, suggested I go see the Dean of Students, but when I went they told me that the Dean had resigned, and that her replacement still had not been named…
Yesterday, Monday, August 15, 2005, I spoke with the new director of Humanistic Studies, Professor María Delgado Fernández, and she could not tell me anything for certain either. She did tell me that she thought someone was supposed to write me a letter, but I told her I had received nothing.
And so it is that I have decided to write this letter to you, don Manuel, Puerto Rican academic and president of the Inter-American University, to ask of you the favor that you tell me formally whether or not my contract is renewed. Independently of your decision, I am at your complete disposal to meet with you and speak about this important issue, as I am, for better or for worse, its only known historian. God bless you.
Dr. Rafael Andrés Escribano