Operation Bootstrap How the United States Coerced Surgical Sterilization on Women in Puerto Rico

President Donald Trump’s recent attacks on four minority members of Congress: Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan – who were born in the United States and Rep. Ilhan Omar, representing Minnesota who Trump falsely accused of praising al-Qaeda was born in Somalia. Despite the fact that the four women are U.S. citizens, he has told them to go back to their countries.

I joined in and furiously tweeted that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was not only a second-generation New Yorker, having been born in the Bronx, but that her grandparents were born in Puerto Rico. I could not believe I had to point out to people everywhere that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and that Puerto Ricans, by birth, are citizens of the United States of America.

With Trump under even more scrutiny because of his friendship with child trafficker Jeffrey Epstein (who was arrested at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey on July 3, 2019 and has been charged for the second time with sexual crimes against children) it appears to some that Trump’s ignorant and misogynist taunts are meant as a deflecting tool.

Deflecting tool or not when someone tells you who they are: believe them.

However, this reminded me of a little-known or little remembered incident named “Operation Bootstrap” during post WWII in the late 1940s. By now most things that detail this sordid misogynistic abuse of women and the stealing of their reproductive rights has been pretty much scrubbed off the internet.

Operation Bootstrap was the coerced sterilization of the women of Puerto Rico. While it included contraception, most of it was the forced sterilization of women of child bearing years.

Puerto Rican women’s sexuality and the attack against their reproductive rights was used by the United States (who were exploiting their economic interests on the island through colonization) and cited as the reason for poverty and over-population. The US focused its efforts twofold against women in two ways: first by encouraging Puerto Ricans to migrate to the mainland. The effect of this was a deepened dependence on the United States in addition to a new workforce that would work for low wages.

The second and by far the most sinister method was by directly attacking the Puerto Rican’s woman ability to bear children. All agencies in Puerto Rico such as hospitals, social workers, even missionaries were instructed by the U.S. to encourage surgical sterilization on Puerto Rican women of child rearing years. By 1969 a staggering 35% of all women on the island had undergone what was known as “La Operacion.”

I cannot help but to compare this to the crimes committed by Jeffrey Epstein against the innocent children whose lives will never be the same.

I cannot help but to compare this to the crimes committed by President Donald Trump against people of color and against the little girls, he himself, is said to have sexually assaulted.

The combination of poverty among Puerto Ricans both on the island and within the United States which happened as a direct result of U.S. interests was conveniently blamed on Puerto Rican women and their wombs. There is no excuse then or now for any country, even the United States, to suppress and control a people for financial interests.

Rich vs poor and the advantages that wealthy men in positions of power over women and children need to be checked. We’re in a war against misogyny.

By Kirby Sommers

Copyright 2019