Ronald Fernandez; wrote about Puerto Rico
NEW YORK - Ronald Fernandez, a professor of sociology whose curiosity about a daring $7 million armored car robbery near his Connecticut home set him on a career path of scholarly investigation into the history of American colonialism in Puerto Rico, died Tuesday in West Hartford. He was 67.
The cause was esophageal cancer.
Dr. Fernandez was a recently minted doctor of philosophy teaching at Central Connecticut State College in 1983 when the robbery took place in a
But his research into the lives of the men identified by the FBI as the masterminds of the heist, all members of a militant Puerto Rican independence group known as Los Macheteros, led Dr. Fernandez to a broader interest in the back story of the Macheteros’ cause: the long and, for most Americans, obscure history of disenfranchisement on Puerto Rico, a subject he knew little about despite growing up in New York City, where about 800,000 Puerto Ricans now live.
Beginning with his 1987 book, “Los Macheteros: The Wells Fargo Robbery and the Violent Struggle for Puerto Rican Independence,’’ Dr. Fernandez wrote five books about Puerto Rico over the next decade. One, a history textbook, received an American Library Association award. The rest were deeply footnoted histories of American military and economic domination of a tiny island that has existed in a kind of limbo since becoming a US possession in 1898, among the spoils of the Spanish-American War: neither colony nor part of the union.
The nearly 4 million residents of Puerto Rico are US citizens, subject to federal taxes, but they cannot vote in US elections. They are represented by a nonvoting representative in Congress. Tax and regulatory exemptions given to businesses based on the mainland raise perennial public complaints about environmental and economic exploitation.
“Ronnie recognized that this was very much a hidden history,’’ said Martin Espada, a poet and professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a friend. “It is not a history taught much at the high school or college level, so he became the foremost authority in the English language on colonialism and the independence movement in Puerto Rico.’’
Besides being a history of the relationship between the United States and what is officially known as its unincorporated territory, “Los Macheteros’’ was among the first published works to document FBI efforts in the 1960s and ’70s to infiltrate and discredit lawful, nonviolent independence groups in Puerto Rico.