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A response to the claim of Taíno extinction

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Dr. Gabriel Haslip-Viera has a problem with Taíno people. Could it be that our increasing presence forces the uncomfortable exposure of not only the “myth of Taíno extinction” but of the deliberate, multi-generational misrepresentation of Caribbean history by the “academy” he so vehemently defends?

In his latest anti-Taíno diatribe entitled “The Myth of Taíno Survival in the Spanish-Speaking Caribbean,” Haslip-Viera reveals that contemporary Taíno continue to strike a nerve in his “status quo” vision of who and what a “Puerto Rican, Dominican, or Cuban” should be. As the 2010 U.S. Census data reveals, however, his conservative view is jarringly contrasted to how a significant number Caribbean people,, particularly “Puerto Ricans,” see themselves. [1]

Taino community members at a Grito de Caguana anniversary Photo Courtesy: United Confideration of Taino People

Haslip-Viera’s article promotes the position that Taíno advocates are using DNA studies to claim “a pure indigenous pedigree.” As the current President of the United Confederation of Taíno People (UCTP), I submit that his assessment of Taíno affirmation is, to use his own words, “patently absurd.” I challenge Haslip-Viera to produce a single document issued by the UCTP that makes such a claim.

The UCTP is well-aware of the interactions between Caribbean communities before and after 1492. However, like our ancestors, the Confederation does not subscribe to the racist “blood quantum” ideology Haslip-Viera is attempting to impose on the Taíno. The concept of a “degree of Indian blood” was set in place not by Indigenous Peoples but by those whose ultimate goal was to terminate “Tribes.” [2]

It is the position of the UCTP that the issue of self-identity should be discussed within the context of the universal right to self-determination. From this perspective, the question becomes “so what if contemporary Taíno are ‘mixed’?” Generally speaking, a majority of the citizens of U.S. federally recognized American Indian Tribal Nations, Native Alaskan communities, and Native Hawaiians are also of “mixed” ancestry. This does not stop them from affirming and promoting their ancestral heritage or speaking out for the recognition of their collective rights.

In the case of Puerto Rico, Haslip-Viera still seems surprised that the “media made a big deal” about “DNA studies” revealing that a significant portion of Puerto Rico’s population is descended from the region’s pre-Hispanic First Nations. Why this news continues to be a “big deal” is that the standard nationalistic and academic discourse holds that Puerto Ricans are a “cultural” mix of three “races” but that the island’s Indigenous Peoples were basically wiped out within the first 36 years of the conquest.[3]

What Haslip-Viera fails to accept or even acknowledge is that colonial history concerning the “Native issue” has often been misreported, misinterpreted, and or misrepresented.[4] Indeed, contemporary scholars who cite inconsistencies and errors in the interpretation of the historical record are ignored or ostracized. Corresponding oral tradition throughout the region is also ignored or ridiculed within the educational system and in the media. [5]

In the case of the Taíno, Haslip-Viera views oral tradition as an irrelevant form of community and national history. Fortunately, the world community does not share his view. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO), for example, notes that “[o]ral traditions and expressions are used to pass on knowledge, cultural and social values and collective memory. They play a crucial part in keeping cultures alive.” [6]

It should be further noted that Taíno descendants do not require the approval of Dr. Haslip-Viera or others to be Taíno. This position is also affirmed by the world community as per the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Taíno people across the islands and in the Diaspora recognize themselves, each other, and are being increasingly recognized by other Indigenous Peoples.[7] DNA science simply affirms what our elders have been saying all along — we are the descendants of the original inhabitants of the Caribbean islands and we are still here.

By: Roberto “Mukaro” Borrero

Commentary from National Institute for Latino Policy

Opinions expressed in these articles are not intended to represent The Venture editorial policy and do not necessarily reflect the views of our staff, board of directors or supporters.



Roberto “Múkaro” Borrero is the current President of the United Confederation of Taíno People, the Chairman of the NGO Committee on the United Nations International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and an alternative Board Member of the International Indian Treaty Council. He is a contributing author to Taíno Revival: Critical Perspectives on Puerto Rican Identity and Cultural Politics, edited by Gabriel Haslip- Viera(2001). He can be contacted at mukaro@uctp.org.


1. Over 35,000 Puerto Ricans identified themselves as “American Indian” in Puerto Rico in the U.S. Census. See “Census Sheds Light on Boricua Identity”, The Voice of the Taíno People, Vol. 14., Issue 3, July – Sept. 2011, p.1.

2.See Forbes, Jack D., The Blood Grows Thinner, 2000. Last visited 12/07/2011.

3. After Figueroa, Loida. History of Puerto Rico, 1974, p. 74

4. Figueroa, Loida, ibid.

5. See the scholarly works of Juan Manuel Delgado of the Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe y de la Universidad Interamericana de Arecibo.

6. See Oral traditions and expressions including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage. Website last visited on 12/07/2011, click here.

7. See “UCTP Treaties, Recognition, and Awards.”



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