Puerto Rico’s fate, decided by Puerto Ricans?

taken from worldclips-stock-footage.com

The above flags fly from El Morro, one of the oldest Spanish forts in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I see them as a visual representation of Puerto Rico’s long history of colonization: the white flag with the red cross is an old Spanish military flag, the US flag represents the current colonization of PR, and even the Puerto Rican flag in the center was altered from its original state: the original sky blue color was changed to a darker navy blue, to match the blue of the US flag.

News on Puerto Rico is quite sparse in the mainstream media. I have my Google News page (my home page) set up to display all articles with “Puerto Rico” in them so that I catch as much as possible, yet really informative, interesting articles are still few and far between.

But today, two articles from the Miami Herald (here and here). They tell of the December 22 release of the Interagency Report by the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, an effort initiated by President Clinton in 2000 and renewed by Bush in 2003. The report recommends that Congress approve a federally-mandated plebecite, to be held this year, allowing Puerto Ricans to vote on the issue of the island’s status.

Currently, Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States, which is something of a political limbo. Puerto Ricans born on the island are US citizens by birth and thereby possess certain Constitutional rights; however, they cannot vote in national elections (like the presidential one), nor do they have voting representatives in the national legislature. They are exempt from certain taxes (income tax among them, I believe.) They can be drafted and otherwise recruited into the armed forces, and are subject to all federal laws despite not being able to have a say on their passage.

A plebecite is held on a somewhat regular basis in Puerto Rico, in which voters are asked to choose among three status options: independence, statehood, and the status quo of the commonwealth. In the past, the status quo has always won out, followed by statehood. Independence always garners a very small percentage of the vote, never surpassing 5%.

The new federal plebecite, if approved by Congress, would be conducted in two steps. The first vote would only ask voters to choose between two options: to maintain the status quo, or to choose a non-commonwealth status. If Puerto Ricans voted for the latter, a second poll would be conducted, again with only two choices: either independence or statehood.

I have very mixed feelings about all of this. At face value, it seems like a good move, because it is absolutely essential that Puerto Ricans be given the right to determine their own national status in a meaningful way. As Maurice Ferre writes in a commentary in the Miami Herald:

Until now, the political debate has been based on the rhetoric of the colony and of the territory, ignoring the principal philosophical argument: Democracy. How can there be a capital D, Democracy, for 4 million people on the island if they do not elect their chief executive and legislators, who determine the vast majority of matters that rule over all their lives? When in 2006, after Congress authorizes the plebiscite, Yes or No, the people of Puerto Rico, by voting nonacceptance of the current territory, will then move on to the main event: deciding how they want to elect their national leadership, be it in Washington or in Puerto Rico.

Now, that last bit is the tricky part, the part that makes me wary. If the combined vote of pro-statehood and pro-independence Puerto Ricans surpasses that of the status quo supporters in the first round of voting, then polls indicate that statehood will win over independence two to one in the second round. And that is a scary proposition to me. The thought of Puerto Rican – a nation of people that has been colonized, first by Spain and now by the United States, for centuries – becoming just another state – well, it disgusts and angers me. I strongly believe that Puerto Rico should be a sovereign, independent nation, but I would far prefer the current commonwealth status to statehood, despite the glaring inequities and injustices therein. At least, with the status quo, there’s still some hope that at some point Puerto Rico could attain full independence from the US. If it became a state, all hope for independence would be lost.

Of course, I’m a mainland Puerto Rican. I was neither born nor have ever lived on the island. I do not experience Puerto Rico’s imperialized status like residents of the island do, and I do not understand how it feels to be a second-class citizen (at least, not in that particular respect.) So I feel like my opinion is of somewhat limited importance; clearly, it’s up to Puerto Ricans who live in Puerto Rico to decide their own fate, right?

Only thing is, I worry about how they’ll make that choice. I worry about the reasons behind choosing statehood, or even preferring the status quo.

My mother, who was born in Puerto Rico and lived there until she was seven, thinks that Puerto Rico should remain a commonwealth. She wouldn’t want to see it become a state, either, but feels that, without the United States, Puerto Rico would be crippled as a nation, and that its people would suffer tremendously. She doesn’t think that Puerto Rico could survive without being part of the US.

I think that many on the island share that opinion, and that it drives them to either choose to stay a commonwealth despite feeling in their hearts that Puerto Rico should be an independent nation, or that they fall hook, line and sinker for the whole American Dream bullshit and want to become a state. And that last part saddens me most – that my people have been so demoralized, have been made so dependent, have been so brainwashed by the United States that they have lost their sense of national and cultural identity to such a degree that they’d rather become just another state than find a way to succeed as an independent nation.

Additionally, I can’t help but be suspicious of a plan that’s coming from the Bush administration and that seems well-designed to make a state out of Puerto Rico. Yes, I want the people of Puerto Rico to have self-determination, but I don’t want it to be orchestrated in such a way that forces what I see as an ultimately undesirable outcome.

So, I guess we’ll have to just wait and see what Congress decides to do. Who knows – they might decide to ignore the proposal entirely. And while, in some ways, that wouldn’t be in the best interests of true democracy and self-determination for Puerto Rico, I still wonder if it might be better to just leave well enough alone – at least, until the slim possibility for Puerto Rican independence becomes more of a probability.

14 Responses to “Puerto Rico’s fate, decided by Puerto Ricans?”

  1. 1 Maegan la Mala

    I was planning about blogging about this today!! You beat me to it. I think what needs to be noted even if there is a federally mandated plebecite is that that plebicite like the many that have come before it , will be non-binding, making it in my opinion nothing more than a glorified opinion poll. According to the report and the current commonwealth status : It discusses the Statehood option by including a reminder that current tax exemptions for Puerto Ricans would be eliminated under statehood and by describing how the Democratic/Republican balance of power in Congress would be affected. It also mentions that “Congress may set conditions for admission of a territory as a state (page 7, ‘Statehood’)”, an ominous reminder of the English language requirements included in the failed 1998 Congressional bills for Puerto Rico’s status change.

    Under the Independence framework, the report makes clear that “Congress thus may determine whether and upon what conditions a territory may receive independence and its authority to regulate those conditions remains until the point of independence (page 8, ‘Independence’)”, using the example of the Philippines as a case in point. It also discusses the tricky issue of citizenship in the case of independence.

    In a blow to the current territorial status, the Task Force states that “the Federal Government may relinquish United States sovereignty by granting independence or ceding the territory to another nation; or it may, as the Constitution provides, admit a territory as a State…But the US Constitution does not allow other options.(page 6, ‘Continuing Territorial Status’)” In friendlier terms, the report describes that “…there are only two non-territorial options recognized by the US Constitution that establish a permanent status between the people of Puerto Rico and the Government of the United States. One is Statehood…The other is Independence. (page 10, ‘Task Force Recommendations’)” There is no other option. (from a great article On IndyMedia).

    So in the end the actual opinion of Ricans will likely to matter little.

  2. 2 brownfemipower

    I think you and mala are pointing out some really really important issues–and I am thinking about my “post-colonial” theory class, which neglects to mention that colonialism is not “post” by any means.

    Out of curiosity, has there been any linking of the Puerto Rican movement/discussion for independence with other colonized states like Hawaii or Guam or with Indigenous tribes? I would be interested in seeing how the possibilities a dialogue between these unrecognized colonies might play out–

  3. 3 Maegan la Mala

    Yes there has been! I probably will have to search a little bit to find something to link ya to, but I know from persoanl experience that there is a history of Hawaiians and Ricans working in solidarity with each other (besides tha fact that in Hawaii there is actually a substantial Rican population). I honestly don’t know about Guam though.

    Yeah “post” colonialism . ja ja. Because we all know that there are no colonies anymore.

  4. 4 Maegan la Mala

    I wanted to add because I forgot that there is also a history between different Indigenous tribes and the Rican movement, specifically AIM and the PR Nationlist party have had a history and currently I know that there has been work done in solidarity especially on the issue of political prisioners.

  5. 5 Jack

    Good observations, yo. Thanks for posting the text from this other article, too. More and more this just seems like a useless, bad idea that’s not going to result in any real good for the Puerto Rican people. sigh.

  6. 6 William

    Please see Rep. Fortuños opening statement before Congress a few months ago. http://www.house.gov/list/press/pr00_fortuno/04_25_06.html

    You will realize why “status quo” is a bunch of baloney. Boricuas, we can’t have it all. Rights and benefits come with a price.

    The only ones served by “status quo” are the political parties on the Island. Think about it: if there were no Commonwealth, we would not need a PNP, PPD, and PIP.

    We need to resolve the “status thing” that the politicians love to talk about. Maybe then they can focus on health, education, and things that matter to us.

  7. 7 Pedro

    I enjoyed reading your posts on the Puerto Rican political status issue. I regret coming to this blog so late. No one will probably read my post now. But let me give you my take.
    First of all: If there is a vote, which I think there will not be, between statehood and independence, yes, statehood will win but will never be granted. The reasons for this are strong and several: The island’s economy not being a la par or even almost that with the US economy, the language issue, the culture issue. The US fears the possibility of turning PR into another Quebec or Northern Ireland. This can happen either fast or later when the American culture and language start gaining over the Puerto Rican ones, even if the gain is poor. The results of the task force gave a big blow to the Populares and they are not going to permit being trampled upon. It may seem otherwise, but the US will accommodate most of or all of the demands of the Populares to include an enhanced commonwealth status option, one that will not sound territorial, and, here comes the really tricky part, one that is not a free association.
    Free association is a political status very similar to independence, it is independence, but with a contract delegating a little power to another nation more capable, for example: defense. The populares don’t like the idea of the culmination of the Estado Libre Asociado into real free association because it constitutes independence. I think that what’s going to happen is that the Populares will eventually be successful in coming up with some kind of enhanced commonwealth status that will not be free association(a contract between 2 independent nations) but they will call it non-territorial, as I said before, and the US will accept it.
    The prospect of statehood is dead. The US just does not accept it. Furthermore, the US knows that independence is not wanted by the vast majority of the Puerto Rican people. But they also know the neccesity of educating the Puerto Rican people about the difference between Commonwealth and Free Association. They don’t want the island to think that Free Association is the same as an enhanced commonwealth.
    So, what we have here is an elk(the Populares) with its antlers stuck on the tree branches of reality. It is a cul de sac, a total dilemma. The Populares cannot turn their platform into one which embraces free association because the statehooders and the Populares themselves have demagogued it in the past, making it appear as full independence(which it is in many ways). Independence and the PIP are the Boogie Man, El Cuco, of Puereto Rico. So, it was a good idea to marry Free Association with it. But it has come back to hunt them now. How will the Populares come up with an enhanced commonwealth that is not free asssociation? And better yet, how will it be a non-territorial formula? Nevertheless, I still feel that they will do it and the US will accept it because it doesn’t want to have to say no to statehood and bite the bullet. And it knows that independence is not what the Puerto Ricans are going to vote for.

  8. 8 Mariel

    Honestly I will just take your comments as such, comments. I do not beleive that a person that has never lived in the island can have a very informative opinion about its status. It’s really clear that you ignore the possible consequences that the island and its people will go through if it ever becomes an independence; I believe it will be worse than the Dominican Republic; there are no production of any type of agricultural products to sustain itself if it ever becomes an independence.

  9. 9 Rafael S

    I do have an opinion about the status in Puerto Rico. As a Puertorican that was born in the Island & lived their untill I was ten years old and I am know 35 years old. I believe that Puerto Rico should not become a state their are many reasons that I could right about all day. However, to make is short & simple. First we are a proud people who love our language & culture. In the United States if you haven’t heard they are trying to ban all together the Spanish language even though we are the largest minority group in the country. As a state we will be English speaking country first & the same laws would be applied so if you want to get stripped of your language than you would choose state hood. Also we would not be able to call Puerto Rico our home land because it will be a state. Even though the Dominican Republic is very poor atleast they can say this is our Home Land & are very proud of their heritage why can’t we. Their are alot of consequences to becoming a state that means if you are a home owner get ready to pay huge increases of property taxes on your home & if your home is in what the U.S. considers a nice area you will pay & as you know it’s not like the U.S. is going to make exceptions for those who now realize they can no longer afford their homes. I say lets stay commonwealth or if not we can always choose Independence with affiliation. We have done our share for the U.S. we have spilled our blood to fight their wars. Now is our turn be proud of your homeland don’t give it up & take the easy way out. We can sustain our selves if we make an effort & put people in office that are going to creat economic development their are many Islands that are doing well in this world why can’t we.

  10. 10 Anthony

    I just ran into this blog and had not seen it before…

    Anyhow, I’m a Puerto Rican born on the Island, but have been living in the US since I was five… I’ve got family back thee, and I visit from time to time…

    To be honest, I am so sick of the way the US has gone under the grand decider, the adulterer, and the other guy, I had started looking into the politics of the Island, and was very discouraged at what I saw. I looked a bit more, and realized that the whole thing is just as corrupt, if not more corrupt than the US Government. The Economy of the country is not doing well. They are overly regulated and overtaxed, just like we are. Even though they do not pay federal income taxes, they pay Social Security/Medicare (If you work for someone) or self Employment taxes(if you are self employed, which is the full Social Security/medicare payment), state/county/city income taxes, The price of things are high because of the excise taxes that are charged for importing items onto the island, plus the newly imposed sales taxes on everything. The police are just as crazy and out of control as the ones here… Check out this you tube video : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRj7MlzRrAo …. People are leaving the Island because things have gotten so bad, they have no choice… Checkout the size and growth over the past 2 years of the Puerto Rican Population in the mainland US and you will see what I am talking about… Another problem, and this is the biggest one of them all… The government is the biggest employer on the island. The Island is nothing but a socialist country being propped up by the US… Hell, the Island is pretty much shut down from Christmas day until Three Kings Day. Election day is a mandatory holiday… Businesses are required by law to give a yearly christmas bonus to all employees… The list goes on and on…

    I was hoping that PR would be different, but it isn’t. Socialism is running rampant on the Island… When I was researching the independence movement a few months back, I felt like I was reading the Communist Manifest or something… Unfortunately Puerto Rico doesn’t have a Libertarian tradition (That is currently being trampled on by the powers that be) like the USA does, and I wish to hell that it did… I would move down there in a heartbeat… Goodbye USA…

  11. 11 JENNY FELIX

    It irks me that so many people that were not born in Puerto Rico, or ever lived there, do not see
    real pros and cons of Puerto Rico becoming a state.
    I was born in PR, and raised in New York. Like so many others, I moved back and fourth to PR 3 or more times over my lifetime. As an adult in the 1970’s, I move to PR for the second time, during an election year. I was unsure of what party affiliation I wanted to have. My family was mainly “Populares” (PDP), or democrats, island style, (“not for Statehood, but to keep the status quo), so I too, had decided that I was a PR democrat, I was associating being a PR democrat with the US political party. I however, always wondered about my grandmothers choice to change her political status from Republican (Puerto Rico New Progressive Party)(PNP) (“state hooders”), to (“La Pava”} . I was raised by my grandmother, who was a highly intelligent women, and of her grandchildren, I was the most exposed to her story telling of the past. The story goes that when Luis Munoz Marin became governor (PDP) and Feliza Rincon (Dona Fela), became Governor, if you were not PDP, it was hard to find and keep a job, any job that was associated with the state, so she had to change to the PDP, in order to get and/or keep a job. I did not understand that then, but I started to understand it when I joined the Puerto Rico Army National Guard. In PR if a party wins the election, then most heads of departments and state, lose their jobs to the other party.

    This is where “mental models” come in, (I was guilty of that by claiming to be of “La Pava”) I asked every one I could get to talk about the their party’s ideals, by asking why they were affiliated with the party they were subscribed to; the answers (to my chagrin) was, I am of this party or that party because my family has always been of this party or that party.

    Happily now, Puerto Rico has the highest percentage of college educated people, than any other state of the union. Though some people are still afraid to be disloyal to the party of their ancestors , I surely hope that a class in government is required for all, so that upcoming generations, will make wise choices as to their affiliations.

    Now to my choice, for years I prefer to be “La Pava”, and keep the status quo, but after actually living in PR as an adult, I prefer that PR become a state. I believe, that by being a state, we would truly feel like American citizens, like we have a nation, and our self-esteem will rise to the point of promoting social, cultural, ethnic and racial relations. This I write because we also have to think about the PR’s that are currently in the US and are struggling with many unfavorable issues that stem from the fact that we have not real status as citizens. We are involuntary citizen’s of the US.

    I could write so much more, but I have no time and I don’t think anyone would want to read it, if it were lengthier.

  12. 12 Juan C Lopez

    Obama is not the only politician tainted by the Puerto Rico governor’s corruption scandal.

    McCain’s main advisor, Charles Black, contacted Senate offices to raise questions about the PR’s interim U.S. attorney, Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez. Why? Because he wanted to derail this corruption probe, and she was spearheading it.


    Will someone ask Mr McCain about his relationship with Charles Black, and why Mr Black was trying to derail a Federal corruption investigation.

    Isn’t that obstruction of justice?

  1. 1 AngryBrownButch » Blog Archive » Blogging resolutions, and two quickies
  2. 2 puerto rican politics
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