Decolonize Puerto Rico Now

Decolonize Puerto Rico Now

As members of the Puerto Rican diaspora that supports independence for Puerto Rico, we feel compelled to respond to "Make Puerto Rico a State Now", a deeply flawed opinion piece published in this newspaper on November 4, 2020, which, through an abundance of revisionist history and a baffling disregard for basic tenets of applicable U.S. and international law, seeks to make the case for making Puerto Rico a U.S. State.

The piece advances the notion that the inhabitants of Puerto Rico, which its author alleges was annexed by the United States in 1898 without any legal support for her position, are being deprived of their political and civil rights by reason of the fact that Puerto Rico is not a U.S. State.  Professor Cristina D. Ponsa-Kraus is wrong on the law. Puerto Rico is today no more part of the United States than India was part of England when ruled by the British Empire. Under the U.S. Constitution, the annexation of Puerto Rico, even if permissible under international law, would require an act of  a Congress that Congress has never agreed to annex Puerto Rico.  Therefore, since the military invasion of 1898, Puerto Rico has remained a mere “territorial possession” of the United States. The fact that since 1917, and for so long as the Jones Act remains in place, people born in the archipelago are forced to be U.S. citizens from birth, makes no difference. Congress could grant U.S. citizenship to all Parisians by statute tomorrow, if it so wished, and the city of Paris would not become a part of the United States by reason of said grant nor would anyone argue that Congress had a legal or moral duty to annex the City of Paris in order to ensure the full exercise of U.S. political rights by its residents. Besides, Parisians unfortunate enough to be granted American citizenship would not be without a remedy in the circumstances.

The author is also wrong on the history and the sociology. Puerto Ricans are not a mere agglomeration of U.S. citizens living in a Caribbean archipelago and elsewhere. Puerto Ricans were in 1898 and continue to comprise a Latin American and Caribbean nation, many living in a distinct island territory, and all of us, regardless of domicile, suffering, not from a ‘painful legacy of racial bias” from our Congressionally-imposed brethren, as she alleges, but rather from the continued implementation, well into the 21st century, of the 19th century doctrine of “Manifest Destiny,” a conceptual child of white Anglo supremacist thought, pursuant to which the United States proclaimed to the world its natural right and duty to invade neighboring territories and rule them as colonies until duly “civilized,” through a gradual process of ethnic, linguistic and political cleansing, and thus ready to be annexed and admitted as States.

“Manifest Destiny” succeeded in the territories taken in the Mexican war and in Hawaii, but it failed miserably in Puerto Rico notwithstanding a century of U.S. policy focused on eradicating the Spanish language, sterilizing Puerto Rican women, criminalizing resistance to the occupation, exterminating the independence movement, using the public education system to promote the racist notion that Puerto Ricans would inherently incapable of governing themselves in the absence of U.S. occupation, and restraining opportunities for economic development via monopolistic shipping laws to foster economic dependency on U.S. aid. Despite it all, in 2020 the Puerto Rican nation is alive and well, for the most part identifying itself as such and not as part of an “American national family” and speaking Spanish not only in Puerto Rico, but also in diaspora communities across the world. Its independence movement is thriving and quickly gaining popular support, much so, that in Tuesday’s elections, despite the destitution brought upon by the series of natural calamities since 2017, voters ousted the pro-statehood party controlled legislature by a landslide, with approximately 25% of newly elected Senators from three different political parties openly advocating national independence and another half of newly elected legislators are proposing some form of association with the U.S. based on the national sovereignty of Puerto Rico. In the referendum touted by the article, despite a rigged process and a well-financed pro-annexation campaign, statehood was barely able to get over 50% of the popular vote. The other half of voters rejected it outright via a “No” vote, protested the process as illegitimate by casting blank ballots or abstained from participating. The writing is on the wall: the days of statehood as a principal status preference of Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico are over. Any push for statehood by the incoming administration in the face of these realities would be sheer folly as it would engender resistance by Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico and elsewhere similar to the resistance that overthrew its activist pro-statehood governor in 2019, and reinvigorate Trumpism because it will be impossible, in the court of public opinion, to accuse its 72.5 million adherents of opposing statehood for Puerto Rico because of racism (which of course, will be their reason) with tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans in the streets of San Juan rejecting and resisting annexation.

However, we do agree with Professor Ponsa-Kraus that the United States' Government needs to act. While Puerto Ricans do not have a legal or moral right to have Congress admit Puerto Rico as a State, and the annexation of territories while under colonial rule is illegal under basic principles of international human rights law, Puerto Rico is not for the U.S. to rule as a colony any more than it is for the U.S. to sell it as a colony. The principal outline for a viable path forward has been charted by The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2020: a bill introduced earlier this fall, and expected to be re-filed in January, by Congresswomen Nydia Velazquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both truly progressive Puerto Ricans. The bill outlines the essential elements of a federal framework which would permit Congress, acting in tandem with a sovereign decolonization assembly elected by Puerto Rican voters, to end its role as imperial master of the Puerto Rican nation. The incoming administration should support their effort and promote the prompt enactment of the bill by Congress in order to end the scourge that Manifest Destiny has represented for Puerto Rico and the rest of Latin America once and for all. Puerto Rico must be decolonized now.

Diáspora Independentista: Prof. Carlos I. Vargas Silva, Ph.D. (United Kingdom), Prof. Luís Sanchez Ayala Ph.D. (Colombia), Rafael Ruiz Ayala, L.L.M. (Chicago), Eliasib Velez Reyes (Florida), Abimael Rodríguez (Florida), Eric Ramos Rodríguez (New York), Miguel Fiol, M.D.(Minnesota), Jessenia Bruno (Texas) and Jesús M. Pizarro Rodríguez (Arkansas)

Additional information: Who we are.

Diáspora Independentista is a group of Puerto Ricans in the diaspora that advocates for the independence of Puerto Rico as the only political status that offers tools to achieve sustainable economic development.