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Latino Politics in the U.S.

Latino Politics in the U.S.
Kendall-Hunt, 2012 (2005)

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ten Reasons Why Puerto Rico Will Never be a State: Historical and Political

 (Postlude: December 7, 2012. Last November 6, Puerto Ricans, for the fourth time rejected statehood for Puerto Rico. Voters were presented during the regular electoral process with a very confusing referendum. But what was not confusing was the outcome, of the 1,864,186 voters, only 46.46% voted for statehood, all the other voters, 53.64%,  supported anti statehood proposals. Since the 1993 referendum this is the lowest percentage of support for statehood ever registered. National identity trumped assimilation and cultural suicide.)

(This Spring we might hear a buzz around Puerto Rico and its political relationship with the United States, I share some ideas about why the idea of statehood for Puerto Rico is a dream that is also a nightmare for many. In July 2009, the House Natural Resources Committee approved the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, HR 2499 which would establish at least one plebiscite in the Caribbean territory to survey the populace about what status they want for their island. According to the office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the bill will come up for a floor vote this year. "It remains a priority," spokeswoman Katie Grant said. This is characterized by some in Puerto Rico as a effort to impose statehood. Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, the non-voting delegate from Puerto Rico and a Democrat who represents Puerto Rico in Congress (although there is no real Democrat or Republican Party in Puerto Rico), together with Gov. Luis Fortuño, an energetic and rising Republican star (recently Obama placed him in an advisory group on national security and defense), have marshaled 182 House co-sponsors for the legislation, including 58 Republicans. The two say they have commitments from more than 264 House members - 180 Democrats and 84 Republicans - to vote for the bill. In 1998, another similar effort failed in the Senate where this one will also fail, but in the meantime will keep the pro-statehood party collecting donations from those who aspire to the dream/nightmare of statehood.)

UPDATE HR 2000 was submitted in congress by Resident Comissioner Pierluisi, money has been allocated for a survey which will not include the Estado Libre Asociado (status quo) and will certainly, again, not lead to any de-colonization process. 

Ten Reasons Why Puerto Rico Will Never be a State: Historical and Political

Víctor M. Rodríguez Domínguez, Ph.D.

April 2009

1. The United States did not conquer Puerto Rico to convert it into a state of the Union. Don Pedro Albizu Campos said, “The United States is interested in the cage, not the birds.” If it had wanted, it would have happeneda long time ago. Puerto Rico has spent more time as a colonial possession than New Mexico which became a state in 1912 after being conquered in 1848. The reason it took so long is that Hispanic culture was still strong (bilingual schools) and Chicanos were the majority population. After they were conquered economically, statehood arrived.

A. Every other land conquest bought or annexed by the United States became a territory. According to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the United States places every land held, conquered or annexed as a territory. The territorial status is the early state into the road to statehood (From the experience of Arizona, California, Louisiana, Alaska to Hawaii the U.S. has followed this process). Puerto Rico has NEVER been a “territory” of the United States. People use the term colloquially but Puerto Rico's relationship to the U.S. was defined by the Supreme Court in a number of cases called the Insular Cases from 1901-1922, as an “unincorporated territory” of the U.S. (Belongs to, but it is not a part of . . . sounds like a mistress). Further, the court in 1922 said: "[W]e find no features in the Organic Act of Porto Rico of 1917 from which we can infer the purpose of Congress to incorporate Porto Rico into the United States with the consequences which would follow." Balzac V. Porto Rico (1922). (Federal Appeals Court Judge agrees with me in a recent conference "The Insular Cases: A Declaration of their Bankruptcy and my Harvard Pronouncement" Harvard Law School February 19 2014.

2. Puerto Ricans were granted United States citizenship by a statute of congress, which means that congress could legislate and take it away. The Jones Act of 1917 granted citizenship to Puerto Ricans in order to gain loyalty during a period of war. (Puerto Rican federal judge Cabranes’ book explains this whole period in Citizenship and the American Empire: Notes on the Legislative History of the United States Citizenship of Puerto Ricans, 1979)

3. During the debate to grant statutory U.S. citizenship to the United States, the main concern of most congressmen was how “white” Puerto Ricans were, they did not want to allow a “mulatto” population to hold U.S. citizenship. Many were convinced by various means that Puerto Rico was the “whitest of the Antilles” (it was not then or today but then, who cares).

4. The colonial nature of Puerto Rico’s relationship to the United States occurs in violation of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance and to its democratic principles. Democratic countries do not possess colonies. When a country has colonies, it ceases to be a democracy and becomes an empire. During the congressional debates in congress, many members of the Anti-Imperialist league because they felt it would damage U.S. democracy (some were frankly, outright racists but not most). It was a motley crew which included people like Jane Addams (founder of the social work profession and the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize), Samuel Gompers a labor leader, John Dewey a philosopher of education, Grover Cleveland a former president, Mark Twain the writer, etc.).

5. There is no will in congress to go through this process (all other efforts have failed, the most recent one HR 2499 will also fail so will HR 2000) since Puerto Rico would have to be transformed into a territory and then legislation would have to be enacted to frame how Puerto Ricans (if they so choose) would be incorporated into the United States. When Congressman Young R-Alaska sponsored legislation (1998 “Young Bill” HR 856) the whole process collapsed, died in the senate, partially due to the question of imposing the English language on Puerto Rico.

6. Puerto Ricans, in contrast to Alaskans or Hawaiians, already had a clear sense of national identity which has, ironically been reinforced under United States colonial control. When Puerto Rico was conquered and ceded by Spain under the Treaty of Paris, the population was close to a million. It already had two centuries of literature, poets, painters, sociologists, philosophers, political leaders, etc. In fact, under the Autonomous Government granted by Spain to Puerto Rico in 1897, Puerto Rico had more freedom than under the “Estado Libre Asociado” incorrectly translated as “Commonwealth.” Puerto Rico, even under oppressive Spain, at various points in time had representatives in the Spanish Parliament with voice and vote (people like Ramon Power y Giralt).  Puerto Rico today has less sovereignty than under the Autonomic Government granted to Puerto Rico by Spain in 1897. Puerto Rico was able to enter into international trade agreements, pring its own currency, have its own postal system etc. Today Puerto Rico has a “Resident Commissioner” with voice and no vote (except in some minor committees). In Puerto Rico we call that “derecho al berrinche” (the right to scream like children).

7. The metaphorical “mancha de plátano” (this notion that we are always Puerto Ricans first, second and third) is evidenced by the fact that Puerto Ricans, even in the United States are one of the “Latino” groups which are more likely to maintain its language and connection to its nation. In the island, we are “un-assimilable,” English is taught in school from first grade to 12th grade and still Spanish is the vernacular in Puerto Rico. In the 1900s, the United States imposed English as the language of instruction in the public schools and it failed miserably. The colonialists were so desperate that they even sent Puerto Rican students to Carlisle Indian Boarding School founded by Captain Richard Henry Pratt in 1879 whose motto was "kill the indian, save the man" (See pablo Navarro's work on this subject). They brought teachers from New England and some of our best writers wrote great satire about the comedic nature of that process. One of the best is called “Santa Clós Va a la Cuchilla” (Santa Claus Visits Cuchilla) by Abelardo Díaz Alfaro about how Puerto Ricans dealt with U.S. imposed culture. In the 1940s, after decades of student walkouts and strikes the first Puerto Rican Education Commissioner, Jose A Padín returned to the use of Spanish as the medium of instruction in Puerto Rico’s public school system in 1946.

8. The pro-statehood party, all the way back to Luis Ferré in 1968 and Carlos Romero Barceló have talked about a “Jíbaro Statehood.” What they meant by that is that Puerto Rico would be accepted as a state with its Spanish language, customs, some form of international status other states do not have (Olympic Teams, Pan American teams, Central American Team, Miss Universe, Miss World). Whenever I tell my students about this they laugh since they now that if one becomes a state you have to give up all that. Whenever the Puerto Rican Basketball team, or a Puerto Rican boxing fighter defeats an “American” competitor the roar is deafening. Puerto Ricans are very nationalistic, that can not be erased.

9. If Puerto Ricans forgot their history, and decided to commit cultural self-genocide and voted for statehood (congress would never accept less than two thirds because it could find itself with Northern Ireland in the Caribbean) it would mean that because of the island population (close to 4 million right now) Puerto Rico would have more congressmen (actually, close to seven) than twenty-nine states, most of them conservative and from the South or the Midwest. I don’t see two thirds of congress voting to admit a state with seven congresspersons (likely Democrats, but not all). Alaska and Hawaii had very small populations and even today Alaska has one, Hawaii has two.

10. The United States knows that Puerto Ricans have shed their blood to preserve our culture and have struggled against repression and oppression in the island and in the United States’ mainland. Puerto Ricans have endured massacres (Ponce Massacre, March 21, 1937 20 dead, 100 wounded), assassinations, bombings, surveillance, demonization. We have struggled through peaceful means (we defeated the U.S. Navy in Vieques), Puerto Ricans are now struggling against the Republican governor of Puerto Rico’s efforts to impose neo-liberal and anti-working people measures. Most people do not know that during the Vietnam War, the draft in Puerto Rico collapsed. While many poor peasant kids ended up in the United States Armed Forces, thousands of others refused to be drafted, resisted the draft directly (not as conscientious objectors) burned their draft cards and stopped, for all intents and purposes, the drafting of Puerto Ricans to fight in Vietnam. There was no way that thousands of Puerto Rican youth could be sent to jail like it occurred in the United States, since it would have caused an international uproar. In the streets of San Juan and Mayaguez and other places where university and high school youth protested against the war, Puerto Rican and Vietnamese flags were unfurled. We have also fought through armed struggle. From the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN) to the Voluntarios Para la Revolución, Comandos Armados Liberación (CAL), Movimiento Independentista Revolucionario Armado (MIRA), to the Ejército Popular Boricua- Machetero, the Nationalist Party, many organizations from the past and some still active today (but not engaging in armed struggle) have reminded the United States government that we cannot be erased, culturally, politically or physically. Don Pedro Albizu Campos said a phrase that we can read in t-shirts among Puerto Ricans across the diaspora, “Para quitarnos la patria, tendrán que quitarnos la vida.” (In order to take our motherland away, they will have to take our lives.)

Harvard Philosopher Santallana said “Those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it.”

Ponce Massacre

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