16 April 2021 ~ 0 Comentarios

Will Puerto Rico status be finally determined?

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

I knew firsthand the beauty of the “Island of Enchantment” and the kindness of its people. More than half a century ago I went to teach in Puerto Rico. I lived there for four years and there we had a son. The island’s governor was Roberto Sánchez Vilella. I believed Luis Muñoz Marín, the leader of the “populares”, when he explained to us that the “Commonwealth” was the present and the future of the country. But it would not take long before I heard that “it was not a State, or Free, or Associated.” What was it then?

Finally, the experts spoke. (At least, many of them.) Dozens of scholars in Constitutional Law from the best American universities have written a public letter to Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy, Charles Schumer and Mitch McConnell –the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Legislative Branch, where the island’s authority is– urging them to pass the law that would allow Puerto Rico to join the American Union as the 51st State.

Simultaneously, they encourage them to reject the bill named the “Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act.” The reason they use has to do with the essence of the Republic –the United States is a republic ruled by laws and there is no connection to the country other than as another state of the American Union. The “Commonwealth,” created by Luis Muñoz Marín in 1952, is not possible. It is a chimera. It doesn’t exist. According to the signatories of the letter, the game is not three-way. It is only two –total independence or total connection to the United States.

Naturally, since full independence has few supporters –just six percent–, that leaves “statehood” as the only real option. But it happens that two-thirds of Puerto Ricans share values ​​and vision with current Democrats (all, those on the right and those on the left), so the Republicans prefer to prolong indefinitely the question of Puerto Rico status, and leave to the next generation the task of looking for a solution to the “problem.”

The two Puerto Rican senators, and the dozen US congressmen, according to the current political landscape, would be linked to the Democrats and would “unbalance” power relations in Washington. Would the 435 seats in Congress be increased to accommodate Puerto Ricans or would that number be kept, and seats redistributed? It’s complicated.

In any case, if Puerto Ricans have a chance to achieve statehood, it is now, during Joe Biden’s presidency, when there is a plural vision of American society and there is an inclusive way of understanding political relations in Washington.

In 1898, 123 years ago, the “problem” began during the Spanish-American War. Americans landed in Puerto Rico and Cuba under a round of applause and support from Puerto Ricans and Cubans. Shortly before, US Admiral George Dewey’s fleet pulverized Spanish ships in Manila, Philippines. More than a naval combat, it was “target shooting.” US guns had a greater range than the Spanish ones. It was an extremely uneven fight.

The three nations had a different destiny. Once placed under the United States’ sovereignty, after the American triumph and the signing of the “Treaty of Paris” between the representatives of Washington and Madrid, Cuba became an independent Republic in 1902, while Puerto Rico and the Philippines were territories legally controlled by the US Congress. The three nations were transformed into “protectorates” of the United States through different procedures.

Cuba was a protectorate until 1934. In that year, the United States unilaterally repealed the Platt Amendment. The Philippines became independent on July 4, 1946, after the Japanese defeat, and only Puerto Rico remained part of the United States. Why?

Because in 1917, through the “Jones Act” signed by President Woodrow Wilson, Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship. Only a handful refused to accept it. About 18,000 joined the United States Armed Forces. It is not known how many Puerto Ricans fought or died in World War I, but it is known that black Puerto Ricans participated in segregated battalions, following the American practice in that tragic era of violation of civil rights. (It was President Harry Truman, after World War II, who eliminated racial segregation in the US Armed Forces).

Will supporters of “statehood” take advantage of Biden’s four years in the White House to try to achieve their goals? I don’t know. I remember a friend, Wilfredo Brashi, follower of Muñoz Marín and a remarkable Puerto Rican writer, devilishly intelligent, who told me, “The end of this drama will be statehood.” Will it be?

Leave a Reply