The Republican Party, according to its 2004 platform, would support statehood for Puerto Rico, if Puerto Ricans vote for it. If Puerto Ricans voted for blue skies and starry nights, the GOP would probably feel the same. But how many votes are necessary for statehood, and how many for starry nights? In what language must you be taught in schools, and how many clouds defeat the notion of blue skies?
No wonder for a congressman-wannabe (really, a resident commissioner from Puerto Rico with a last name that contains a letter foreign to the English alphabet) the call for statehood was verboten at the Republican National Convention. No wonder this one-minute speaker felt compelled to clarify for the GOP audience that he was Puerto Rican, but nonetheless American. (“But” was the conjunction he used.) He knew that, regardless of what some may appear to promise, the GOP’s platform “does not specify that statehood is the party’s choice,” in order not to raise false expectations. No wonder he omitted what the STAR’s Robert Friedman aptly called the “S” word. (Aug. 31)
The GOP platform suggests that, if Puerto Ricans vote to change the present colonial arrangement, it should be for one that is “permanent,” “non-territorial,” and “constitutionally valid.” The Democratic Party platform -give or take a few rhetorical embellishments- similarly exposes the present commonwealth as the monumental hoax of the Cold War by supporting a “fully democratic” status whenever Puerto Ricans vote for change. Not surprisingly, the underlying premise of “a continuing process” implies many referenda, and that colonialism is still tolerable for the U.S. (STAR, Sept. 1)
But statehood for Puerto Rico is not a real option. The idea of wholly different alphabet letters, words, phrases, and literary production existing, side-by-side, within the American federation -a sort of non dissolvable nation of generic “Latino-Hispanics” within the melted pot- is an irrelevant solution to substandard housing, salaries, and health care that afflict Latinos in the U.S. The pandering to imaginary “Hispanic” or “Latino” voters who presumably await with baited breath for Puerto Rico to become a state does not fulfill their needs. And if people voted for it, it would not be a desirable option for the U.S. Better stick to blue skies and starry nights! The rest is fund-raising for U.S. politicians and photo opportunities for the colonized mentality.
Statehood for Puerto Rico is logically not on the U.S. agenda for the foreseeable future. As Puerto Rican Independence Party president Rubén Berríos wrote in FOREIGN AFFAIRS (1997), “Puerto Rico’s heart is not American.” He further points out that, “Although Puerto Rico is not a politically independent nation, it is no less distinguishable from the United States than the non-independent Palestinian nation is from Israel.”
Puerto Ricans are Hispanic like Albanians, Armenians, or Germans are Indo-Europeans. Some would argue that Puerto Rico can become a Latino state because five U.S. cities in the United States with a population of more than 250,000 are more than 50 per cent Hispanic, or five other cities in the U.S. have more than 500,000 Latinos (STAR, Aug. 29). As if Washington, D.C. could become the capital of Ghana because more than half of its residents are of African descent!
To the United States, Puerto Rican statehood would mean adding a state that would pay the least in taxes and receive the most in per capita federal transfers, have a larger congressional representation than 29 other states, conduct its everyday life (including executive, legislative, and judicial business) in a language other than English, and become a potential rallying point for minority demands in times of ethnic and social tensions. Besides, future generations are sufficiently unpredictable for the U.S. to risk a Caribbean Quebec or a tropical Northern Ireland.
However, clearer -if not more ethical- minds have prevailed. Congress, with its plenary constitutional powers over territories, has in more than a century not even offered to consider the statehood option. Instead, it legislated 52 years ago to keep Puerto Rico under the same basic limitations on (among others) tariffs, trade, commerce, travel, and communications imposed by U.S. sovereignty since the Spanish-American War of 1898. Civil disobedience for the demilitarization of the island municipality of Vieques led President Bush to recognize that his “friends and neighbors … don’t want us there.” And as Puerto Ricans ushered the Navy out of Vieques, Roosevelt Roads -its largest base outside the continental U.S.- was closed down, marking the end to Puerto Rico’s usefulness as a military base with the end of the 20th century.
The only viable alternative for Puerto Rico’s economic development is healthy interdependence with the U.S. and the rest of the globe as a sovereign nation. The brood of intertwining political interests between Puerto Rico’s colonial commonwealth and statehood parties on the one hand, and Democratic and Republican politicos on the other, must no longer connive to divert Hispanic voters into thinking that statehood talk in any way serves their struggle for equality within American society. Now, clearer and more ethical minds must begin to articulate an exit policy from the anachronistic swamplands of colonialism.