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Free Puerto Rico Islanders Abusing U.S. Citizenship
May 2, 2001
Puerto Ricans have stepped up the protests against the U.S. military for using the island of Vieques, a few miles off the U.S. coast, for bombing and artillery practice. In fact, a few of the protesters have gone so far as to put themselves in harm's way to try to stop the bombing.
Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. Although islanders do not enjoy statehood and therefore do not have representatives and senators, they are U.S. citizens with all the other privileges that entails. Puerto Ricans can come and go to the U.S. mainland, for example, without the requirements placed on foreigners.
The island is governed by U.S. federal law and its citizens enjoy all the freedom and civil rights as Americans. Puerto Ricans are given federal aid in the form of welfare and other helps. The U.S. presence there not only provides a structure of law and order, it also provides Puerto Rico with a big, stable, economic presence.
In short, Puerto Rico has it much better than if it were an independent nation, scrambling to provide the rights and services that its citizens already have as Americans.
Some islanders would, of course, rather be admitted to the Union as a state, but there are problems in that direction, and in any case, that is up to Congress. Most territories have had to wait for statehood until they met the conditions required by Congress at the time.
The federal government already owns about two-thirds of Vieques island. It is the one place that the Navy can practice firing shells from ships.
One solution might be for the feds to buy the remainder of the island. That is a possibility that should be considered.
In the meantime, Puerto Ricans should assume some of the responsibilities of being American citizens. If they won't do that, then perhaps it is time to grant them their independence.
The independence movement has never gotten very far in the past, and it probably won't in the future. Obviously, most Puerto Ricans are very happy to be American citizens.
But the U.S. could at any time grant independence, and this ought to be very forcefully explained to protesters as well as the citizens of Puerto Rico.