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The Need To Align Political Status With Emotional Reality


October 3, 2002
Copyright © 2002 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

The need to align political status with emotional reality is the core, the essence of the dilemma that keeps Puerto Rico etched in indecision. When a separately identified group of people, (which Puerto Ricans indisputably are) cannot fully be what they feel, there can never be contentment or a secure sense of national purpose. When political status and emotional reality are out of joint, psychological dislocation results and persistent unease prevails. Considerations of economic convenience can mask and to some degree mollify—but never satisfy—the innate longing for clear identity.

Ironically, neither of the two leading status alternatives—Commonwealth or statehood—can meet this vital test, and their proven product is endemic indecision and endless debate. Commonwealth is a colonial remnant that promotes the sham and the hypocrisy of pretending to be Americans when that is clearly not what the majority of islanders feel. Statehood also falls short as a solution, because its only hope of acceptance by the U.S. lies in asking islanders to sacrifice the primacy of their P.R. identity and to adopt American loyalties, language and allegiances that many on the island neither feel nor want, to say nothing of the painful prospect of U.S. taxes enforced by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

So it is that the third and ostensibly least popular alternative—Independence—emerges as the only status capable of meeting the fundamental criteria of aligning Puerto Rico’s political reality with its deeply held emotional reality of separate identity. The handicap here is that the Independence cause has historically been linked with, and penalized by, a virulent anti-Americanism that the majority of islanders do not feel, and the island can ill afford. Any program based on enmity with the world’s most powerful nation—which happens to house half the island’s population and also provides massive aid plus the tourists for that important industry—is pointless, futile, and self destructive. Nonetheless, a phased in, newly defined and newly led Independence movement is the only status solution capable of fully enlisting Puerto Rican hearts and minds, while meeting the standards of American history, and the expectations of the surrounding world where colonies are distinctly out of style.

But how could this happen—against all odds and without a specific majority mandate from the Puerto Rican people? The impetus and the initiative has to come from the U.S. Congress, the only entity with the power to make something happen. For Congress to just sit back, opting for inaction until "the Puerto Rican people decide what they want" is an irresponsible cop out for the following reasons:

  1. The P.R. people cannot reasonably decide what they want until the U.S. specifically lays down the choices, the rules and the way the authorized alternative will function and be treated by the U.S.
  2. P.R.’s present colonial status is an affront to world opinion and a blemish on the U.S. image, particularly at this time when America needs to demonstrate consistent democratic principles in the treatment and rebuilding of other independent democracies.
  3. U.S. Citizenship—the most valued citizenship in the world—should be equal to all citizens in terms of obligations and benefits, and should not be extended to those who reject American identity, reject the presence of the U.S. Military, reject instruction in English, reject primary allegiance to the U.S.—and pay no U.S. Federal taxes. Puerto Rico’s Commonwealth status devalues U.S. citizenship by unequal treatment and is particularly unfair to the U.S. taxpayer, who currently sends $19 billion dollars annually—(more than any nation has ever sent to another nation) to support this devalued brand of U.S. Citizenship.

Gaining the attention of the U.S. Congress is no easy task, particularly when the group in question pays no Federal taxes and has no vote and little stateside public interest or support. But there are new factors that could change that. The U.S. now finds itself in need of international support for its leading role in the war against terrorism. The voluntary granting of independence to P.R. could be a gesture that would be very well received in the U.N.

The U.S. Hispanic community could be another key area. Independence for P.R. is a cause that could strike strong responsive chords with the Mexicans, Dominicans, Cubans and other Hispanics—all of whom come from, and can relate to, independent nations.

With an independent P.R., all these other Latin groups would feel an equality they do not presently have, because Puerto Ricans are perceived—and resented—as a favored group with U.S. benefits that none of the other countries have. The political party that correctly senses this, and properly presents the case for P.R. independence, could gain valuable leverage with the key Hispanic vote in the U.S. Another potential source of support could be the many Puerto Ricans attending American colleges and universities. Young people are the most likely to feel the idealistic appeal of independence. And what could seem more reasonable to their American college classmates than young Puerto Ricans asking for what American gained for itself 230 years ago? A cause that American campuses—students and faculty—begin to embrace will very quickly become visible and viable in the U.S.

To successfully align two objects, the best course is to first establish the most dominant and least movable and then bring the more movable factor in line with it. Puerto Rico’s strong sense of separate identity has proven to be an unmovable quality that has endured despite 100 years of American occupation. The persistent island rejection of the teaching and learning of English—which makes no economic sense—can be seen as an act of passive cultural defiance that underlines Puerto Rico’s sturdy resistance to becoming an integral part of America. This then is the most dominant and least movable factor, to which the island’s political status must be aligned.

Neither Commonwealth nor statehood can achieve this. The Commonwealth cause wants to be separate but equal and the statehood cause wants to be equal but separate. Both these courses are philosophically untenable. There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that contemplates or justifies a separate group of non-voting, non-taxpaying U.S. citizens, whose separation is allowed and financed by the rest of the tax paying nation. America fought a long and bloody civil war to preserve the union—not the separation—of the states.

America has a proud history of establishing, fostering and financing independent democracies, after conquest. Germany and Japan are prominent examples, and Afghanistan and perhaps Iraq are current projects. Puerto Rico, which has a greater and a much closer claim on U.S. friendship, should equally qualify for U.S. sponsored, and initially financed, independence.

Garry Hoyt lived and worked in Puerto Rico from 1955 until 1980. He resides in Rhode Island and maintains strong ties with Puerto Rico.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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