Less than two weeks after it was formally introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Puerto Rico Status Act, a bill hoping to resolve the U.S. colony’s century-old status question, is already losing steam.
Congressman Raúl Grijalva, who chairs the Natural Resources Committee managing Puerto Rican affairs and that of the empire’s other colonial possessions, told Pablo Manríquez at Latino Rebels—where, in full disclosure, I am the senior editor—that “unified Republican opposition” to the bill means its supporters would “need every Democrat” on board if it has any chance of passing the House.
Chairman Grijalva blames lobbyists for the bill’s gradual demise, but I’m not here to point my finger at anyone—not the lobbyists, not Grijalva and his colleagues in the House, not the White House or the Supreme Court, not my fellow members of the press. I’m here to tell you what will happen next, once the status bill fails to pass a floor vote, or fails even to reach that point.
Everybody will blame the Puerto Ricans.
Everybody will say—everybody is already saying, in fact—that the infighting among Puerto Ricans, in the islands, in the diaspora, and between the two, is the reason why Puerto Rico has remained a colony of the United States for these last 124 years, and why it will probably remain so for 124 years more.
The victim-blaming is to be expected in a country where blaming the victims is a favorite pastime, up there with baseball and bombing resource-rich nations with brown majorities.
American culture traditionally blames the Indians for their own annihilation, saying they were too pagan and too “underdeveloped”—in other words, they didn’t exploit natural resources to the maniacal degree that the “civilized” people of the world do—to deserve their relative peace and quiet.
American culture, historically speaking, blames the people of Africa for their own enslavement, and for much the same reasons that they blame the Indians for the genocidal campaign waged against them.
American culture, at least the male side of it anyway, blamed the disenfranchisement of women on their supposed irrationality—i.e., the girls were too “flighty,” as Pavarotti put it, to be given a vote.
To this very minute, American culture continues to blame poverty on the poor, homelessness on the homeless, police brutality on the brutalized, and the devastating effects of opioid addiction, not on the makers and sellers of such drugs, but on the people they’re sold to.
Seen in this light, then, blaming the colonized people of Puerto Rico for the colonialism in Puerto Rico is right on par.
With the defeat of this latest attempt to decolonize Puerto Rico, the U.S. government, and the business interests that string it along, will argue that because the people of Puerto Rico seem incapable of coming to a consensus around the future political status of their homeland, the United States has no choice but to keep Puerto Rico under colonial rule indefinitely.
Sam has some logic. The machistas can say whatever they want, but no woman in the history of womankind was ever so absurd as my government’s official policy.
Washington’s rationale for continuing to colonize Puerto Rico is like a slave owner saying he’s forced to continue enslaving the Africans on his plantation because they cannot agree on whether they should be adopted by him, as full members of his family, or set free.
“As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.” Lincoln’s beautiful little aphorism is founded on the Golden Rule and basically sums up my position on Puerto Rico’s status question: Since I do not want to be colonized, I refuse to colonize anyone else—or let my government do the colonizing.
The United States proudly claims to be “the land of the free” and the home of a brave rebellion that shook off a distant colonial power and gave inspiration to generations of freedom fighters the world over. Yet, today, it finds itself in the awkward position of not only being a colonial power itself, but the only remaining colonial power on earth.
What to do?
Simple. Regardless of what the people of Puerto Rico do or don’t decide, the United States can choose to no longer be a colonial power. Rather than wait another hundred years for his slaves to decide their own fate, the slave owner can simply free them in the meantime, refusing to be the author of their continued enslavement for another minute.
If the United States is truly a democracy, or hopes to convince anyone that it is, then it must grant statehood to Puerto Rico immediately or begin its transition toward full self-government, either in the form of a pact of free association with the United States or complete independence. (What Puerto Rico has now cannot honestly be called “self-government,” as so many statehooders and supporters of the colonial status quo now claim. Not when the supreme power in Puerto Rico is Congress, in which Puerto Ricans are not given voting representation—“No Taxation Without Representation!” Not when the people of Puerto Rico are not allowed to vote in presidential elections, only primaries, even though the president of the United States appoints judges to the Supreme Court—approved by the Senate, where Puerto Rico, again, has no vote—and the Supreme Court decides how much political and economic rights the people of Puerto Rico should enjoy.)
For the U.S. government to hesitate any longer is to continue committing crimes against humanity against the people of Puerto Rico.
Colonialism is a crime against humanity like slavery or denying a woman the right to decide what happens to her own body. A colonizer can’t blame his colonizing on the colonized people any more than a slaver can blame slavery on the enslaved. Just as no one can legally agree to be a slave, no nation can legally agree to its own colonization.
Put plainly, the people of Puerto Rico have no right to endorse U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico or any act of colonization committed against them by anyone. As an inseparable condition of their humanity, the people of Puerto Rico, as with all people, must live free.
Freedom is a fundamental human right. You or I cannot give it away so long as we are human beings—and haven’t committed a crime, according to the prison mindset. What’s true for the individual is true for the collective—and it’s true for the collective because it’s true for the individual—meaning no country can give away its right to decide its own laws and its own future. A person cannot legally give someone a right to enslave them, and the same goes for countries.
Even if you could twist the logic enough to make it at least seem kosher for a person to agree to be a slave or a country to be a colony, any consideration of the people born into such a situation—a child born to a person who agreed to be a slave, or a child born in a country that agreed to be a colony—demonstrates just how immoral and unjust it is. Even if it were legal for a person to sell themselves into slavery or a country to sell itself into colonialism, which it isn’t, the sheer immorality and injustice of it would veto any of its professed legality.
So, while the U.S. government might plan to carry on its charade of being the hapless colonizer, forced to continue subjugating the Puerto Rican people and denying them their human rights because they themselves keep agreeing to it, as a full-class citizen of the United States, with the right to petition its government and have my grievances heard by it, I’m going to respectfully call bullshit.
The United States used to be a democratic republic, in name mostly, but as soon as it started stealing colonies from other empires, it then became an empire itself. Washington knows what it’s doing. It knows that it can leave Puerto Rico pretty easily, forgiving the $70 billion in public debt it racked up in Puerto Rico’s name over the past 124 years on its way out. (Puerto Rico is a U.S. colony, after all, which means everything in Puerto Rico belongs to the U.S. government, including the debt. Washington can’t own all of the assets and none of the liabilities, though I’m sure it would love to have the cake and eat it too.)
The colonizer wears no clothes and has nothing to hide behind. It can no longer blame its victims for its crimes. It can no longer claim to be a democracy and deny the right to full representation and self-government to those it has the nerve to call its “citizens.” And the United States can no longer keep Puerto Rico as a colony without making an enemy of every freedom-loving human being on the earth.
So, what’s it going to do?
Featured image by orangejack/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0