Separate and Not Equal in America’s Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

prcoqAs Americans head to the voting polls today to decide who will be the 44th President of the United States, four million American citizens who are residents of Puerto Rico will be barred from casting their ballots.

A Spanish colony from 1493 to 1897, Puerto Rico was ceded to the U.S. under the Treaty of Paris in December 1898, putting an end to the Spanish-American War. It marked the end of the Spanish Empire in the Americas and signaled the rise of U.S. colonialism.

In 1917, Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship and in 1947, the right to democratically elect their own governor (previously an appointed post). In 1952, they drafted their own constitution which was ratified by Congress and approved by President Truman.

Today, Puerto Rico is officially an Estado Libre Asociado (which translates into “Free Associated State”) or Commonwealth: a self-governing territory — with its own executive, legislative, and judicial branches — that is subject to U.S. jurisdiction and sovereignty. It belongs to the U.S., but is not part of the U.S. It has limited (non-voting) representation in Congress. Its head of state is the President of the United States — who it can nominate in party primaries (as we saw on June 1st), but NOT vote for in presidential elections.

So, today Americans vote for President. And Puerto Ricans vote for Governor: not-quite-equal-citizens in a not-quite-independent, not-quite-common land for almost a century.

It’s definitely time for change. We’ve waited far too long. Here’s hoping today is the day change makes history. Vote OBAMA.

6 Responses to Separate and Not Equal in America’s Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

  1. Paisano, Obama no es la contestacion y tus puntos. Nosotros los Puertoriquenos somos los que tenemos que desidir que queremos para nuestro futuro. Un hombre que quiere quitarle el dinero a las personas trabajadoras por medio de impuestos no es un herue. Y no creo que el tenga interes en nuestro pais. Nosotros debemos asumir nuestra responsabilidades y no depender de otros.

  2. blixity says:

    As a commonwealth, the fate of Puerto Rico, unfortunately, does not depend entirely on Puertoriquenos (who pay no federal taxes). The future of these islands does rest largely on the next president of the United States, Obama — perhaps more so than on the current non-voting Resident Commissioner (and perhaps future governor) Fortuno, a McCain supporter. Changing this IS up to you. Gracias y buenas suerte.

  3. elbohemio says:

    I say that it is a sad day indeed now that the right wing republicans are back in power in Puerto Rico. I guess that many on the island have not learned the lessons of the past eight years of republican rule in the U.S. However, it will be a hollow victory as the Democrats will now rule in the states and more importantly in The White House!!!

  4. blixity says:

    Yes, agree. Puertoriquenos seem to be moving in the opposite direction, electing one of the neoliberal republican elites in the form of Fortuno. Strange. One can only hope that the changing tides in the U.S. reach the shores of Puerto Rico. And that Puertoriquenos know to bring it in.

  5. My view is that the USA should not have second-class citizens: all citizens should have equal representation and voting rights. All US territories including PR, DC, the Virgins and Pacific territories should be OFFERED full statehood including two senators and congressional representation by apportion (same as everybody else). That is, the US should guarantee that IF these territories voted for statehood their vote would be respected (at the moment there is no such assurance whatsoever). And again, that is not the same as advocating statehood (I do advocate statehood for the District of Columbia). Meanwhile I disagree with Blixity’s too-easy identification of the PNP with “right-wing Republicans,” this is much too facile and formulaic, the situation is much more complicated than that. It’s not so easy to talk to real, economically-marginalized Puerto Ricans on the island as it is to talk to self-styled leftists (ie educated bourgeois). But if you do, you find that the humble people here perceive more (and sometimes more dangerous) oppressors than the bad old USA. People like Rosello and Fortuno are northern-style meritocrats (doesn’t mean they’re not obnoxious): Sila Calderon was the real thing, an oligarch from one of the Spanish “familias altas”; ask the guys digging a ditch out back which one they think of as a friend or at least not an enemy. You might be surprised.

  6. blixity says:

    Thank you Anderson. Yes, agree, I’m being reductive in a situation that’s highly-charged and historically-complicated. But I’m not sure that your characterization of Rosello and Fortuno as northern-style meritocrats gets me to a more sensible and workable position than my term “neoliberal republican elites” — which happens to fit Sila Maria as well. In your estimation, who do the guys in the ditches want? Your thoughts are most appreciated!

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