Puerto Rico’s Statehood State of Mind

Puerto Rico is suffering from a serious case of Stockholm syndrome.

That’s when people being held captive start to sympathize with their captors. At first you’re all biting and clawing to get away, and suddenly you’re working with your captor to keep them safe from harm.

Well, Puerto Rico has Stockholm syndrome real bad, so much so that many people on the island want to stay with their captor and even join up with them.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) has submitted a bill in the U.S. Senate that potentially puts Puerto Rico on the path to statehood.

It’s exactly identical to the one that Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi — the island’s voice in Congress who can’t vote — introduced last year.

After nearly 116 years since the United States snatched the island from Spain; after almost a century of citizenship without the most sacred of rights, like the right to have a voice in Congress and pick the president; after about a dozen wars in which Puerto Rican blood has stained the dirt; now, finally, Puerto Rico will be part of America. (Til now it’s only been “an unincorporated territory which is a possession but not a part of the United States.”)

But why would becoming part of America be a good thing again?

That’s like a woman marrying her longtime boyfriend after years of physical and mental abuse. It’s like a kid wanting to be adopted by her kidnapper, the same kidnapper who barely feeds her and doesn’t let her go outside.

In either case the most sensible thing to do is run. And yet, Puerto Rico is running toward her abuser.

You hear people, from the most ardent estadists to disillusioned independentistas, claim that since the island’s economy is so terrible, becoming a state is Puerto Rico’s best bet. The federal government will have to invest a ton of money in order to bring its 51st state up to snuff.

One Puerto Rican writer and self-proclaimed statehood supporter called it “the mother of all bailouts.”

Members of Congress have known this for a long time, which is why Puerto Rico has never gotten any closer to becoming a state in over 100 years of colonial rule.

In 2010 the House Committee on Natural Resources estimated that annual spending in Puerto Rico for “just ten federal programs” would increase to “at least $4.5 – 7.7 billion … which means that adding a 51st state would result in less money going to the existing 50 states.”

Millions of Americans, especially fiscal hawks and the Tea Party folks, aren’t too keen on federal spending for socioeconomic programs as it is, so it’s safe to say conservatives won’t want to fork over that kind of guac just to raise the standard of living on an island teeming with Spanglish-speaking (and Democrat-voting) darkies.

And lest we forget, its smothering political status is the reason Puerto Rico can’t stand on its own today.

This is what colonialism is and does, to borrow from what former Gov. Rex Tugwell wrote in 1947. A relationship is forced on place, in this case an island,  in which natural resources are exploited and the population is forced to import goods from the colonial power, whether it’s King George in London or Pres. Obama in Washington.

As Don Pedro wrote in 1936:

If we calculate conservatively the financial value of the commercial monopoly forcibly imposed on us by the United States by virtue of which we are forced to sell our merchandise to the North Americans at the price they set, and add what we must pay for North American merchandise at whatever price the North Americans want to impose on us, we arrive at a figure of no less than $50,000,000. The result of this pitiless exploitation and the abuses perpetrated against our nation are made evident through the universal poverty, the illnesses and the elevated mortality rates of our population, the highest in the Americas. Seventy-six per cent of our national wealth is in the hands of a few North American corporations for whose benefit alone the present military government is maintained.

And that was before Operation Bootstrap hit, upending the economy of the island and turning parts of the landscape into a postindustrial graveyard.

No matter the reasons behind Congress’ century-long unwillingness to grant Puerto Rico statehood, that the United States has debated the issue at all and for so long should make Puerto Ricans not want to join the club anyway. If it takes you a century to decide whether you want me on your team or not, why the hell would I want to play ball with you at all?

And since Congress is never going to make Puerto Rico a state, at least not any time soon, the Puerto Ricans should stop begging to be let in and start demanding to be let out. If America isn’t going to treat Puerto Rico like a member of the family, then it needs to set the island free.

Give Puerto Rico its independence.

What Puerto Rico will gain is the ability to decide its own future for itself. Puerto Rico will be able to enter into international partnerships and agreements as an equal, deciding what it will agree to and what it won’t.

Puerto Rico won’t be a puppet on strings anymore, hoping to become the 51st finger on the hand that controls it. It’ll have its own hand, attached to its own body, standing on its own two feet.

And people will undoubtedly ask why an American-born son of an American-born Puerto Rican father cares whether the island of Puerto Rico is free or not.

I care not only as a Puerto Rican, or even as an American. I care as a human being who wants to see other human beings granted the universal right to self-determination. I care because I care about democracy.

Lincoln once described democracy like this: “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.” For me democracy means that because I cherish the right to elect my representatives in government, I wouldn’t want to see any person anywhere denied that right.

That it’s my government denying that right to the people of Puerto Rico means I have the power and obligation to fix things.

But to see so many Puerto Ricans pushing for statehood is a spit in the eye. They forgive the century of abuse and the lack of rights.

They actually want to live with their captor.

Someone needs to slap them out of it.

[Photo: swanksalot via Flickr]

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