The Elephant In The Room

Puerto Rico Libre

Imagine being able to take a trip to the Caribbean without the need for a passport or the always annoying need to convert your US currency into brightly colored bills that are numbered in the millions. You don’t have to imagine, as that is exactly what you get with a trip to Puerto Rico, which just happens to be a commonwealth of the United States. It’s a great place to visit, and Americans are always welcomed with open arms, but the Puerto Rico status as a commonwealth is one that is on a little bit of shaky ground. You see, some of the residents of Puerto Rico have made it known that they would like their own little star on the Stars and Stripes.

Politics in Puerto Rico is a little difficult to explain, especially in terms of how it all relates to their connection with the US. Many view this beautiful little island as the red-headed step child of the US, as the 3.5 million plus residents don’t really have any say in what goes on in the country that essentially owns them. If you look back through history, you will see that the US essentially won Puerto Rico in a fight with Spain during the Spanish-American war.

The Americans were given the island as part of the Treaty of Paris in 1898. You might imagine that such a move would signal a revolt among the masses, with fighting in the streets and civil unrest, but that’s not how the Puerto Ricans roll. They viewed the American flag as a symbol of peace and prosperity, so they actually welcomed the move, despite the fact that they would be forced to go back to being a colonial government. Undaunted, the government of the time made the move to become a state, which of course was denied.

In 1916, Munoz Rivera was elected to be the Resident Commissioner in the US Congress. While that may sound like a very heady title, it actually comes with very little powers. The man or woman in that role can rant and rave all they want before congress, but they do not get an actual vote. The same rules apply to the residents of Puerto Rico, none of whom can vote for the President of the country to which owns them. That is despite the fact that Munoz was able to see all Puerto Ricans granted US citizenship in 1917 under the Jones Act.

Things started to change on the island in 1940 with the formation of the Popular Democratic Party and the creation of a Constitution in 1952. That said Constitution was essentially a carbon copy of the one in the US was neither here nor there, as it meant that the economic needs of the country would finally be addressed.

In 1957 the “Gag Law” was finally lifted no longer making it illegal to display a Puerto Rican flag, to sing a patriotic tune, to speak or write of independence, or have any assemblies in favor of Puerto Rican independence, let alone fight for liberation. The Bill resembled the anti-communist Smith Law passed in the United States. It was made into “Ley 53” or Law 53 by  U.S. appointed governor of Puerto Rico, Jesús T. Piñero.

The desire for statehood has never really waned though and in 2012, the people of Puerto Rico voted, in a small majority, for statehood over independence or the current status as a commonwealth. The last President besides Obama to visit Puerto Rico was over 50 years ago, John F. Kennedy. Why the need to “marry”, can’t you see this relationship isn’t healthy?

In the U.S. (in NYC at least), the U.S. and Puerto Rican flags can be flown at equal height, whereas on the island the official mandate is to have the Puerto Rican slightly lower. While it is true that the US has more power over Puerto Rico as a commonwealth than it will if it were a state, don’t expect to see the Island become the 51st state anytime soon as that would require a total re-design of the iconic Stars and Stripes. Is there really any space on there for another star?

And if that idea is abandoned and the Island finally fights to take back it’s identity and become independent, can the economy really get worse? The U.S. will not bail out Detroit, so why would they help Puerto Rico? Are we THAT attached to the U.S. fast food restaurants now saturating the Island?