By Atilio A. Boron
July 28, 2019
The triggering event of the stunning street protests was Governor Ricardo Rossello’s blatant corruption and leaked chats which revealed his homophobia, misogyny and contempt against the main opposition leaders and even against victims of the hurricane. It accentuated severe social problems affecting that wonderful country, which was able to frustrate the U.S. project aimed at breaking its cultural traditions, ways of sociability, language, arts, gastronomy, music, and dance to turn it into a Caribbean replica of Atlantic City.
It has been an iron clad national identity that was critical to resisting the imperial pressures for over a century. The Philippines, another trophy won during the Spanish-American War, with a larger population and territory than the “Island of Enchantment”— was not able to endure the cultural, political and economic attacks of the U.S. But Puerto Rico did and this is why it is just like the other Latin-Caribbean nations.
With that said, it is worth wondering if the large demonstrations carried out in recent weeks had Puerto Rico’s colonial status in its agenda. Unfortunately not and it is because of many reasons. The issue was voted on in five different referendums; three of them in 1967, 1993 and 1998, when most of the voters decided to maintain the status of “Free Associated State” —a misleading phrase for a country that is a United States colony and which carries none of the three aspects proclaimed by the formula enforced by the U.S. in 1952.
Supporters of “statehood,” this is to say the annexation as the 51st state, won in a new referendum in 2012 but irregularities in the electoral process and the cold indifference of the Obama Administration towards the result cast the issue into oblivion. “Statehood” had a stunning victory in the fifth referendum in 2017: 97 percent of the votes but with a very low turnout which did not even reach 23 percent, seriously damaging the legitimacy of the results. The same as in 2012, irregularities in the electoral register and the now militant contempt shown by Trump made the plebiscite a useless tool.
How can we interpret this surprising results? First, let’s remember that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and that they can go in and out of U.S. territory without any obstacle. But as an “associate” state, different to the others, its citizens cannot elect members to the Senate or representatives to the House, and they cannot vote in presidential elections either. They are second-class citizens because they are also eligible to serve in the United States Armed Forces —as they’ve done in repeated wars. But the migration facilities of their status and a permanent propaganda from the empire deeply penetrated the collective conscience.
On the other hand, Washington never expressed any will to grant “statehood” to the island. Such a thing would turn the U.S. into a pluri-national state, like Bolivia’s style, and it is completely unacceptable especially amidst the xenophobia surrounding the country sparked by Donald Trump. In the current course of events, the White House has what it wants: a center of strategic military support for geopolitics in the Great Caribbean; its companies benefit because they pay lower tax rates; and though there is some federal aid to the Caribbean country, making some calculations the truth is that Puerto Rico is losing while the U.S. wins.
A paradox that needs to be solved in the future is the building of a pro-independence force with capacity to express in the political-electoral scenario the fervent nationalism —and the not so hidden anti-Americanism— that characterizes the Caribbean nation. As the professor in the prestigious University of Puerto Rico/Rio Piedras Carlos Ramos said, Puerto Rico is a nation seeking to be a state and, I would add, a sound national identity seeking a political party that organizes it and represents it. But there is not a glimpse of that on the horizon for now.
Nobody should be surprised though if the dialectics of the crisis —a great teacher for people— results in a leap in the consciousness of the Boricuas, turning what seemed unimaginable into a feasible possibility. It should be noted that such an event would cause a real earthquake on the regional geopolitical board and reactions in the White House would quickly become an uncontrolled belligerence.
Source: Pagina 12, translation Resumen Latinoamericano, North American Bureau