Since the beginning of territorial rule in Puerto Rico, there have been arguments for and against statehood. Currently, Puerto Rico is under Commonwealth status. This gives them limited rights: they are considered U.S. citizens and can hold and vote in local elections, but they are not represented in Congress nor can they vote in federal elections. Many movements for and against Puerto Rican statehood began and flourished during the 1960s after Puerto Rico was declared a Commonwealth.
Independence movements were expressed through many political parties, from the Macheteros to the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. The most famous leader of the PRNP was Pedro Albizu Campos, an inspiration for many and a tyrant to some. He was fighting for independence as early as the 1930s. These movements broadcasted their message in many ways, most famously by violently ambushing federal facilities, not only in Puerto Rico but also in places where Puerto Ricans had migrated like New York, Hartford, and Chicago, in order to spread awareness about what was happening in Puerto Rico. This in turn did not make Puerto Ricans look good in the eyes of many Americans and Puerto Ricans, as not everyone believed that violence could help further along with independence. Nationalist riots became a political weapon, giving a group for Puerto Rican politicians to condemn, to try to make themselves look good in terms of the political state, and for their support of Commonwealth status. Even though many attempts failed, these movements encouraged democratization through national liberation.
Whilst the nationalist groups were organizing, at the end of World War Two, the U.S. enacted Operation Bootstrap in order to help Puerto Rico become industrialized so that the U.S. could make a profit. Because Puerto Rico had shown to be a place where the textile industry could set up shop, farmers who relied on agriculture in order to sustain themselves had lower food production and had to rely on the importation of food, which caused higher prices. The island had already been exploited for centuries agriculturally, and exploiting them industrially had negative ramifications. The U.S. consistently dominates the economics of the island, without consideration of those who live there. 76 percent of Puerto Rico’s wealth produced went directly to the U.S.1 Ultimately, the U.S. put profit above citizens’ lives and exploited Puerto Rican land, using the military to suppress movements that go against them and putting their own government officials despite the freedom of self-determination, democratic values, and allocation of Puerto Rico’s own government.
Many arguments exist against statehood in Puerto Rico. Many have dealt with the repercussions of land use for urbanization. Puerto Ricans have only the illusion of self-determination, and even have a complex over their own language, as Spanish has become Spanglish. American businesses have claimed space in order to get tax breaks, and Puerto Ricans facing these injustices aren’t subjected to the true democratic nature that the rest of the United States enjoys. The effects of American colonialism on Puerto Rico are seen through stunted economic growth, cultural and political identity conflicts, poverty among Puerto Ricans nationwide, oppressive militarization, and the idea that Puerto Ricans are second-class citizens2. Many don’t want to follow this status quo of becoming a full part of the U.S., believing it’s illusory; being dependent on those who virtually destroyed them1.
With 3.5 million people living on the island, 2.8 million registered to vote, and a 68% voter turnout in local elections, the effects of Puerto Rican statehood would have a large impact on U.S. elections. This may be another reason why Congress has been reluctant to pass the statehood bill and consider finally democratizing the island. This influx of new voters would have an effect on federal politics, especially considering the widespread party affiliation. Many Puerto Ricans identify as moderate, to liberal, with smaller populations of very liberal and very conservative voters. If they were to be declared as a state, they would gain 2 seats in the Senate and 5 seats in the House of Representatives. This would have the potential to completely change the political landscape.
The United States must include Puerto Rico as a state, especially if it will never allow them to become an independent nation. Places such as Hawaii and Alaska which have a similar history of colonialism, stolen land, and resource depletion have had the ability to democratize and become states. The same must happen for Puerto Rico, the reasons behind the many years of Commonwealth status are based on racist ideals. And while this country was built on racism, if the U.S. truly wants to end systematic racism they must release their control on their “colony” and allow them the rights that are protected in the constitution that guarantees democratic principles, values, and rights.
1. Santiago, Roberto. Boricuas : Influential Puerto Rican Writings–an Anthology. 1st ed., One World, 1995.
2. Pantojas-García, Emilio. Crónicas del colapso: economía, política y sociedad de Puerto Rico en el siglo veintiuno. Puerto Rico: Ediciones Callejón, 2014.