What the History Channel Got Wrong about Puerto Rico

Today we’re sharing with you a video from the History Channel which purports to explain “Why Puerto Rico Is Part of the U.S. — Sort Of.”

The History Channel is a wonderful resource for history in general. But there are some misstatements in this video that are worth clearing up.

“The Caribbean island of Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory, or commonwealth, of the United States. This basically means its status is somewhere between being a state and being an independent nation.”

Puerto Rico is like a state in that it must follow federal laws. It is unlike a state in that its residents, though U.S. citizens, cannot vote in presidential elections and have little voice in Congress. These things are not like being an independent nation at all. U.S. citizens living in other nations can vote and are represented in Congress by the lawmakers from the last state they lived in.

Puerto Rico can be treated differently from states and Congress makes all decisions except for those that it delegates to Puerto Rico’s government. Again, this is not like independent nations at all. It’s also not like states.

The only way in which Puerto Rico is similar to an independent nation is in having the ability to participate in the Olympics and international beauty pageants. There is nothing else that makes “commonwealth” status “in between being a state and an independent nation.”

In fact, “commonwealth” is meaningless in U.S. politics. Kentucky is a commonwealth in the same sense that Puerto Rico is: that its, the word is part of the official name of the state.

There’s another error in the video.

“Puerto Rico officially became a commonwealth in 1952,” the video says, and goes on to claim that there have been three status votes on the Island. Since the video was posted in 2018, this claim was out of date when it was posted. In 2012 and in 2017, Puerto Rico voted for statehood.

We enjoyed the video, but we’re sorry to see that the History Channel is perpetuating these myths.

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