Press Standards Case Study
Any child playing at the beach knows it’s easy to keep crabs in a bucket. If one crab starts to climb out the others scramble to climb over the first, and they all fall back down to the bottom of the bucket.
It is the same with political status politics in Puerto Rico, especially since the statehood option clawed its way to a political majority in two plebiscites. The anti-statehood factions don’t have a plan to escape the current state of political and economic developmental arrest, but scramble to drag citizens seeking equal rights back down into the bucket of social turmoil under the colonial “commonwealth” regime.
Instead of being agents of clarifying truth, the local press media exploits the crabs in a bucket mentality to grab media market share. The resulting inaccuracy and misconceptions in press coverage too often deprive the pubic of information and ideas that promote informed democratic self-determination.
Political status is always the top story in Puerto Rico. Playing political status factions off against one another sells local newspapers, magazines, radio, TV and social media more than any other topic.
Take, for example, the gratuitously callous “Cowboys and Indians” by Caribbean Business editor Phillipe Schoene Roura. Another recent example of warped reporting was “Decades of Struggle in Washington” by El Nuevo Dia reporter Jose Delgado. These articles advance a false narrative that defies historical and legal logic, but created media buzz inflaming already raging factionalism.
The core theory of these two published articles is that failure of statehood petitions for Washington DC to date may well predict failure for Puerto Rico’s statehood petition. The Schoene essay even cites historical denial of statehood to Native American tribes (who he still refers to as “Indians”) as a pretext for also denying admission to Puerto Rico in 2017.
Yet the differences between Puerto Rico’s statehood quest and the political status history of DC or Native American tribes are far greater than any similarities.
To begin with, Puerto Rico is the last large and populous U.S. territory governed under Article IV of the Constitution. Like 32 other Article IV territories that became states, Puerto Rico’s admission as the 51st state of the union is the only constitutionally and historically normative outcome possible.
Statehood has been delayed by special interest politics for several other former territories, before admission to the union. However, no large and populous Article IV territory inhabited by U.S. citizens petitioning for statehood has ever been denied admission to the union.
In contrast, the legal and political status of Washington DC and Native American tribes are defined by federal laws enacted by Congress under Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. Political and legal status options other than statehood are the established precedents for DC and Native American tribes.
Half of Washington DC carved out of from Virginia was given back to that state in 1846 with no talk about statehood. The remaining half of DC came from Maryland, and all but the federal mall complex could be returned to that state. That would restore full equal government by consent in the residential community, and the actual federal seat of government could remain in tact.
Statehood for DC is legally possible, but there is no political precedent in U.S. history or law for all or part of Washington DC to be admitted as a separate state of the union. Nor have any Native American tribal people or lands been admitted as a state. That is not an insignificant political reality, and underscores the legal and political precedents for Puerto Rico to attain the same status as 32 territories that became states.
Distorting Historical Truth
It is no accident that the two articles cited above fail to inform readers about several territories that successfully overcame far more difficult obstacles to statehood than Puerto Rico faces today. Instead, both publications inaccurately treat Congressional inaction on Washington DC’s stalled “Tennessee Plan” statehood bid as a bad omen that clouds if not dooms Puerto Rico’s “Tennessee Plan” strategy.
Yet, unlike Washington DC’s unprecedented statehood bid, Puerto Rico’s statehood petitions and “Tennessee Plan” are grounded in the tradition of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance. That founding document of the United States set the precedent on governance and admission to statehood for 32 Article IV territories organized under federal territorial law.
Ignoring these historical and constitutional differences, the article by Delgado even includes graphic art misleadingly depicting Washington DC and Puerto Rico statehood petitions merely as tandem lobbying campaigns. The subliminal message of the combined narrative in these two articles is that the current DC statehood effort, the historical experience of Native American tribes denied statehood, and Puerto Rico’s statehood petitions are historically and constitutionally equivalent.
The CB editor even reports uncritically on an unnamed federal territorial official who actually verbalizes that “monied” statehood supporters and the common citizen in Hawaii and Texas had higher moral purposes than the Puerto Rican statehood movement. In contrast, the “monied” class in Puerto Rico is accused of protecting special interest control of “the hacienda” by wealthy elites. Promoting this level of ignorance and dishonesty about the vices and virtues of statehood and anti-statehood movements in Puerto Rico, Texas and Hawaii is unconscionable.
The real lesson of relevant history and law is that each of the 32 Article IV territories that became states did so under special circumstances, based on unique political and economic equities. Each territory employed tactics different than other territories.
Opposition to statehood by anti-democratic elites profiting from territorial status is the one reality all territories had in common on the road to statehood. The true stories of all 32 territories that became states predict that in the end the statehood opposition in Puerto Rico and its special interest allies in Washington will collapse and be defeated.
Contrary to the false narratives of Caribbean Business and El Nuevo Dia, history demonstrates that conferral of U.S. citizenship under federal territorial statutes in 1917 makes statehood for Puerto Rico virtually inevitable. That’s regardless of what does or does not happen to address Washington DC’s political status.
The unsustainable political and economic inequities of the “commonwealth” failed client state model deprives a mass U.S. citizen population of equal rights and opportunities. That also also makes statehood imperative to economic recovery and social development.
Accordingly, the attempt to link the territory’s fate to DC and Native American tribes does not change the reasons or odds that Puerto Rico will be admitted as a state on the historical merits of its statehood petition. After all, short term difficulties aside that is the outcome most consistent with the principles of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Northwest Ordinance tradition.
The bottom has fallen out of the “commonwealth” regime bucket; time for the crabs to be free.