The question — “Does Puerto Rico deserve statehood?” — is ridiculous on the face of it. The United States has never admitted states because they deserved statehood, nor refused them because they didn’t. That’s not even part of the equation.
If it were, there is certainly no question that Puerto Rico does deserve statehood.
So we have a foolish question with an obvious answer. Why ask it?
Because someone did ask it, not that long ago, on social media.
Dinesh D’Souza, a controversial writer and convicted felon, began with a statement: “Normally colonies provide resources for the nation that rules them.” First, it no longer makes sense to say that colonies “normally” do anything because it is no longer normal to be or to hold a colony. Colonies used to exist, and they did sometimes provide resources for their colonizers, but that is not part of the world as it currently exists.
He went on, “What does Puerto Rico provide the US?”. This question not only goes ahead with the idea that Puerto Rico, in the 21st century, is and perhaps should be a colony — it also questions whether Puerto Rico is a good colony.
This tweet makes the mind boggle. But AOC responded.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that Puerto Rico has provided hundreds of thousands of soldiers to the U.S. military, and a strategic port in the Caribbean. She lists the production of medical supplies in Puerto Rico, which is America’s largest importer of pharmaceuticals. Some of the medical supplies Puerto Rico sends to the U.S. include insulin, contact lenses, blood fractions, and artificial joints, among many other things.
She also reminds readers of the historical importance of sugar and coffee among Puerto Rico’s crops. She could have listed rum and electronics. Apart from the pandemic, Puerto Rico also offers visitors an island paradise, rich in culture, beauty, and biodiversity.
Ocasio-Cortez does point out that Puerto Rico provides tax breaks for the rich. Brad Setzer of The Council on Foreign Relations summarizes this reality in a recent blog post: “[M]ultinational companies, tax-wise, get a better deal in Puerto Rico than in the fifty states; low-wage Puerto Ricans who work on island, by contrast, get a worse deal from the federal government than they would get for work in the fifty states (thanks to the absence of the earned income tax credit). That really needs to change.”
The colonial mindset
AOC goes on to describe D’Souza’s question as one that reveals “a colonial mindset.” Certainly, characterizing Puerto Rico as a place that allows multinationals to wash their profits and avoid taxes is a colonial view. But AOC describes the colonial mindset of the question as one that sees the Unites States as charitably giving the Island the status of an unincorporated territory, which obligates Puerto Rico to provide something in exchange.
“What about Appalachia?” AOC wants to know. Actually, the Appalachians are rich in mineral resources, including coal, as well as in natural beauty. But Appalachia is a natural region occupying parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, as well as all of West Virginia.
These places are states. In the Constitution of the United States, it says clearly that all states are equal. Nobody debates whether Alaska or Hawaii are doing their bit for the United States.
The question shows a colonial mindset.
D’Souza doesn’t feel insulted by that “colonial mindset” jibe. He straight out called Puerto Rico a colony. He is implying that Puerto Rico is not a good enough colony to ask for a permanent political status. That is certainly a colonial mindset. It has no place in America. It has no place in the 21st century, for that matter.
People with less influence say this kind of thing, too, without gaining celebrity attention. It’s an attitude that, as Brad Setzer said of the use of Puerto Rico as a tax shelter, “really needs to change.” Does Puerto Rico deserve statehood? Absolutely.
Share your knowledge. Make sure that your legislators know the truth about Puerto Rico: the territory wants statehood, deserves statehood, and should have statehood.