On August 15th, pro-independence activists plan to hold a rally in San Juan. Their description of the event? It is, they say, “for anti-colonization and against statehood.”
Mike Fellman responded on Twitter, “Which means pro independence but they won’t say that because it’s a very unpopular view…”
Francisco Proskauer Valerio chimed in, “‘For decolonization and anti-statehood’ is an oxymoron.”
Let’s look more closely.
Puerto Rico can certainly be described as having a colonial relationship with the United States. Some will agree with this description and some will not. The fact of the matter is, Puerto Rico is a territory belonging to the United States. It does not have the sovereignty of an independent nation or of a state of the union.
As a state, Puerto Rico will have the full rights and responsibilities of a state and the full protection of the U.S. Constitution. Statehood is a clearly non-colonial status, and those of us who are for statehood are certainly anti-colonization.
Independence is also a non-colonial status. A Republic of Puerto Rico would not be a colony of the United States. It would also not be a state. It would have none of the rights and responsibilities of a state, and the United States would not have any legal responsibilities for a nation of Puerto Rico, beyond what might be negotiated in a Compact of Free Association or a treaty.
Those are the only anti-colonizaion status positions. The imaginary “enhanced commonwealth” has been repeatedly rejected as unconstitutional. As long as Puerto Rico is neither a state nor an independent nation, it will be a territory belonging to the United States.
A very unpopular view
Puerto Rico doesn’t want independence.
Here is the history of independence voters in the status votes that have taken place in Puerto Rico:
July 23, 1967
- 60% Commonwealth
- 38.9% Statehood
- 0.6% Independence
November 14, 1993
- 48.6% Commonwealth
- 46.3% Statehood
- 4.4% Independence
December 13, 1998
- .06% Current territory status
- .1% Free association
- 2.5% Independence
- 46.5% Statehood
- 50.3% None of the Above
November 6, 2012
- Do you agree that Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of territorial status? Yes: 46% No: 54%.
- Irrespective of your answer to the first question, indicate which of the following non-territorial options you prefer.
- Statehood: 61.13%
- Independence: 5.54%
- Sovereign Free Associated State: 33.32%
June 11, 2017
- 97% Statehood.
- 1.52% Independence
- 1.35% Current territorial status
Independence was not on the ballot in 2020, but statehood won the majority of the votes. Independence voters made up some part of the minority position of No on statehood.
The largest proportion of votes for independence over the past half century has been 5.54%. It is not possible, by any feats of mental gymnastics, to call this evidence that Puerto Rico wants independence. They represent fewer of the voters than the number who vote for the Libertarian or Green parties in U.S. presidential elections. No-one would consider these parties representative of American voters.
Rallies in the states
In addition to the San Juan rally, according to organizers, there will be “at least 8” rallies in states supporting the largely imaginary independence movement in San Juan.
GardaWorld suggests avoiding the area where the rally lis expected to take place because of potential traffic issues.
“A coalition of political parties and organizations aligned against statehood for Puerto Rico plan to stage a march in San Juan on Aug. 15 to protest the territory’s current push for admission as a new US state,” they say frankly. Organizers may say “anti-colonization,” but really they are anti-statehood. “The push for statehood in Puerto Rico has gained new steam in recent years following two plebiscites in 2017 and 2020 that both resulted in voters opting for statehood. However, anti-statehood politicians and the US government have noted that the referenda were marked by low participation and/or were problematically worded. Officials in Washington have shown little inclination to take up the matter. As such, little concrete movement is likely in the long term with regard to Puerto Rico’s status.”
In fact, there is enough momentum for statehood to make independence supporters nervous. As long as Puerto Rico is wedded to the “commonwealth” concept it will still be a territory. As a territory, it could still someday become an independent nation.
Who wants independence?
Independence might be more popular in the states than in Puerto Rico. Gallup has found over the years that over two thirds of people living in the states favor statehood for Puerto Rico.
However, at least one poll found that 19% of Puerto Ricans living in the states favored independence. This may reflect the romantic appeal of independence to Americans; we have an annual holiday for independence, and it is easy for Americans to think of independence as a generally good thing. Would the people who chose independence in that poll agree if Congress decided to force Puerto Rico to become an independent nation? Probably not, but they were not asked that question. Many of them may not even realize how unpopular independence is. Very few of them would consider going to a new nation of Puerto Rico to help build an independent republic.
The poll was conducted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, which describes itself as “an independent, nonpartisan policy institute and advocacy organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas, as well as strong leadership and concerted action.” It is a well-funded liberal think tank in Washington, D.C., with a large budget and an influential slate of officers.
If we accept their poll, the mainland Puerto Ricans are more than three times as likely as those living on the Island to favor independence. Yet they are still a very small proportion of the group. It cannot honestly be said that even the majority of Puerto Ricans living in the states actually want independence.
We will watch the August 15th rallies with interest, but we will not see them as evidence that independence is a viable idea for Puerto Rico. Let’s make sure Congress doesn’t get that false impression, either. Reach out to your reps.