Independence is one of the viable options for Puerto Rico’s status (the other is statehood). The independence option got just 5.5% of the vote during the last status referendum in Puerto Rico in 2012. The Independence Party candidate for Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in the U.S. Congress, Hugo Rodriguez Diaz, received just 2.7% of the vote, less than the Libertarian candidate in the 2016 presidential election.
There has never been a governor elected from the Independence Party, nor a Resident Commissioner.There is no reason to believe that the people of Puerto Rico want independence. Click To Tweet
Yet independence is a big part of the conversation about Puerto Rico’s status. It has been identified as a viable status option under the U.S. Constitution.
One reason is the desire for sovereignty. The territory of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed last year, has no sovereignty. It is not a nation or a state and has only the power delegated by the U.S. Congress. This is not a comfortable position. Many want the dignity and power of a sovereign state for Puerto Rico. Yet a state of the United States has power, rights, and sovereignty. Rubén Berríos Martínez, President of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, laughingly remarked in a U.S. Senate hearing that a Senator from Puerto Rico would have more power than the President of the nation of Puerto Rico, and he’s quite right. Sovereignty will come with statehood, as much as with nationhood.
There is also an emotional attachment to the idea of independence. This is especially true in the states, where the majority of people speaking out for independence for Puerto Rico live. Some of these people are actually saying that Puerto Rico is a burden to the United States and should be forced to become an independent nation. Some favor independence because they like the idea of independence in the abstract. None of these people will have to live through the transition to an unwanted independence following a century as patriotic American citizens. “Free Puerto Rico!” may sound positive, but forcing independence onto a group of people who do not want it is not liberation. It is rejection and abandonment.
Finally, there is a fear that the state of Puerto Rico would lose the culture and history that Puerto Rico holds dear. This is more than the possibility of losing out on international beauty pageants. There is a fear that Puerto Rico would lose its language, its culture, and its sense of unity. With 5 million Puerto Ricans living in the states, and only 3.5 million or fewer living in Puerto Rico, some stateside Puerto Ricans worry that they will lose the sense of Puerto Rico if Puerto Rico becomes a state. In fact, each state in the Union has its own cherished identity. Puerto Rico will not even have the largest number of Spanish speakers among the states.
Now, while Puerto Rico is a territory, Congress has all the power. Congress could insist that Puerto Rico become an independent nation. We don’t think that will happen. Puerto Rico has never voted for independence. There is no evidence that the people of Puerto Rico, the people living on the Island, would welcome independence.
The conversation may continue, but those who call for “free Puerto Rico” should recognize that the state of Puerto Rico will have all the sovereignty and rights of a state. The people living in the state of Puerto Rico will have full equality as citizens of the United States. This is a position of freedom and dignity.