We’re seeing discussions of Puerto Rico’s status that present independence as the most progressive choice for Puerto Rico. Mostly this comes from people on the U.S. mainland. This makes sense. For the United States, independence — freedom — is a basic good. It’s about freedom from oppression, standing on your own two feet, and squashing tyranny. It’s good, just because it’s… well… it’s independence.
It’s also a historical concept for Americans. It’s associated in our minds with sparklers, apple pie, and guys in knee breeches holding up swords. The people we see getting fired up about the concept of independence do not plan to go through the difficult times independence would bring to Puerto Rico. Some of them imagine that the United States will pay Puerto Rico some kind of reparation for a century of territorial status, or that the U.S. will continue to send Social Security payments to the people of the Republic of Puerto Rico. They don’t have plans for making this happen, but they build it into their glorious vision of independence. This makes it easier to overlook the hardship it would entail.
Who else is calling for independence for Puerto Rico? Check social media and you can find comments like these: “Independence for Puerto Rico whether they want it or not. 100 years of subsidies, tax breaks, handouts enough.”
Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. The people of Puerto Rico pay federal taxes. The men and women of Puerto Rico serve in disproportionate numbers in the U.S. military. Puerto Rico enriches the culture of the United States. The federal government provides less support for Puerto Rico than for states of comparable size and population, even though the U.S. is clearly responsible for Puerto Rico. This is not a situation that can fairly be described as “100 years of… handouts.” Statements like these are deeply offensive and are not based in facts, but they are calls for independence from the U.S. mainland.
Is there a real difference between the Right Wing and the Left Wing calls for independence for Puerto Rico? Are the emotional appeals to free Puerto Rico any better thought out than the calls to “cut Puerto Rico loose”?
Voters in Puerto Rico have never voted for independence in large numbers. In fact, independence, which has been an option on every ballot, has never gotten more than 6% of the vote.
Independence supporters on the left explain that this is because the independence party has been suppressed and trodden down by the oppressors. But the president of the Independence Party, Rubén Berríos Martínez, remarked laughingly during a government hearing that a U.S. senator from Puerto Rico would have more power than the president of Puerto Rico.
And we should not ignore the patriotism of the people of Puerto Rico, who have been citizens of the United States for nearly a century. More people of Puerto Rican heritage live in the 50 states than in Puerto Rico. The connection between the U.S. and Puerto Rico is not the same as the connection between Britain and American in 1776. Independence is an option for Puerto Rico, but insisting on independence for people who do not want it is not the progressive option.