Facebook lists Puerto Rico as a “country,” even though the official description for Puerto Rico’s fan page says clearly that Puerto Rico is a territory. For Facebook, it’s just because there is no category for territories.
But you can find the idea that Puerto Rico is a country in many more places:
- NationsOnline.org has a “country profile” for Puerto Rico.
- ToPuertoRico.org also has a “country profile” for Puerto Rico including “Nationality: Puerto Rican” and claims that “Puerto Rico is a self-governing commonwealth in association with the United States” and “Although Puerto Rico is considered a territory of the United States, the island has its own Olympic team and competes in the Miss Universe pageant as an independent nation. ” In fact, Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States and competes under the same terms as other territories in these competitions. ToPuertoRico.org acknowledges that Puerto Rico is a territory.
- The NationsEncyclopedia includes a “country overview” of Puerto Rico which explains that Puerto Rico “shares no borders with other nations.”
- Knowledge@ Wharton referred to Puerto Rico as a country in a recent article.
- NationFacts says that “Puerto Rico is an island country” and repeatedly uses the term “country” along with a claim that it “is considered a territory of the United States.”
- The World Bank lists Puerto Rico among countries on its website.
- UK news source Independent.co.uk had this headline: “Puerto Rico financial crisis: Country on the brink of defaulting on debts.”
- BusinessInsider said that the Governor of Puerto Rico commissioned “a study of the country’s situation,” meaning Puerto Rico.
We could go on. There are thousands of references to Puerto Rico as a country. Some may be carelessness, some may be a decision to include Puerto Rico in a list of “countries” for convenience or to encourage tourism, and some are just ignorance or wishful thinking.
In a sense it’s a trivial oddity that Puerto Rico’s true status is ambiguously perceived. There is irony and even humor in it, as when a Miss Puerto Rico Barbie came in packaging implying Puerto Rico was a country. We may laugh about distorted and ambivalent ethnic stereotyping, but for the succeeding generations of Puerto Rican who salute the U.S. flag in school and have family members who fight and die serving in the U.S. military, there are serious issues of identity confusion. Seemingly innocuous false portrayal of national status reinforces both on the island as well as throughout the nation and the world the same problematic “West Side Story” urban myth epitomized in the line in the song from the musical, “Nobody knows in America, Puerto Rico’s in America.”
The ultimate impact on the identity and the quality of life for people on the island is anything but funny. Like the people of the tiny U.S. military outpost also organized under federal territorial law in Guam, Puerto Rico may participate in beauty pageants or international sports, creating a cultural illusion of a separate country. But when beauty contestants or basketball players get back home they once again are limited in both human rights and economic opportunities – not to mention full human dignity – that can be secured for the future only through full equal legal and political rights attainable through statehood under the U.S. Constitution, or real separate nationhood.
On a serious level, many of the examples of confusion in how Puerto Rico is portrayed in media and even local public life is contrived and perpetrated by the local “autonomist” political party, which falsely claims Puerto Rico can have the benefits of both U.S. statehood and sovereign nationhood without the full burdens of either. Under the banner of “commonwealth” the party that opposes both statehood and real sovereign nationhood went so far as to lie to the government of Japan and claim “commonwealth” gives the territory sovereign power to negotiate a tax and trade treaty. Japan was embarrassed when the U.S. State Department and Congress discovered the scam and had to intervene and inform Japan it had been duped by a hoax.
Thus, the real problem is that the confusion arises from a myth that Puerto Rico has a country status when the people do not have the rights of a country. That myth prevented the people for decades from exercising the democratic rights they do possess as a territory to seek statehood or nationhood. The myth of “commonwealth” as a combination of statehood and nationhood was discredited as untrue by the President, Congress and more importantly the statehood and independence party leaders in Puerto Rico. Because separate nationhood would mean the loss of U.S. citizenship, our fellow U.S. citizen voters of Puerto Rico rejected the current territory status and choose statehood in a 2012 referendum. Now the real future status of the territory can be decided by real choices that must be made by Congress and our fellow U.S. citizens in the territory.
So is it any wonder that so many Americans are confused about Puerto Rico? Believing that Puerto Rico is a separate country, they don’t understand that the millions of U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico are actually denied equal rights because Puerto Rico is not a state.
The first step toward support for Puerto Rico’s statehood among Americans on the mainland is simply to get the word out that Puerto Rico is not a separate country. It’s a territory of the United States. Share the knowledge!