As long as Puerto Rico remains within U.S. sovereignty and persons born there are U.S. citizens, the only way a non-colonial status based on consent of the governed under Article I and Article II of the U.S. Constitution can be attained is through statehood. Other than statehood, to end the current colonial status of the territory would require amendment of the U.S. Constitution to give citizens in U.S. territories the same voting representation as citizens of the states in federal elections for representation in Congress and the presidential Electoral College.
That is not going to happen. Both statehood or nationhood by far would be easier to accomplish than a constitutional amendment. Continuing the current status used to be easier than statehood or nationhood, but now a majority of the people have voted in 2012 and again in 2017 to end territorial status in favor of statehood. Even worse for defenders of the status quo, the current “Commonwealth” regime of territorial government is bankrupt and plagued by corruption.
Apologists for the status quo also were stunned in 2016 when the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed in the Sanchez Valle case that Puerto Rico cannot be sovereign or non-colonial as long as it is subject to the power of Congress over territories under Article IV of the U.S. Constitution. The only non-colonial status option other than statehood is independent nationhood, with or without a treaty alliance known under U.S. and international law as “free association.”
Informed democratic self-determination in Puerto Rico works best when voters understand the history of “Commonwealth,” which really is just a name given to local territorial government over local civil affairs not otherwise governed by federal territorial law. Now a cleverly crafted video expressing historical anger about Puerto Rico’s current status provocatively contributes to informed self-determination in the last large and populous U.S. territory.
Using bitter political satire to communicate a sense of injustice, the new video on the political and economic collapse of the “Commonwealth” colonial regime in Puerto Rico surfaced on the internet July 3. The sensational media attack on 118 years of U.S. imperial rule in Puerto Rico went viral just in time for the U.S. national celebration of events in America that led to collapse of the British colonial regime over 13 colonies that became the original United States of America.
Produced by The Juice Media, the video presents a mock “Visit Puerto Rico” travel guide opening with island scenes that attract millions of tourists annually. But snide sarcasm soon shifts its focus to subliminal and overt images evoking historical memory about Spanish theft of Puerto Rico from its indigenous people, followed by centuries of Spanish colonial tyranny and ethnic cleansing victimizing native Taino peoples of the islands.
The fast paced narrative quickly descends into a compelling if propagandistic “history” of every major abuse and injustice under U.S. rule in Puerto Rico. This includes the worst examples of federal and local government abuses of civil rights, typical of other developed nations with colonies in the 20th century, and even civil rights abuses in the states of the union at the time.
But failure to redeem our national values in our own colonies is all the more disturbing precisely because of U.S. anti-colonial principles and traditions. Even in the context of imperialist notions about “manifest destiny” and westward continental expansion that included the tragedy of the federal war on native tribal peoples, the establishment of territorial governments was constitutionally temporary. That ultimately led to an anti-colonial outcome because previously U.S. citizenship always led to incorporation into the union under the Constitution and equal citizenship through statehood.
The greatest strength of the new anti-colonial video is that it reveals “Commonwealth” as a conspiracy to make less than equal U.S. citizenship and indefinite territory status post-colonial in name but in reality an indefinite if not perpetual imperialist regime. Not only that, the video classifies federal colonial policy governing “unincorporated” territories outside the Constitution as a “War on Territories” that includes not just Puerto Rico but imperialist “U.S. bull!@#$ in American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and U.S. Virgin Islands.”
The case made against “Commonwealth” is strong. The litany of imperialist offenses under the territorial client regime most prominently includes federal and local government measures to prop up the undemocratic “Commonwealth” scheme of limited local but not national self-government. Although provocative and profane, the video correctly describes how federal imperial authorities and local “Commonwealth” party collaborators conspired in Congress and the United Nations to preserve the colonial status quo by suppressing equal political freedom and economic opportunity for U.S. citizens in the territory.
Referring to U.S. rule and particularly corruption ensuing under the “Commonwealth” regime as a scheme to “colonize the !@#$ out of Puerto Rico,” the video describes as a “unholy !@#$ show” imperialist territorial policies that prevented transition to either statehood or nationhood. The video outlines a plot that combined federal subsidization of unsustainable local public sector expansion, U.S. mainland and local corporate tax shelter abuse, and inability of the private sector under “Commonwealth” to compete on an equal footing in the national economy.
Accordingly, the video’s story line accurately describes how the “Commonwealth” regime became fiscally unsustainable and increased dependence on federal and local public sector overreach strangling private sector diversification and convergence of local free enterprise with the private enterprise network of the U.S. national economy.
The video then portrays how the U.S. Congress initially subsidized the colonial “Commonwealth” regime directly through federal transfers. When that grew too much of a drain on the federal discretionary spending budget, Congress then allowed the political elites thriving under the colonial status quo to begin abusing credit markets to debt finance expansion of government benefits and services far beyond the capacity of the local political economy.
It is at this point the video’s narrative accurately describes how Congress and the colonial overseers in Washington and San Juan colluded with the anti-statehood and anti-independence faction defending the local “Commonwealth” party platform. The goal of this collaboration was to enable advocates of the status quo to purchase political power in local elections. This was all made possible using cold, hard cash and government resources secured by pledging credit of the “Commonwealth” regime.
Using political cartoon images of giant vultures preying on Puerto Rico, the video somewhat abstractly conveys the under-recognized truth that Wall Street banks spread enough stateside political pay-for-play campaign money around for Congress to look the other way. That is exactly what Congress did as Puerto Rico debt bonds were marketed in the name of the “Commonwealth” as a territorial government created and operating under federal law.
As a result, not only predatory Wall Street investors but individuals and collective institutional investment entities including pension funds purchased Puerto Rico bonds. It was allowed to be implied if not explicitly stated that Puerto Rico bonds and borrowing was backed by the federal government. Not expressly or explicitly the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, and there were even disclaimers to ensure deniability, for the very reason that a federal bailout in the event of default was being silently insinuated.
Although the video production has some “fake news” aspects, it is on target in linking the current failed client regime, economic crisis, de-population exodus to states, and bankruptcy to federal failure to put Puerto Rico on a defined path to statehood after granting U.S. citizenship in 1917. If not willing to do so, in the alternative the U.S. could have changed course and mandated an orderly transition to real nationhood outside U.S. sovereignty after WWII when it committed to decolonization under the United Nations Charter.
Finally, the video’s narrative accurately describes the feeling and thinking among those patriots in Puerto Rico trying to save the American Dream in their homeland, even though Congress imposed a federally appointed fiscal control board enforcing austerity measures and financial reform policies. Unfortunately, the U.S. Congress so far has left unresolved political status and federal territorial policies that enabled, facilitated and abetted the fiscal practices that led to implosion of the “Commonwealth” economy and new fiscal control board.
In Washington and San Juan anti-statehood leaders argue that Congress should not define a path to future statehood now because Puerto Rico is in fiscal crisis. If that had been the policy of Congress in the past, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas and several other territories with underdeveloped and underperforming economies due to territorial status would not be states of the union today.
That is just one of the conclusions we can draw after watching the “War on Territories” video. Even though its greatest weakness and ultimate failure as a political statement is its lack of any discussion of solutions, the video is a powerful confirmation of how corrupt the “Commonwealth” regime was from its inception to its slow death struggle today.
Instead of the “best of both worlds” the “Commonwealth” regime inevitably became the worst of both, driving its young and educated sons and daughters into exile for freedom and opportunity. Only a decision by Congress to define a path to statehood or nationhood based on self-determination will reverse the colonial saga of Puerto Rico.