Autonomist War Horse Suffers Battle Fatigue
Caribbean Business trots out A.W. Maldonado to pull wagon laden with autonomist trinkets no one wants to buy anymore
In an August 31 commentary for Carribbean Business, autonomy propagandist A.W. Maldonado asks “Is Puerto Rico a ‘U.S. colony?’”
His answer is bizarre. Maldonado argues that if a colony continues long enough without being decolonized it is no longer really a colony. Instead, it somehow morphs into a state of “autonomous” dependency. By that standard, Puerto Rico was not a colony of Spain, because Spain had ruled the island for over 300 years!
In 1898, as the U.S. Navy was planning to steam just over the horizon toward Puerto Rico, the newly elected government in Madrid agreed with the local “autonomists” in Puerto Rico that centuries of colonial rule, genocide, ethnic cleansing and slavery was just an unfortunate misunderstanding.
So the local autonomists embraced an “autonomic pact” with Spain that had features in common with the current “commonwealth pact” with the United States. That is, autonomous in name but not enforceable if it ever encumbered imperial rule by Puerto Rico’s colonial masters.
When the hour came to rise up against Spanish tyranny, the Puerto Rico autonomists who eagerly collaborated with Spain betrayed the Puerto Rico nationalist movement and independence leaders. The political and ideological heirs of the autonomist collaborators were led by Luis Munoz Marin, Jose Tries Monge and other apologists for the U.S. colonial regime.
Followers like Maldonado have been trying to sustain that autonomist ideology under the “commonwealth” regime. The autonomists have been betraying both nationalists and statehooders to keep the autonomist myth alive.
Clever to a fault, Maldonado now argues that it “denigrates” Puerto Rico and the U.S. to use the word “colony” to describe Puerto Rico’s status. It is the old autonomist trick of pretending demands for real democracy and equality offend the “dignity” of Puerto Rico’s fake “autonomy” rights that don’t exist.
Maldonado even argues that Puerto Rico is not really a colony because the U.S. does not benefit from the current status. Ignoring the realities of 2017, he traffics in the worn-out slogans of the 1970’s, falsely claiming “commonwealth” is not colonial because Puerto Ricans “don’t pay taxes.” In his confused mind that means there is nothing in the status quo the U.S. wants so there is no “colony.”
The colony would have ended as it did for the territories of Hawaii and the Philippines, if the autonomists had not conspired in the name of “autonomy” to prevent decolonization. Instead, the autonomists practiced the politics of denial after U.S. citizenship was granted in 1917.
Citizenship created an expectation if not a promise that at a minimum Puerto Rico would be given a formal federally sponsored democratic choice of statehood, and/or or independence, at some point. The 1922 Balzac ruling that citizenship had no status implications has delayed that choice, but the expectation of self-determination will never go away.
Citizenship was not a “mistake” as Maldonado suggests, but it was a political act by Congress that the courts treated ambiguously. Congress went along with the ambiguity created by the courts, and is now dealing with the delayed effects of that ambiguity in the context of PROMESA, two majority votes for statehood, and mass migration from the colony to the mainland.
Maldonado is wrong. The motive for colonialism in Puerto Rico has been clear since 1922, when the Balzac decision denied incorporation to a territory populated by U.S. citizens for the first time in U.S. history. The objective of U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico since Balzac has been to enable the political faction that opposes statehood or independence to remain politically viable – not to prevail but to never be defeated.
The hard truth Maldonado runs from and hides behind myths and lies to deny is that the people do not want to give up U.S. citizenship, so they reject independence. The Congress will not grant statehood until convinced there is not alternative. So the status quo becomes a colonial codependency to delay the moment of truth when citizenship leads to equality through statehood, or citizenship ends in favor of independent nationality.
The descendants of the autonomist faction in Puerto Rico who opposed independence under Spain now also oppose statehood. In 1950 lobbyists for the autonomists convinced enough members of Congress that Puerto Rico could thrive as an autonomous territory. So Puerto Rico got what the autonomists wanted and asked for in the name of the people. But territorial autonomy remained a colonial condition because it is an invention of federal territorial statutes not a constitutional status.
Usually economic and political colonialism go together, but sometimes they diverge and must be differentiated. U.S. political rule in Puerto Rico is colonial despite the hoax acted out by the U.S. and autonomist collaborators from Puerto Rico at the U.N. in 1953.
Using federal and local tax policy and artificial fiscal incentives in the nature of corporate welfare subsidies to induce mainland companies to invest in Puerto Rico had one real purpose. That purpose was to prop up the colonial territorial “commonwealth” regime. This was an uneconomic policy of fiscal colonialism that distorted markets and suppressed diversified private sector development, leading to the current failed client state syndrome.
That has allowed fiscal colonialism to overtake political colonialism. Instead of fiscal autonomy Puerto Rico got the opposite, which is fiscal colonialism. When you base a territorial economy on federal fiscal gimmicks you end up with fiscal colonialism. That is why U.S. Senator Moynihan from New York told President Clinton in 1995, if the U.S. ended Section 936 the Congress would have to give statehood to Puerto Rico.
Clinton agreed with Congress to end 936 anyway, because the benefits to Puerto Rico were too small to justify the tax waivers for giant corporations. Maldonado wants the good old days of federally subsidized means of production in the Puerto Rico economy.
That way Puerto Ricans don’t have to pay federal taxes, right? Wrong. That is an old myth that shows how long Maldonado has been behind the times.
Now, because residents of Puerto Rico are subject to federal law, they pay billions annually in payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare. Yet, despite U.S. citizenship there is no equal protection of law under the colonial “commonwealth” territorial regime.
For example, equal Social Security and Medicare benefits are not provided in the colony compared to states. Those who cannot wait for statehood to come to Puerto Rico are voting for non-colonial status by taking as much of Puerto Rico as they can with them to the states.
Not once but twice Maldonado argues that people in Puerto Rico pay no federal taxes. Clearly he is living in the past when people we easier to fool. It is 2017, the age of globalization and open markets. U.S. citizens and others in Puerto Rico pay federal taxes on their income in the states or other territories, and on income earned outside PR and the U.S. in international markets.
The people of Puerto Rico pay local taxes for the operation of the federally created and controlled colonial “commonwealth” territorial regime. TAXES IMPOSED BY THE COLONIAL “COMMONWEALTH” REGIME ARE ALSO AN INDIRECT LOCALLY COLLECTED FEDERAL TAX!
That is true because local taxes pay for a local territorial government that has always performed as a surrogate for Washington. If the organic act did not create a territorial constitution and local government to administer internal civil affairs of the territory, the Department for the Interior and other federal agencies that would have to govern the territory.
Governing the colony is a federal responsibility as long as territorial status continues. Washington collaborated with the autonomists to dupe Puerto Rico into taking over administration of the colony. The autonomists are like the overseers on the plantation, the agents of the colonial masters.
The 2016 Sanchez Valle ruling and PROMESA fiscal takeover surprised no one except those who trusted Luis Munoz Marin and Rafael Hernandez Colon and their apologists like Maldonado, and believed the historically perverse autonomist propaganda for 65 years. Maldonado correctly fingers Luis Munoz Marin as the lead collaborator who convinced Washington it could have a colony but call it a “commonwealth.”
A colony by any other name is still a colony. The idea that it is not a colony if the people give tacit consent to it by not voting for statehood or independence was legally dishonest but a plausible if undignified autonomist ideology for decades. Now despite anti-democratic propaganda about the 2012 and 2017 votes, there is no doubt majority rule now favors bringing statehood to Puerto Rico instead of moving Puerto Rico to the states one person and one broken dream at a time.
Calling Puerto Rico a “colony” does not “denigrate” the people of Puerto Rico or the United States. It is calling Puerto Rico an “autonomous commonwealth” that insults the intelligence and offends the dignity of the people in Puerto Rico, and mocks the meaning of equality and freedom in our nation.