The NAACP, the largest and oldest civil rights organization in the United States, has once again spoken up for statehood for Puerto Rico.
This should not be surprising news. Puerto Rico’s territorial status makes the Island unequal in many ways, including a vague yet binding Supreme Court decision that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t fully apply there. Residents of Puerto Rico can’t vote in presidential elections, have no voting members in Congress, and do not receive the same federal support as states.
How could any supporter of civil rights oppose statehood?
Soon after HR 6246 was introduced, the NAACP passed a resolution: “The Puerto Rican Admission Act [is] a major step towards realizing the democratic will of the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico.”
Days later, having been chastised by statehood opponents, the NAACP published a statement on self-determination. “The NAACP has a long history of supporting the democratic value of self-determination,” it begins, “The NAACP stands with the people of Puerto Rico now more than ever, and we affirm our ability to work together in our joint struggle for equal protection, equal opportunity, and free will. Puerto Rico should be free to decide its preferred option in a fair and inclusive manner.”
Since this statement was published after Puerto Rico made an official request for statehood, and well after the two plebiscites favoring statehood, this seemed to many like an anti-statehood proclamation, even though it appears to support whatever Puerto Rico chooses.
We saw in the 2016 election that many candidates chose not to support statehood, but instead to support “self-determination.” They sounded like mugwumps to us. Supporting “self-determination” — especially after the territory’s official request for statehood — sounds like someone who wants to seem supportive of Puerto Rico without taking any chances.
What is self-determination?
If the point of calling for self-determination is to express support for the choice of status made by the voters of Puerto Rico, there is no uncertainty in the definition. In 2012 and in 2017, statehood won the status referenda. The people have spoken, and statehood is the choice of the majority.
For some, “self-determination” is code for anti-statehood positions. For some, it is a chance to sound vaguely supportive without offending anyone.
Andrés L. Córdova of the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico wrote at The Hill that “The case for Puerto Rico’s self-determination is used by many as a stalling tactic to protect the territorial tax advantages of the American controlled foreign corporations (CFC) at the expense of its citizens… Others, still beholden to romantic 19th century notions of national and racial identity, argue that self-determination is a collective right, independent of the individual rights of its citizens, and should be promoted as a matter of principle.”
Those who favor independence for Puerto Rico, whether as a leader from Cuba or Venezuela or as a grandchild of someone born in Puerto Rico, generally take the position that Puerto Rico should be free, regardless of the preferences of the people actually living in Puerto Rico. The fact that voters in Puerto Rico have been rejecting independence for decades makes it ironic to call a continued demand for independence “self-determination.”
As Rep. Jose Serrano said, “It’s easy to be against statehood when you live in a state.”
Statehood is about civil rights
Statehood is the only way Puerto Rico can have equal rights in the United States. Tell your legislators that you support statehood. Ask the positions of your candidates. And use your vote, if you live in a state, to speak up for Puerto Rico. Equality through Statehood.