As a candidate, President Trump told 5.5 million ethnic Puerto Rican voters nationwide he supported a democratic choice on a new political status for 3.5 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Puerto. His endorsement of that longstanding plank of the Republican Party platform, including statehood if chosen by a majority, helped Trump win votes of ethnic Puerto Ricans across party lines in swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania.
Since he became president, Trump has had highly public spats with individual leaders from Puerto Rico and has made no more official statements about the Island. Instead, he has tweeted, and as reported in a highly critical piece in the New York Times — toyed with the idea of swapping Puerto Rico for Greenland.
Far left “in tizzy” over Greenland taunts
Some took it as a joke, some were sincerely offended, but many in the anti-statehood faction argued the Greenland gambit meant the U.S. was still too colonialist to grant statehood and the time for independent nationhood had arrived. That drowned out far more important news.
For example, in the days after Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate was reported at the lowest rate in memory, amid the frenzy over Greenland taunts comparatively little attention was paid to what the job statistics mean, or whether the trend is sustainable.
Instead, the local El Nuevo Dia newspaper featured stories obsessing over Trump’s implied comparison between benefits of U.S. annexation of Greenland and continued American rule in Puerto Rico. Local college professors’ sloganeering took center stage, with quotes like, “It also calls us Puerto Ricans to discover new forms of autonomy.”
Not really. Puerto Rico’s quest for “autonomy” while retaining U.S. citizenship has delayed the real choice between statehood and nationhood for 70 years too long.
Still, in another example of ideological spin on the Greenland story, El Nuevo Dia’s report features demands that Governor Wanda Vazquez and Congresswoman Gonzalez-Colon respond to Trump’s “colonialist, imperialist, racist and Eurocentric vision” by organizing and leading a “mass reaction from Puerto Ricans.”
But should Puerto Rico’s relations with Congress and the White House including progress on future political status be determined by continued mass demonstrations? That seemed to be the anti-statehood party message.
Former Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá wrote, “According to the New York Times, Trump proposed to exchange us for Greenland. What does Jenniffer González have to say about this? Will she remain quiet again? And the Governor, will she keep considering to declare herself a Republican? The dignity of Puerto Rico is not negotiable.”
Latino Rebels also asked for Puerto Rico’s leaders to speak out.
There’s satisfaction in the message that Puerto Rico should be offended by this “rebuff,” but the anti-statehood faction wants to use hurt feelings to say, “The United States doesn’t deserve us as a state!”
The Greenland kerfuffle changes nothing for Puerto Rico. The reality stays the same, before and after Greenland came up it remains true that voters in the territory elected pro-statehood executive and legislative leadership who prioritize majority rule and democratic self-determination.
Voters elected pro-statehood executive and legislative leadership who prioritize majority rule and democratic self-determination.
Outrage that Trump views Puerto Rico as a “possession” that Congress can “dispose” of as it wishes is not realistic. It is a phony narrative because everyone knows that is exactly the status Puerto Rico is stuck in as a territory under control of the U.S. Congress.
The appointed former Attorney General who recently became Governor, succeeding her ousted predecessor, initially appeased the “popular sovereignty” movement by declaring the office she holds “belongs to the people” and not partisan “political structures.” However, she has moved forward, recognizing the people typically express their will through political party advocacy and action.
It is a good sign the Governor is now working closely with Puerto Rico Congresswoman Gonzalez-Colon and engaging the very “political structures” in San Juan and Washington that she seemed prepared to bypass in the first uncertain days of her administration.
Nevertheless, one self-appointed expert quoted by El Nuevo Dia calls Trump’s brutal honesty about the true status of the territory “racist and paternalistic, anchored in a very twisted view of the U.S. Constitution and the scope of the Territorial Clause.”
Yet that “twisted view” of Puerto Rico as a neo-colonial anachronism is precisely what the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled over and over for 120 years. As recently as 2016 our nation’s highest court confirmed that until Puerto Rico becomes a state or a nation the local constitution is a revocable delegation of limited home rule powers, exercised by the territorial government acting as a surrogate for Congress.
Statehood or nationhood
In other words, instead of indulging in outrage, the people need to demand either statehood or nationhood.
Those are the only status options to end colonialism. Independence would end U.S. sovereignty. Statehood would guarantee equal rights of U.S. national citizenship that come under the U.S. Constitution only with citizenship of a state.
The hard truth is that ending U.S. sovereignty for nationhood will not include gimmicks for “dual nationality” retaining and securing U.S. citizenship in the future.
And similarly, no home rule “autonomy” gimmicks under continued U.S. sovereignty will end the denial of rights to government by consent equal to states, making limited territorial self-government a less than fully democratic colonial status.
If Trump’s Greenland gambit reminds us that Puerto Rico’s current status is colonial and not constitutionally permanent, the answer is to end the myth that there is a status other than statehood or nationhood that gives Puerto Rico a better status than states or nations.
If the people of Puerto Rico have a problem with the current status, then democratic self-determination in favor of equal U.S. citizenship through statehood or separate sovereign nationhood is the solution.