“Statehood is the unfinished business of democracy,” says Ariel Jared Vélez. He’s sharing his own family’s experiences with discrimination against Puerto Rico, which is an unincorporated territory belonging to the United States. When benefits are denied U.S. citizens because they live in Puerto Rico, he points out, that is discrimination.
“The United States has always been a nation that advocates for justice,” he said, “and we can’t continue operating around the world as a nation realizing democracy, justice, and liberty while we have within our own system islands that have been longtime colonies.”
Is Puerto Rico a colony?
Clearly, Puerto Rico has been discriminated against, and the U.S. Constitution allows Congress to treat territories differently from states. States must by law be treated equally, but territories are subject to the whim of Congress. For Puerto Rico, this mean economic injustice, a lack of participation in American democracy, and ongoing inequality.
The United Nations does not have Puerto Rico on its list of colonies, but the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico looks very colonial. In 1898, when Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States, the U.S. was toying with the idea of becoming a colonial power like Spain, France, or Great Britain.
In 1952, when the U.S. Congress approved a constitution for Puerto Rico, these European powers were ending their colonial relationships. The Caribbean colonies belonging to France became departments, or states, of France. Most British colonies became independent nations. Puerto Rico remained in the possession of the United States without becoming a state or requesting independence. Unlike most of the world’s former colonies, Puerto Rico does not have full representation under the constitution or equal rights under the law.
This is not a good look for a country that claims to represent democracy, justice, and liberty.
What can we do?
The U.S. Congress is currently considering a law, the Puerto Rico Status Act, which would create one more referendum on Puerto Rico’s political status. When voters once again choose statehood, as we expect they will, Congress will admit Puerto Rico as a state.
If the voters of Puerto Rico choose another status option, that choice will be respected. This law is HR2757. Please ask your representatives to support this law.