Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice, shared his perspective on Puerto Rico with Steve Adubato on New Jersey Capitol Report recently.
Cartagena, living in a state with a large Puerto Rican population, expressed concern about Puerto Rico. He explained why Puerto Rico should be on the minds of the people of the United States and their political leaders.
“The emperor has taken off all his clothes,” Cartagena said, saying that Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States. Puerto Rico is in fact an unincorporated territory of the U.S. and has been for more than a century. Puerto Rico belongs to the United States, and the U.S. Congress legally has complete responsibility for the Island. Some power has been delegated to the local government, but Congress always has final say.
Cartagena explained that, while some leaders of Puerto Rico including the current governor have claimed that Puerto Rico has a unique relationship with the U.S., recent events have proven this claim false. He mentioned the recent Supreme Court cases which determined that Puerto Rico does not have sovereignty and PROMESA, with its fiscal oversight board. These events, he said, have finally shown beyond doubt that the myth of “enhanced commonwealth” is false.
Puerto Rico must accept that the emperor’s new clothes — the myth of the commonwealth — are not a reality. The emperor is naked. “This is a typical colonial relationship,” Cartagena said.
Cartagena went on to say that “this country has done a good job of bailing out GM” and that Puerto Rico should have assistance from the United States.
“What’s in it for us?” Adubato asked, pushing for an answer to why people living in the States should be concerned about Puerto Rico. Cartagena pointed out, as many in Congress have done, that people leaving Puerto Rico are moving to the States: New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York, Florida, Texas, and more. If the United States is not prepared to help these people in Puerto Rico, they will have to help them in Florida or New Jersey instead.
This argument wasn’t the strongest one for Cartagena.
“At what point did we say, ‘Ignore the fact that they’ve been U.S. citizens since 1917,'” he demanded. “These are not strangers.”
“Does the crisis make the people in Puerto Rico rethink their status?” the interviewer asked. “Does it make them think they want to be a state, or an independent country?”
“It does,” responded Cartagena. “The status is at a boiling point and the decision has to be made.”
Cartagena personally favors independence, but he points out, “I live in New Jersey.” Born and raised in New Jersey, Cartagena likes the idea of independence for Puerto Rico. Recent polls have shown that the diaspora is more in favor of independence than the people who would actually live with the decision, though the number favoring independence is still small. But Cartagena also says that he shouldn’t get a vote.
While Cartagena won’t get a vote in the upcoming — and final — referendum on status, he’s correct when he says that the people of the United States in general should be concerned for Puerto Rico. 3.5 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico deserve as much concern as the people of Flint, Michigan, or any other part of the United States. What’s more, Puerto Rico is the responsibility of the U.S. Congress. People like Cartagena have voting representatives in Congress. If you live in a state, please tell your legislators that you care about Puerto Rico and you think they should, too.
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