This clip of the Spanish flag being lowered and the United States flag being raised was filmed in New York City in front of a painting of El Morro in Puerto Rico. It was intended to show how the United States, having extended its reach to the Pacific, was setting out to take on more expansion, replacing Spain as a world power.
This must have been exciting for people in 1898, as the United States began to be regarded as an important player in global affairs. It’s hard for modern Americans to imagine how people a century ago would have felt about this. The United States no longer aims to grow or to increase international influence through conquest. Instead, we stand for democracy and reublican government — that is, governing with consent of the governed, by the will of the majority of the people.
So why do we have a colony?
Puerto Rico was a colony of Spain for centuries, and has been a possession of the United States for more than a century now as well. Is Puerto Rico a colony? There is controversy over this description, but since the voters of Puerto Rico have rejected territory status, Congress cannot insist on continuing that status and claim that the relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico is government by the consent of the governed.
From 1898 to 1948, U.S. Presidents appointed all of Puerto Rico’s Governors. These officials included Emmet Montgomery Reily who served for two years before resigning under threat of an investigation into corruption and embezzlement, and Blanton Winship, who was found responsible for the Ponce Massacre where 19 people were killed and 200 wounded. After 1948, Puerto Rico was able to elect its own governors.
Puerto Rico had been strategically important during the two World Wars, and continued to be important in the Cold War, serving as an example of prosperity in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico continues to be the strongest economy in the region.
In the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, the United States was flirting with imperialism, and Puerto Rico was a showpiece of that era, as America tried on world power, as seen in the political cartoon at the top of this article.
Those days are gone. There is no reason and no excuse for Congress to hold onto Puerto Rico as an unwilling possession.
Puerto Rico can become an independent nation or a state of the Union. Either one is a sovereign status. It should not continue as an unincorporated territory of the United States. This is essentially the same as a colony, and that is unAmerican and plainly obsolete.
As a territory, Puerto Rico does not have equality with fellow U.S. citizens in the states, and also does not have full representation in the government. Puerto Rico residents are disenfranchised in presidential elections and have almost no representation in Congress.
We believe that statehood is the best option. The majority of voters have already chosen statehood three times: in 2012, 2017, and 2020. Independence has never gotten more than 5% of any vote on Puerto Rico’s status. Congress could force independence upon Puerto Rico, but otherwise, statehood is the solution.
Congress must hear from the American people that they do not want to hold a colony in the 21st century. Please contact your congresspeople.