America has just completed its most contentious election by having a record number of citizens come out and vote, despite being in the throes of the Covid pandemic. Aside from Trump gracelessly mumping that he should have won and refusing to congratulate President-designate Biden with a concession speech, the streets are full of celebration, especially among the young, blacks, latinos and suburban women, whose increased participation contributed to the result.
Biden has already stated that this is an end to polarisation , that “we are not enemies; we are all Americans and this is a time to heal”. Statesmanlike words that may indicate the US regaining its self-imposed role as the ‘Leader of the Free World’; an example to all; a bastion of democracy. There will be much celebrating how the Constitution again delivered a government of the people, to which other countries can only aspire.
Let’s leave aside the fact that objective observers consider much of the Constitution overtaken by events, starting with the much misquoted Second Amendment that states “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”. But, perhaps more importantly to maintain American integrity, as perceived by the rest of the world, their attitude towards colonies and their democratic representation is , at best, flawed and, at worst, downright hypocritical.
America has done much huffing and puffing over colonisation down the years. Given their origins, this can seem justified. The Monroe Doctrine warned European powers off from making a play for control anywhere in the Americas. Noble as this may sound, it had more to do with the United Fruit Company having unrestricted (and therefore very profitable) access to what would come to be described as “Banana Republics”.
Had it stopped there, the case for the US being protector of an entire hemisphere might reasonably have been made. But in 1898, the newest major power was keen to flex its global muscles and Hearst was keen to sell papers. So he stoked anti-colonial feelings against the remnants of the once-mighty Spanish empire. In short order, Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam were ‘liberated’ from the colonial yoke, with the independent state of Hawaii seized as a necessary staging post to achieve this. Repression of a genuine independence movement in the Philippines meant it was effectively a colony until 1946, with Subic Bay being retained as a major US base, similar to Guantanamo in Cuba. Though Cuba was technically independent, it was tied to the US economy, with the odious dictatorship of Batista and the successful 1959 revolt under Castro being the result.
This left Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico being run effectively as colonies. Guam could reasonably be seen as America’s Gibraltar in the Pacific—an ideal base and staging point for any action in East Asia, as happened in Korea. With a population of under 170,000, Guam does not really make a viable country. But the other two are different. Following their standard pattern of turning territories under its control into states, America created Alaska and Hawaii as the 49th and 50th states of the union in 1959, thereby breaking 173 years of tradition that new states be contiguous with the rest of the Union.
We are now 61 years further on and Puerto Rico remains a colony in all but name. It is a tropical paradise, with a richness of terrain and biospheres that put Florida and other states in the South to shame. Yet it lost over 100,000 of its people escaping poverty each year—much worse pro rata than rust belt states like Ohio or Michigan. It is still recovering from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Yet, thee are no moves to welcome it into the Union as the 51st state, despite 122 years to prepare for it. Were it the size of Guam, such a status might make sense. But it’s not.
Puerto Rico has a bigger population than 20 of the 50 states. It has a larger area than Rhode Island or Delaware. Were it a state, it would elect 4 Representatives to Congress, along with two Senators. At present, it gets 1 non-voting delegate and has no voice in US elections, like the one we just witnessed.
If Britain were to run Northern Ireland on a similar basis, American politicians—especially Joe Biden, who has strong Irish roots—would pillory the iniquity of such a democratic deficit, foisted on people for over a century.
It is over 2,000 miles from either Honolulu, Hawaii or Anchorage, Alaska to the continental US. It is barely 1,000 miles from San Juan, Puerto Rico, so distance can’t be an issue. There are 710,000 people in Alaska and 1,415,000 in Hawaii, while there are 3,411,000 I Puerto Rico. With barely half the population, these two states send three Representatives and four Senators to speak for them. Puerto Rico sends none.
There have been a half-dozen non-binding plebiscites on Puerto Rico’s future: 1967; 1991; 1993; 1999; 2012; 2017—all inolclusive as they were confusing. Nost offered three alternatives (statehood; dependency; independence) and required one option to gain ove 50% of the vote. Even when that did happen, with 54% fo statehood in 2012, over 100,000 blnk papers submitted were deemed to represent “none of the above”, bringing the percentage for statehood below 44%. Even had one of these votes been decisive, the US Congress would choose not to implement the result.
At last, a Congressionally mandated plebiscite was put on the ballot during this year’s General Election on November 3rd. There were two options: statehood or status quo. 623,051 people (52.34%) voyed for statehood, while 567,346 (47.66%) voted against. with the 2020 Election’s ongoing fracas around the presidency taking up most of the media’s bandwith, nobody seems to have picked up on this historic acknowledement that it is high time the US cleaned up democraric deficits like this on its before they resume lecturing other countries on the path to political righteousness?
I think Puerto Rico becoming a state would fulfill the destiny of 3.5 million American citizens that live in Puerto Rico. — Ricardo ” Ricky ” Antonio Rosselló Nevares, Governor 2017 to 2019.