The island of Puerto Rico has been under the direct control of a foreign power for over 400 years. Puerto Ricans have seen their freedoms violently stripped away and their natural resources privatized, yet in the face of this brutal colonization, Puerto Rico is still left standing, flag waving proudly , screaming, “¡VIVE PUERTO RICO LIBRE!”. As Puerto Rico continues to feel the brunt of frequent climate disasters, we must debunk the lie that further colonization through statehood would provide more liberties, aid, or protections from the United States. To suggest that statehood would create these securities is not only disrespectful to the intense revolutionary history of the island and its people, but it is also simply untrue. When we look at the relationship between the United States and Black and Indigenous communities, we see a violent history of abuse and oppression that gives us no reason to believe that treatment of the Caribbean nation would be different. Additionally, the policies and legislation that the U.S. enacted in Puerto Rico, such as Act 22, prioritizes and centers white wealthy U.S. expatriates rather than native Puerto Ricans. If the United States had any genuine desire to protect or invest in Puerto Rico, they already would have. Withholding the right to self governance and access to resources in exchange for statehood further cements the Island as a colony. Pushing for statehood puts Puerto Ricans further away from liberation and the true autonomy needed to create systems for themselves that protect them from the current climate crisis and U.S. imperialism.
When reflecting on the history of Puerto Rico and the United States, we clearly see that Puerto Rican attempts to decolonize and liberate themselves have been met with violence and oppression, an experience that is shared with Africans and Native Americans alike. Puerto Rican independence leaders such as Pedro Albizu Campos, Lolita Lebrón, and Vidal Santiago Díaz had an understanding that U.S. occupation and control came at the expense of freedom—it did not ensure it. This is proven through legislation that restricts the mobility of Puerto Ricans both socially and economically.
From the Gag law of 1948 which made displaying Puerto Rican flags or speaking in favor of independence illegal, to Act 22 in 2012 which created a virtually tax free Puerto Rico for wealthy foreigners. There is a long history of proving that a Puerto Rico under the United States is a Puerto Rico for the United States. Seeing how the U.S. ignores the needs of Black and Native communities currently in crisis, it is unrealistic to assume statehood would provide the autonomy needed to protect Puerto Ricans. Consider the Jackson, Mississippi and Flint, Michigan water crisis, or Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, in which we saw Black communities being left behind under a racist government that invested little in disaster relief. During Hurricane Maria in 2017 we saw the very same attitude take place in Puerto Rico.
Even before Hurricane Fiona, which made landfall earlier this week and has left the island completely without power, Puerto Ricans were living with inconsistent access to water and electricity. When Maria hit it destroyed the already fragile electric grid, and made shortages a common occurrence for over 80% of the island for years afterwards. When Puerto Ricans organized around creating a new, more sustainable electrical grid better equipped to withstand climate disasters the US response was immediate: privatization. This response is a testament to how little the United States is willing to invest in Puerto Rico, and instead choosing to sell the problem to LUMA Energy, the private company currently controlling the electric grid, essentially profiting from climate disaster. Despite massive protests against the private takeover, Puerto Rican demands to instead fund the public Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica, were ignored. This is a direct reflection and prediction of how the U.S. plans to continue addressing these dire situations in Puerto Rico, and the little power Puerto Ricans have over their own systems within the United States government.
To suggest that Puerto Rico could gain more of their autonomy through statehood is inherently colonialist because the U.S. should not have the power to hold their autonomy hostage. As Black people, we should not concede to it. Giving in to statehood would only condone the U.S. colonization of Puerto Rico. As we have seen in Hawaii, historically and currently, indigenous peoples are consistently ignored and overlooked while addressing the issues impacting their island. Hawaii is an example of how statehood may mean opportunities for white wealthy U.S. citizens, but is not intended to benefit or even include the voices of indigenous populations. Let it be clear that places are colonized for the interest of the colonizing country, therefore priority is given to citizens of that of the colonizer. The concerns of the Native populations come second and their organizing powers are greatly reduced in order to completely and successfully colonize.
When looking at the structure designed to turn Puerto Rico into a colony, we see that all outlets meant to provide Puerto Ricans political and social autonomy ultimately come down to government approval by the United States. Especially during times of crisis, as Hurricane Fiona makes access to basic resources more scarce, it is imperative that Puerto Ricans be the deciders of how, to whom, and where their resources are distributed within their communities. Puerto Rican revolutionary leaders understood that statehood undermined their liberation, and would only increase the lived experiences of inequality for Native Puerto Ricans on the Island. To incorporate a Black Indigenous Caribbean island into a government designed to uphold white supremacy would be to ignore Puerto Rico’s revolutionary past, and oppress its people. We support Puerto Ricans fighting for a Puerto Rico free from the shackles of U.S imperialism, and reject attempts to assimilate Puerto Rico into a racist, oppressive, and capitalistic United States government. ¡VIVE PUERTO RICO LIBRE!
- Denis, Nelson A. War against All Puerto Ricans Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony. Bold Type Books, 2016.