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Open Letter From Members of the Puerto Rican Diaspora: U.S. Statehood for Puerto Rico is Not a Progressive Position

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Editor’s Note: Before the November 2020 election, the National Boricua Human Rights Network issued an open letter on the status of Puerto Rico. Signed by hundreds of individuals across the Puerto Rican diaspora, the letter challenges the idea that the U.S. should make Puerto Rico a state. The imposition of statehood is not, contrary to some positions, a progressive political position; it is a colonial one. Proponents of statehood continue to spin the results of the recent plebiscite, claiming without evidentiary proof that the majority of the Puerto Rican people support annexation. Instead, progressives and allies of the Puerto Rican people should support the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act, introduced by Congressional Representatives Nydia Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The bill recognizes that the future of Puerto Rico should be decided, above all, by the Puerto Rican people through a transparent, honest, and fundamentally democratic process. In the coming weeks and months, La Voz will further explore why Puerto Rico needs a genuine path to self-determination and an end to colonialism. 

Puerto Rico is a U.S. colony. It became so, as illegal war booty of the Spanish-American war in 1898. Contrary to pronouncements after the 1952 establishment of “Estado Libre Asociado,” known in English as Commonwealth, Puerto Rico’s political status has never ceased to be colonial. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged this fact. One hundred years after it had designated Puerto Rico as “foreign in a domestic sense” and inhabited by “alien races” unfit for self-government, it concluded that “the ‘ultimate’ source of prosecutorial power remains the U.S. Congress.” In other words, Puerto Rico has no sovereignty, other than what Congress grants. 

For 122 years, equivalent to five generations, this island-nation has been a colonial possession. Its land, labor, resources, and bodies have been exploited and its clamors for self-determination and independence repressed. As a result of this long and tormented history, the majority of Puerto Ricans today reside outside of the island. Yet, although separated by space, the connection between the diaspora and the island remains strong, as seen in its mobilization of aid after the ravages of Hurricane Maria and the willful neglect of the Trump administration.

Today, many of us in the Puerto Rican diaspora are troubled by growing expressions of support for Puerto Rico becoming the 51st state of the U.S. among liberals and progressives. Statehood does not have overwhelming support among Puerto Ricans. Although figures from the most recent plebiscite in 2017 are widely touted by statehood proponents, 77% of the island’s electorate boycotted the vote. It is clear to us that many U.S. progressives do not know that the Puerto Rican Statehood Party (PNP) is among the most socially conservative parties on the island, boasts Republican leaders, has a long history of corruption, and has spent millions to woo congressional officials.

Statehood is not a progressive position for Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is not Washington, D.C. Puerto Rico is a nation. It has its own identity, history, and aspirations. Under international law, Puerto Rico’s colonial status cannot be resolved through the imposition of statehood. Under conditions of colonialism and increased demographic substitution, this will only lead to the intensification of domination. For this reason, we consider legislation proposed by NY Representatives, Nydia Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a promising step. It recognizes that Puerto Rico’s future can only be decided by Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican diaspora. In short, our decolonization rests on the human right to self-determination.

Demands for Puerto Rican Self-Determination Grow in the Diaspora

• In Delaware, Puerto Ricans demand Biden support self-determination. 

• In Pennsylvania, Councilwoman María Quiñones introduces resolution to Philadelphia City Council calling for support of HR 8113

• In Massachusetts, Springfield City Council adopts a resolution presented by Councilman Adam Gómez supporting self-determination for Puerto Rico bill.

• In Illinois, Puerto Rican Agenda is organizing efforts for resolutions to be adopted in The City of Chicago and State legislatures to support Nydia Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez bill.

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