Saturday, June 1, 2013

Is Independence a Realistic Option for Puerto Rico? - by hadeninteractive

Is Independence a Realistic Option for Puerto Rico?

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Recent discussions on Puerto Rico’s status have focused on the choice between statehood and remaining a territory.
These are not really the only options available to Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico could become an independent nation.
In 1936, Senator Millard Tydings of Maryland presented a bill offering independence to Puerto Rico. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes had, in 1935, written an open letter saying that, “the Department takes no official stand beyond affirming its belief that the wishes of the people of Puerto Rico should be respected… and in case of doubt as to what these wishes are they should be unmistakably established by referendum duly prepared by the fullest discussion.” He further said that “it might be useful for the Congress and the administration, as well as for the Puerto Rican people, to clarify their positions.”
In other words, things were in much the same position that they are in today.
The Tydings bill proposed a referendum with one yes-or-no question: “Should the people of Puerto Rico be sovereign and independent?” If the people of Puerto Rico agreed with this, there would be a four-year plan which would gradually do two things: make Puerto Rico self-governing and put the island in the same economic position with regard to trade as that of any other nation.
Puerto Rican leaders were aghast. They attempted to negotiate more favorable economic terms, but were not successful. “Plebescite or Ambush?” asked a San Juan newspaper.
Vito Marcantonio, a New York congressman representing many Puerto Rican constituents, offered an alternative bill, granting independence to Puerto Rico on their own timetable,  with no tariffs and no restrictions on immigration to the United States after Puerto Rico became independent. No Congressional action was taken on either bill, nor on later independence bills leading up to the 1952 constitution.
The first vote on Puerto Rico’s status took place in 1967, and independence– then and in all the referenda following – clearly lost. However, there continued to be, and still continues to be, a small independence movement in Puerto Rico. The movement holds that U.S. persecution of those fighting for independence kept the people of Puerto Rico from voting for this option. The Progressive expresses this view in a reprint of an essay from 1998:
Without an appreciation for the fear and despair caused by this century of repression, the small percentage of votes cast for independentista parties makes no sense.
If Puerto Rico were to become independent, there would be no guarantee that Puerto Ricans could keep their U.S. citizenship and ability to travel freely to and from the United States. U.S. tourism to Puerto Rico may also suffer. Puerto Rico would ultimately lose all Federal benefits, including Social Security, law enforcement support, school lunches, etc.  It is likely that arrangements with U.S. companies currently maintaining a presence in Puerto Rico would change, but it is not possible to predict the precise nature of those changes.  The exchange of goods would by subject to new international trade laws.
While a territory cannot strike deals with the United States government, or with any other nation, a sovereign nation can make trade agreements and treaties. Puerto Rico might try to broker deals before accepting independence, though it hasn’t worked before because a deal made with a territory would not be binding on Congress. Those who favor independence assume not only that the United States would work with the new nation of Puerto Rico, but that other countries would do so as well. They could be right; they could be wrong.
The Philippines can be considered as an example of a former territory of the United States which is now an independent nation. The Philippines became a territory of the United States along with Puerto Rico following the Spanish-American War, and has been an independent nation  since 1946. The United States helped the Philippines financially, but also set a number of conditions for that help, including the acceptance of U.S. military presence. The Philippines has experienced a great deal of political upheaval, but has also renegotiated its deals with the United States. While Puerto Rico would be the poorest state in the Union if it became a state, the average person there earns over 80% more than a resident of the Philippines, and the Philippines has more than double the rate of infant mortality.
Compare this with the economic position of Hawaii, another tropical territory, but one that chose statehood.
It seems likely that statehood would be a better deal economically for Puerto Rico than independence. This did not matter to the people of the Philippines, who were determined to be independent. With only a small percentage of Puerto Rican voters favoring independence in any of the plebescites on Puerto Rico’s status, it appears that independence is not as strongly supported in Puerto Rico. Would Puerto Rico be willing to accept the uncertainty and probably economic hardship associated with independence? History says not.
Unlike the various “enhanced commonwealth” options being discussed, independence is a real possibility, and one which the United States has shown itself willing to offer Puerto Rico. Since Puerto Rico has already rejected the territorial relationship, independence is the real alternative to statehood. 


  1. Dear Partner,

    It sure is! I'm working full-time for it. Here's how.

    After the approval of the 33rd United Nations’ resolution by consensus on June 23, 2014 asking the United States (US) to immediately decolonize of Puerto Rico, we should work together to force the United States government to comply with it.

    The facts that the United States government has maintained Puerto Rico as its colony for 116 years, has had Oscar López Rivera in prison for 33 years for fighting for Puerto Rico decolonization, and has ignored 33 UN resolutions to decolonize Puerto Rico, confirm that the US government has no intentions of ever decolonizing Puerto Rico. Therefore, we need to form a tsunami of people to force the US to comply with the 33 resolutions.

    We should peacefully protest at least 3 times a year until we achieve our goal. The first one will be a march up to the US Courthouse in Puerto Rico on the Abolition of Slavery Day on March 22. The second will be another march in Puerto Rico on a day before the UN’s Puerto Rico decolonization hearing. The third one will be a protest in New York City on the same day the UN holds its Puerto Rico decolonization hearing.

    These 3 protests are indispensable, because those who have colonies don’t believe in justice for all.

    José M López Sierra
    Comité Timón del Pueblo
    United Partners for the Decolonization of Puerto Rico

  2. Dear Partner,

    Since the United Nations determined in 1960 that colonialism is a crime against humanity, there is no longer a need for plebiscites. The solution is to give Puerto Rico her sovereignty.

    But being the United States government does not want to, it continues to advocate the use of plebiscites to find out what Puerto Ricans want. Even if 100% of Puerto Ricans would want to continue being a US colony, Puerto Rico would still be obligated to accept her sovereignty to then decide what she wants to do.

    The only thing these plebiscites are good for is to divide Puerto Ricans. A Puerto Rican didn’t invade us to make us a colony. When will we understand that we need to unite?

    This is why we must peacefully protest at least 3 times a year until Puerto Rico is decolonized!

    José M López Sierra