The House of Representatives moved last week to create a process to clarify the legal status of Puerto Rico with a two-stage vote. First, Puerto Ricans will vote on whether they want the status quo or want a change. Second, they’ll vote on whether they want to be a state or an independent country. Apparently this is controversial among US politicians with Puerto Rican roots:
Some of those differences were evident among lawmakers of Puerto Rican background. Puerto Rico-born Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., whose parents were from Puerto Rico, strongly opposed the measure, saying it was designed to push a statehood agenda. “This is the Puerto Rico 51st state bill,” said Gutierrez, an independence proponent. “The deck is stacked.”
But another Puerto Rico-born lawmaker, Democrat Jose Serrano of New York, backed it. “I support it because for the first time in 112 years the people of Puerto Rico will have an opportunity to express themselves.”
As you know, I try to oppose knee-jerk nationalism in American foreign policy. But that anti-nationalistic outlook has broad applicability, and I have to say that in this case knee-jerk Puerto Rican nationalism seems mighty illogical. The United States of America is basically the richest country on earth, and being a part of it gives Puerto Ricans a lot of practical advantages that the independent countries of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean lack. The right to move to the US-proper and work here legally, for example, is extremely valuable and was even in a time when Puerto Ricans living in America were subject to considerably more racist discrimination:
I think reasonable people can disagree as to whether the current situation, which has tax advantages, or statehood, which would be more dignified, give Puerto Rico more political power, and possibly drive investment by definitively settling the island’s status. Right now, however, Puerto Rico’s per capita GDP is quite high compared to Latin American countries and independence would seem to imperil that with no practical upside. All that said, were Puerto Ricans to choose a nationalistic path they’d hardly be the first people on the planet to do so and I think they should have the right.