Why Independence for Puerto Rio?

Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States since 1898. That undemocratic political status must end—and it must end now.

Independence, which may include a sovereign form of free association, is the morally, culturally, and economically right alternative to resolve Puerto Rico's colonial status. It is also the only feasible and realistic option given the political reality that, after more than a century, the United States continues to reject Puerto Rican statehood.

So, why is independence the right path for Puerto Rico?

For Moral and Political Justice

The United States invaded Puerto Rico, and has held it as a possession for more than 125 years, as part of an imperialist and colonialist political project. Empires should not get to permanently keep the nations and territories they invade; annexation is not decolonization. Just as independence was the right political future for every other colonized nation on Earth—including the United States!—it is the right future for Puerto Rico.

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For the Preservation of Puerto Rico's Identity and Culture

Puerto Rico is a distinct, Spanish-Speaking, Latin American nation with a vibrant and unique culture. Our people have proudly resisted more than a century of assimilation, but the political requirements and cultural pressures of assimilation would now allow Puerto Rico's culture to endure as a state.

Consider the issue of language as an example: not a single state of the union, including many that were once Spanish-speaking territories, continue to use Spanish as the language of politics, schools, and public life. And we have seen how the "native" culture is at once suppressed and commoditized in a state like Hawaii. As a state, Puerto Ricans would have a terrible choice: either assimilate in order to try to enjoy fully equality, or remain apart and discriminated against because of our identity. Only independence saves us from that terrible fate.

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For Economic Sustainability and Prosperity

Colonies are not designed to thrive and to provide opportunity and prosperity for the colonized. They are meant to be exploited by the colonizer. That is the case of Puerto Rico, which currently serves as an enclave economy and a captive market for U.S. products, while being grievously harmed by laws like the Jones Act and by gentrification from wealthy American settlers.

That's why, despite billions in U.S. federal funding, Puerto Rico is half as poor as the poorest state of the union, with massive wealth inequality and crumbling infrastructure, healthcare, and education systems. A few more billions from statehood would not meaningfully change these dire economic circumstances that, ultimately, work to the benefit of the United States, not of Puerto Ricans.

Independence would give Puerto Rico the tools of sustainable economic development that puts Puerto Ricans first. That includes control over our monetary and fiscal policy, the power to set duties and tariffs, and the ability to engage in free trade and expand our export capacity while setting more favorable terms for our imports.

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For Dignity and Freedom from Discrimination

Puerto Rican society is not perfect, and it is afflicted by many of the same problems and prejudices that are present in every nation. But they pale in comparison to the profound structural racism that is endemic to American society and that would essentially keep Puerto Ricans as second-class citizens even if the island became state.

Think about American politics in recent decades, which has featured the rise of white supremacist political movements and the ongoing political power of anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment. That's not just why statehood doesn't happen; it's no coincidence that the population of every single territory that remains a U.S. colony is overwhelmingly nonwhite. It's also why it shouldn't happen: because it would subject three million Puerto Ricans to the personal, political, and institutional inequality that already affect millions of people of color in the United States.

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For Political Feasibility Soon, Not in a Few Decades

Many political factions in Puerto Rico have been pushing for statehood since the U.S. invasion in 1898. A plurality of Puerto Ricans have supported it for decades, and statehood has gotten a majority of the votes in three (albeit contested and controversial) plebiscites in the past decade. But the United States has refused, rejected, and denied statehood time after time, and it is no closer to granting it now than in the past 125 years.

In fact, politically, statehood is now more unlikely than ever. It is seen as a partisan issue in Congress; Republicans, especially, assume that it would mean more Democratic U.S. Senators and Representatives. Statehood would also mean 3 million more Latino voters, more Spanish-speakers in the United States, and billions more in federal transfers to Puerto Rico. Many progressives, for their part, are rightfully skeptical of the idea that the United States should complete its annexation of an invaded Latin American nation. So statehood has scant political support on the right or the left, and it barely garners any attention on the center.

But there is no reason for U.S. political leaders to reject a call for independence. Many conservatives would be all too happy to stop sending money to Puerto Rico and to eliminate the "threat" of more Democratic voters and members of Congress. Liberals and progressives would have no reason to reject a call for political freedom. All that's left is to make that call!

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