By JaLoni Owens
While white Americans throw tantrums over African-American athletes kneeling during the National Anthem to protest law enforcement treating black bodies as target practice, Puerto Ricans are reaping the full benefits of being second-class U.S. citizens.å
What are the benefits of being under the sovereign jurisdiction of the United States, you ask? As a territory, the United States federal government controls all of Puerto Rico’s commerce, trade, immigration and naturalization, military affairs, mail, highways, natural resources, Social Security, federal taxation and maritime law. Debatably the greatest honor afforded to Puerto Ricans living on the island is not being able to vote in any U.S. congressional or presidential elections, but still having to fight in every single one of this nation’s wars. Who needs self-determination? Certainly not black and brown people.
You may be wondering what Puerto Ricans did to deserve the privilege of being stripped of their agency in the “land of the free.” Originally, Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony. Spanish colonizers invaded the island around 1508 and quickly transformed it into a major military post, enslaved the Taino people and forced them to work gold mines and kidnapped and sexually exploited the island’s women.
During the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rican revolutionaries began to correspond with U.S. President William McKinley in hopes that, in exchange for details about Spanish military operation, he would consider including Puerto Rico in the intervention planned for Cuba. The United States included Puerto Rico in their intervention plan and took it one step further. In December, the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the Spanish-American War and officially approving the cession of Puerto Rico to the United States.
Before the ink had even dried, the United States began to colonize the island in its image and installed a government closely resembling its own. Since 1898, the United States has been robbing Puerto Rico of its resources and any opportunity for independence from the colonizers who have plagued the island since the early 1500s.
These centuries of exploitation are why long before the devastation brought on by these most recent natural disasters, Puerto Rico was battling a financial crisis years in the making. Puerto Rico is currently without electricity, access to clean, fresh water and nearly $123 billion in debt. One of the saddest parts is that under the U.S. Constitution’s Territorial Clause (Article IV, Section 3), once the United States deems the island too large of a burden to bear, Congress could trade Puerto Rico to whomever it wanted without Puerto Rican approval as if it were a Pokémon card.
So, while many laugh at the videos of the president of the U.S. throwing rolls of paper towel at Puerto Ricans as if he were at a pep rally or use Donald Trump’s poor address of the situation to prop up their case for Bernie Sanders 2020, I fear for my people on the island every single day. I fear and ache for them because I am acutely aware of the United States’ long history of attempting to exterminate groups of people once they prove themselves to be an inconvenience. I am also aware that when these populations push back, the U.S. government pushes harder until they collapse underneath the pressure.
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