Commonwealth Status of Puerto Rico Term Paper

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Second, there is a language and cultural divide between Puerto Rico and the rest of the United States that has created some issues in the area of statehood. Looking at Phyllis Schlafly's comments regarding Puerto Rican statehood, it becomes clear that this cultural divide is a significant part of the political question regarding Puerto Rico's status. Schlafly points out that, "The Puerto Rican independence faction is small, but that doesn't mean its members would acquiesce in being outvoted in a democratic election. They are among the most militant groups in the world and are responsible for domestic terrorist incidents in the United States.' (Schlafly). However, her greatest concern is the fact that Puerto Ricans are unwilling to accept assimilation as the price for statehood. According to Schlafly, "The most important issue about Puerto Rico statehood is that it would transform the United States overnight into a bilingual nation. Puerto Ricans don't speak English, don't intend to learn it, and are even antagonistic to the whole idea of learning English." (Schlafly). In addition, Puerto Rico's impoverished status has kept many Americans from endorsing the statehood option, because "the average income of Puerto Ricans is less than half that of our poorest state, and infrastructure and the environment are far below American standards, so statehood would bring immediate demands for massive federal funding." (Schlafly). While Schlafly's concerns may seem overtly racist to most people, there does seem to be some legitimacy in her concerns. She worries that Puerto Rican statehood could start America "down the road of countries that have fought bloody wars when minority populations tried to maintain a separate language and cultural identity within another nation, such as Quebec, Ireland, Bosnia, and Iraq." (Schlafly). Placed in that perspective, it makes sense for Americans to question the idea of statehood.

It also makes sense for Puerto Ricans to question the idea of statehood. Americans have proven historically resistant to non-assimilation, which means that statehood will probably result in the eventual loss of the Puerto Rican cultural identity, even if Puerto Rico was entitled to keep Spanish as its official language upon attaining statehood. Statehood is unlikely to provide an immediate fix for Puerto Rico's economic woes; though it is poorer than the poorest state in the United States, a comparison of the wealth of different states makes it clear that statehood does not confer wealth. In fact, Puerto Ricans are already entitled to significant government benefits aimed at alleviating their financial woes, which would mean that statehood probably would not benefit individual Puerto Ricans financially. However, Puerto Rico does not get the same type of money for infrastructure as states do, and statehood would help improve its infrastructure to that of a major world power, rather than a third-world nation. Statehood would give Puerto Rico a voice in the federal government, both by providing representatives in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and by giving Puerto Ricans an actual voice in U.S. presidential elections. However, it is naive to assume that such a voice would have a dramatic impact. Puerto Rico would still have a diverse set of cultural traditions and real needs, compared to the existing 50 states, and it would probably be decades before any Puerto Rican representatives could exercise any type of substantial power in any branch of the Federal government.

It is essential to realize that statehood is not the only other option for Puerto Rico. On the contrary, Puerto Rico has several viable options besides statehood. An examination of the political movements that have sprung up in Puerto Rico helps one understand the pros and cons of each of these options. It is telling to note that:

Most Puerto Rican political parties since 1898 had attempted to modify the political relations between the island and the U.S. federal government; the island's Republican Party favoured statehood, whereas the Union Party worked for greater autonomy. The Nationalist Party arose in the 1920s and argued for immediate independence. Meanwhile, the pro-U.S. Socialist Party, led by the highly respected labour leader Santiago Islesisas, remained focused on the plight of Puerto Rico's laboring classes, but its program had little support, because popular attention was largely concentrated on the political status of the island. (Encylopaedia Britannica).

These efforts make it clear that the political status of Puerto Rico has always been an important issue for Puerto Ricans.

Today's Puerto Ricans continue to be concerned about its political status, even though many of the old political parties have been eaten up by the two giants of American political life, the Republican and Democratic parties. In 2004, both the Republican and Democratic parties in Puerto Rico strengthened their language regarding Puerto Rico's political status, vying for a non-territorial status for Puerto Rico. However, they also recognized that there was no national consensus regarding Puerto Rico's political future. The Democratic party more strongly favored the option of statehood, which should not be very surprising given the overall context of the two parties. The overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans are Democrats, which means that statehood would give the Democrats a decided majority in the Congress and receive a good advantage in presidential elections. Therefore, Republicans are not quite as eager to push for statehood as Democrats, even though they have recognized that the current commonwealth status does not appear to be satisfactory to the majority of Puerto Ricans. Some critics do not believe that either party really wants statehood, or expects the federal government to provide Puerto Ricans with options:

Critics, especially independence supporters, say that neither Republicans nor Democrats will seriously consider making Puerto Rico a state, concerned that incorporating the island would create a situation like Quebec or Belfast, a political problem that could last longer than the commonwealth has. Proponents of statehood, however, point to the increasing Latino presence in the United States, with Hispanics actually a majority in several major U.S. cities today, for arguing that the attitudes against statehood for Puerto Rico are changing. (Marino).

Of course, any discussion of Puerto Rico's political status would be incomplete without an examination of the Puerto Rican nationalist movement. The Puerto Rican nationalist are reviled as terrorists, worshipped as heroes, and, in some instances, completely ignored. They comprise only a small fraction of Puerto Rico's population, but they are a very active and militant group, taking steady action to help gain independence for Puerto Rico. Though the party existed before then, it came to prominence in the 1950s:

Under the leadership of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, which advocated an end to U.S. colonialism and the independence of Puerto Rico, gained the respect and admiration of multiple sectors of the population. Unlike its predecessor, the Unionist Party that advocated independence early in its history but eventually withdrew that demand from its program, the Nationalist Party unconditionally proclaimed the inalienable right of the colonized people to independence. The Nationalist Party also became known for advocating the right of the colonized people to use any means necessary including the use of arms, to win the independence of Puerto Rico. The revolutionary impetus in Puerto Rico which is credited to the Nationalist Party was the main target of the colonizers' repressive agencies as they sought to destroy the independence movement.

Facing severe consequences, the Nationalist party stood firm in its quest. When the progressive movement in the U.S. experienced persecution in the late 1940's and early 1950's, the result of an anti-communist, anti-labor and racist witch-hunts spearheaded by the notorious Senator Joseph McCarthy, Puerto Ricans witnessed a more intense and brutal version of that same repressive campaign. People in the United States hardly knew that members of the Nationalist Party were systematically jailed and assassinated in Puerto Rico. Laws were created that gave the colonial police the "right" to gun down members of the Nationalist Party in plain view, without provocation. (Rovira).

The Nationalists decided to seek independence on October 30, 1950, after hearing that the U.S. government had plans to eliminate the Nationalist movement. Blanca Canales led an armed group of Nationalists towards Jayuya, where they successfully attacked the colonial police. With the support of the people of Jayuya, Canales declared Puerto Rico's independence. However, the United States government took drastic measures to suppress the uprising, imposing martial law and actually bombing parts of Puerto Rico. The U.S. government's efforts were a success, and the uprising was quelled. However, since that time, the Nationalist party has continued to engage in acts seeking independence, which some people have labeled acts of domestic terrorism. For example, two Puerto Rican Nationalists attempted to assassinate President Truman. In 1965, the Nationalist party split and has been in the process of a reorganization. However, it has been credited with some acts of domestic terrorism in that time period, and some of its members are thought to be actively working towards an independent Puerto Rico.

Works Cited

Commonwealth." Webster's II New Riverside Dictionary: Revised Edition. Boston: Houghton…[continue]

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