President Trump confirmed that he had chatted about buying Greenland, and soon it was suggested that he wanted to trade Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, for Greenland, one of three countries that make up the Kingdom of Denmark.
Trump has confirmed that he has thought about and discussed the idea of buying Greenland. He is not the first U.S. President to think of doing so; most recently, President Truman offered Denmark $100,000,000 and some Alaskan mineral rights for an “outright sale.”
Did he suggest trading Puerto Rico for Greenland? This idea came from the New York Times, where it was reported that “At one point last year, according to a former official who heard him, he even joked in a meeting about trading Puerto Rico for Greenland — happy to rid himself of an American territory whose leadership he has feuded with repeatedly.” Author Peter Baker tweeted the same claim a couple of days later without identifying the “former official” who passed along the story.
If the story is true, it could easily have been a tasteless joke expressing irritation. There is no evidence that President Trump ever seriously proposed a swap or investigated the possibility.
Indeed, while the federal government has stated more than once that Congress has the power to give Puerto Rico away, Denmark’s position with regard to Greenland is not the same as the United State’s relationship to Puerto Rico.
The 2005 Report of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico addressed this exact issue:
The Federal Government may relinquish United States sovereignty by granting independence or ceding the territory to another nation; or it may, as the Constitution provides, admit a territory as a State, thus making the Territory Clause inapplicable. But the U.S. Constitution does not allow other options.
The point actually being made here is that independence and statehood are the only status option available to Puerto Rico if the Island changes its relationship with the United States.
Denmark responded immediately to Trump’s idea of buying Greenland, and Trump’s tweets indicated that he had given up the idea. That didn’t end the conversation.
Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) voiced support for the purchase of Greenland.
Politico pointed out that buying and selling territory used to be done without consulting the people who lived in the territories, but that the world is different in 2019.
2020 Presidential candidates,asked by the Washington Examiner, said they wanted to take care of Puerto Rico before considering adding Greenland as a U.S. territory.
The New York Times article came out, the Wall Street Journal passed the claim along, and Puerto Rico hit the headlines. Google currently offers 53,500,000 choices for web pages about trading Greenland for Puerto Rico.
Twitter got busy with jokes about “Caribbean Vikings.”
Is there any reason to believe that trading Puerto Rico for Greenland was ever an actual plan? No. Is it imminent? No. Those facts should be remembered as Americans, including the 3.2 million living in Puerto Rico, consider reactions to the joke.
Sadly, this joke is only a reminder of PR’s unstable political status.