Veteran news editor Rafael Matos wrote in an article in the New York Times that Puerto Rico has had a “rude awakening” from several recent events:
- The Sanchez-Valle decision that said that Puerto Rico does not have the sovereignty to prosecute individuals for crimes for which they have already been tried by the Federal government — and that the Government of Puerto Rico has only as much power as Congress allows.
- Another U.S. Supreme Court decision, which determined that Puerto Rico cannot make its own bankruptcy laws.
- The establishment of a federally-named board through PROMESA that can control most decisions of the Government of Puerto Rico that affect finances.
“In vulgar street talk here,” Matos said, “Puerto Rico has been stripped naked and put on show to be shamed.”
Matos, who like some other ‘commonwealthers’ who had not recognized the truth of Puerto Rico’s territory status, went on to write that this came “after we’d grown up being told we had a unique, privileged relationship with the United States — we were full citizens, free to migrate north, and autonomous to govern our own affairs. A bit like a State, without surrendering our Latin personality.”
The shame is that some of Puerto Rico’s leaders made this claim for decades and fooled many Puerto Ricans into believing it. The misrepresentation of the facts became an all-too-common misunderstanding of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States, even confusing many people in the States.
“But now it is clear that was a charade,” Matos wrote.
The word “now” in that sentence is surprising. The U.S. Government has said again and again that Puerto Rico is a territory. The PUERTO RICO REPORT has been publishing this truth since it went online in 2012.
Matos seems to dismiss this reality with this simple phrase: “Dissenters advocating statehood warned that ‘self-government’ was a mirage without a vote in Congress, or for president.”
The same could have been written about nationalists.
But it’s clear that Matos and presumably many more people didn’t get that message.
A recent study found that more than half of Americans asked did not realize that Puerto Rico is a territory of the U.S. and that Puerto Ricans are natural-born citizens of the United States.
Matos says that his realization of this fact has led him to a conclusion: “Puerto Ricans must first rediscover our inner political strengths, and unite to demand that Congress, within a decade, allows us a binding referendum on our island’s status.”
The sad thing is that the funding for that a referendum was set aside by Congress in 2014 at the request of President Obama. In 2014, the current governor of Puerto Rico proposed holding this vote but it has still not been scheduled and it does not appear that it will be this year. The governor and what is now a minority in his PDP have wanted to include an impossible “commonwealth status proposal” and another wing of the party has wanted to include a nationhood in an association with the U.S. option.
“The choices,” says Matos, referring to the choices he would like to see on the ballot, “would be statehood, with whatever consequences for our culture and economy, or independence, with its own economic pitfalls and challenges. ‘Autonomy’ would not be a choice. It has been drained of all appeal by promises broken over the decades, and indignities recently inflicted; it should be put to rest as the sham it was all along.” Matos agrees here with the Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate committee with jurisdiction over the status of territories, Lisa Murkowski. In 2013, she made this point in a Committee hearing.
Matos, a respected journalist, may be overstating the degree of surprise he felt when the developments he lists made it clear that Puerto Rico is, in fact, a territory of the United States. But his conclusion is the logical one: “Puerto Ricans will have to organize politically where members of Congress can hear us — their own districts. For that, we can call on perhaps four million enfranchised compatriots of voting age stateside to form a huge bloc to campaign — and vote — in our support. In short, we must demand the respect due every United States citizen by using that most powerful weapon of democracy: one person, one vote.”