Ritchie Torres Endorses Statehood in Response to Proposal that the U.S. Divest Itself of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico population

Elaine Duke, former acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), revealed in a New York Times interview over the weekend that President Trump asked whether the United States could “divest itself” of Puerto Rico.

Duke, who served in the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Defense for 30 years, claimed that the president wanted to “sell the Island.” She also said that such a move was “never seriously considered, for obvious reasons.”

Ritchie Torres, a New York Councilman and Congressional candidate, tweeted the news. Torres, whose father is from Puerto Rico, is expected to win the Congressional seat of Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) in November, a Congressional district that includes a sizable Puerto Rican population.

“Donald Trump’s attempt at ‘selling’ Puerto Rico serves as a reminder that the U.S.’s colonization of the Island is and always has been a grave injustice,” said the councilman. “The road to legal equality for Puerto Rico runs through statehood, which would protect the island.”

Could Trump sell Puerto Rico?

The President of the United States does not have the authority to sell U.S. territories. However, Congress could. Article 4 of the Constitution says, “The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States.”

“Dispose of” certainly could be interpreted as permission to sell Puerto Rico.

As a State, Puerto Rico would have the same sovereignty and equality with other States that the 50 current States have. Statehood would, as Torres said, protect the Island.

Congress could also in theory “divest itself” of Puerto Rico and force the territory to become an independent nation. In 1936, Senator Millard Tydings of Maryland introduced a bill to hold a referendum in Puerto Rico with the yes or no question, “Should the people of Puerto Rico be sovereign and independent?”.

Puerto Rico’s leaders rejected the plan and Congress let the bill die. Another Congressman, Vito Marcantonio of New York, responded with his own bill for Puerto Rico’s independence. This bill had better terms for Puerto Rico, but no action was taken on this bill. Congress as a whole has never seemed eager to “divest itself” of Puerto Rico.

2 Comments

howard.hills@me.com

Everyone who complains about colonialism in Puerto Rico should recognize that the status quo as a territory is inconsistent with democratic self-determination. Statehood and nationhood based on the right to independence are forms of fully democratic self-government.

What is more colonialist, to advocate full equal rights of national citizenship under statehood or independence, or to oppose those two options in favor of the status quo? Supporting greater local autonomy without equal rights of national citizenship is just as colonialist as proposing to sell Puerto Rico to another nation.

France sold a territory to the U.S. from which 15 states were formed. Was that colonialist?

It is colonialist to continue a policy of pretending we have conferred “U.S. citizenship” that denies equal rights, without a path to equality that comes only with statehood or independent nationhood.

There is no question the U.S. can unilaterally declare Puerto Rico an independent nation or a state of the union. Both are consistent with the right to self-determination under both the U.S. Constitution and international law.

Territorial status with less than equal citizenship and a “commonwealth” regime of territorial government has failed politically and economically. Because territorial status creates no vested rights to future U.S. citizenship, equal civil rights or continuation of territorial status, it would be legal for the U.S. to sell Puerto Rico to another nation. That is what is colonialist, and that is a problem because it is true, not because it is recognized to be true.

Without selling the territory, the U.S. simply could cede sovereignty to another nation. Some historical revisionists in Puerto Rico or even idealize Spanish colonial rule prior to U.S. annexation after the Spanish American War. Retrocession to Spain is an option.

Of course, Spain practiced slavery in Puerto Rico until ten years after slavery was abolished in the United States, so perhaps that option would be more controversial than selling Puerto Rico to Brazil, or declaring it independent. Would it be more colonialist for the U.S. to trade Puerto Rico to Denmark for Greenland than it was to annex Puerto Rico as a prize of conquest and then false to establish a fully democratic status for 120 years?

Maybe the U.S. should petition the U.N. to reactivate the trusteeship system and establish a self-determination process under U.N. auspices since the U.S. has not completed the decolonization process the U.S. committed to honor the we stopped making annual reports to the U.N. under Article 73(e) of the U.N. Charter.

Time for all those who complain about colonialism in Puerto Rico put up or shut up.

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