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The Americans Who Can't Vote: Puerto Ricans

Or How American Imperialism Still Survives Today

I asked a good friend of mine a question the other day and I’d never felt so awkward or odd after asking someone something in all my life. I felt entitled; I felt as if I was in a superior social class and I felt like, in some way, the question made them beneath me. Who was I talking to? A Puerto Rican friend of mine. And what did I ask? "Who would you vote for if you were allowed to vote for the P.O.T.U.S?"

Strangely enough, Puerto Ricans have the right to vote in the Republican and Democratic primaries, but not in the actual election for the president. That almost seems like more of an insult than a gesture to me. If someone wanted a drink of my beer so I waited until the last sip to hand it over, that’s what this reminds me of. We are telling Puerto Ricans their opinion matters, somewhat—not as much as the 50 states, but still a little.

Why isn’t Puerto Rico a state? We own them. Puerto Rico is American territory. Why do we have territory? Are we the British Empire all of a sudden? Well, not all of a sudden, as we’ve owned them since 1916. Our federal government tells them what to do, and as they aren’t a state, aren’t offered state’s rights. They house a federal prison. When the United States federal government deemed a ban on same sex marriages unconstitutional, Puerto Rico was forced to comply. Now, I’m pro gay marriage, extremely so, in fact, but I think it is bizarre they weren’t given an option to say no, or to legalize it prior to my government deciding it was no longer morally reprehensible for members of the same sex to get hitched.

It isn’t like Puerto Ricans have it horrible. They have most of the same rights as a state, elect their own judges, vote for their own local laws and politicians just like everywhere else Uncle Sam owns. It’s not like POTUS is running through there, placing government officials in positions like a dictatorship. Yet still, they haven’t nearly the same level of representation as any American reading this article. They pardon their own criminals, and as a territory, it is now up to them whether or not to legalize marijuana, but only because other states have set the precedent doing so first. The only person fighting for them in the District of Columbia is their Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, Pedro Pierluisi. One man to represent an entire island, an entire people! Iowa has two senators and four members in the House of Representatives. The population of Iowa is 3.135 million while the population of Puerto Rico is 3.411 million. Seems legit. 

Puerto Rico has its own Senate and House of Reps, with 27 and 51 seats, respectively. An elected Governor is the head of the government, although their chief of state is the President of the United States. So, if Puerto Rico has their own government, what does the United States decide for them? Well, only interstate trade, foreign relations and commerce, customs administration, control of air, land and sea, immigration and emigration, nationality and citizenship, currency, maritime laws, military service, military bases, army, navy and air force, declaration of war, constitutionality of laws, jurisdictions and legal procedures, treaties, radio and television communications, agriculture, mining and minerals, highways, postal system, Social Security, and more. That’s a lot of stuff Puerto Ricans don’t get to choose for themselves. On paper, they get to control themselves internally except in matters covered by US Law. So, mainly in matters of public health and pollution.

There are pros and cons to everything, so being a territory is bound to have a few advantages over being a state. In this case, the advantage is taxes, which, funny enough, tax breaks for starting businesses on the island are one of the main reasons why corporate America wants Puerto Rico to stay a territory. There are some revenues which the IRS ignores in Puerto Rico but not stateside. That extra money in the hands of the citizens of Puerto Rico helps a lot, especially when we won’t let the island file for bankruptcy or do much else to help their economic situation. 

Many Puerto Ricans don’t even want to become a state, however. As it was explained to me, the American people aren’t truly in charge of their government and their voting only does so much. My friend, she pointed to the delegates not voting for Bernie Sanders as an example, and asked me why they would want to be a part of that? When asked if she would prefer to remain a territory, become a state, or gain its independence as its own nation, she told me she would prefer to become their own country, and have full control over themselves. Ironically, the United States of America, the country that values freedom more than anything, won’t give it to Puerto Rico. 

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The Americans Who Can't Vote: Puerto Ricans
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