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Neither fish nor fowl

The Boston Globe has a rather interesting story this morning. It seems that some residents of Puerto Rico feel that their young men have been dying at a disproportionate rate in Iraq, and the notion that they are denied the full privileges of being a part of the United States has them questioning their current status as a semi-independent commonwealth.

Puerto Rico's status is unique. It is a commonwealth, and its citizens have full United States citizenship and all the privileges thereof. But the island itself is not a state, and is not subject to the privileges and duties thereof. For examples, they have no representatives in Congress, they cannot vote in presidential elections, but they pay no federal income tax on income earned on the island.

According to the Boston Globe, some Puerto Ricans feel that these young men's deaths are a good reason to re-evaluate their relationship to the United States. Perhaps they should seek independence from the US, and become their own nation. Or maybe they should seek full statehood, and bind themselves permanently to the US. (After all, they're a hell of a lot closer to the US both geographically and culturally than Hawaii was when it became a state.)

But that's irrelevant to the Globe's story. The Globe is just using the Puerto Ricans to make a thinly-veiled swipe at the war in Iraq, using a few people's doubts to buttress their case against the war.

My evidence? The people of Puerto Rico have, on numerous occasions, held referendums on whether or not to seek a formal change in their relationship with the United States -- four times in the past decade or so. And each and every single time, the preservation of the status quo has won. Puerto Ricans have weighed their current economic benefits versus the political gains, and in each time voted for their wallets.

Further, the Globe seems to forget that we have an entirely volunteer military. Every single man and woman in the armed services CHOSE to sign up of their own free will, and to imply otherwise as the Globe does is to give them a grave insult. Further, the military is one of the greatest exemplars of Dr. Martin Luther King's vision of a color-blind institution -- in many ways, the armed services are almost a pure meritocracy, where its members are judged not on the color of their skin, but the content of their character.

So the Globe thinks they should vote again? Fine. Let them. I suspect that despite the Glob's hand-wringing and cherry-picking its interviewees, the people of Puerto Rico will once again choose to stay their current course.

And if not, fine. It'll be a bit of a pain to redo the flag to add another star, but I'm sure we'll figure it out.

The one thing that must not be done, however, is to extend to Puerto Rico any more privileges of statehood without incurring the responsibities and burdens of being a state. In a truly free society, rights and responsibilities are intertwined and inseperable. Rights alone are license and an invitation to anarchy and chaos, while responsibilities alone are tyranny.

So I welcome yet another vote by the Puerto Ricans. But the choices should be three: complete independence, with all that entails; formal statehood, with all that entails; or a continuation of their current status. And if they go for the third option, we should regularly re-visit it -- say, another vote every five or ten years. None of this "one man, one vote, one time" crap that other, tyrannical nations try to pass off as "democracy."

And whatever the decision is, by the majority of the people of Puerto Rico, we should respect and honor.

(Note: previous discussion of this issue here.)


Comments (6)

Ah, rights and responsiblit... (Below threshold)
goddessoftheclassroom:

Ah, rights and responsiblities intertwined. This is the most important message of education. Sadly, students are quite familiar with their rights, but they bristle at the thought that they should have responsibilities to go with them.

I'll have to talk about thi... (Below threshold)

I'll have to talk about this with my friend Eric (from Puerto Rico) and see what his feelings are.

Puerto Rico has too high a ... (Below threshold)
cubanbob:

Puerto Rico has too high a standard of living for it to be an independent nation. The local economy cannot maintain that standard. Without Washington providing massive subsidies they would be unable to stay at the current per capita level. A fully independent Puerto Rico would be on an express elevator to Santo Domingo.

Statehood is not an option. They could not maintain the high internal income tax plus the excise tax they levy on all imported ( to the island)goods. A large percent of the island's workforce is employed by the Commonwealth and municipal government. far larger than any US state. Then they are other issues such as language and culture. If PR was a state it would be the poorest US state. Then their the possibility of the humiliation that the Congress might not accept them as a state.

They would rather be the richest Caribbean state and not be the poorest US state. This is why they always vote for the status quo and not for independence or statehood.

questioning their curre... (Below threshold)
Chap:

questioning their current status as a semi-independent commonwealth.

Dude, this is the status quo. The tension is almost perfectly balanced between groups in Puerto Rico.

A buddy of mine did his master's thesis about this very subject. During the grilling session one of the profs asked, "Why should Puerto Rico change? They get billions in aid, US citizenship, and get to bash the Yanquis."

Good point.

I read the article and foun... (Below threshold)
carlos:

I read the article and found it to be strongly biased in favor of the annexation movement. There are no commonwealth or independence leaders interviewed or mentioned. Why there is so much fear in the US press to call us a Nation without sovereignty? after all, we compete against their teams every 4 years in the world olympics and Puerto Rico had the honor of defeating the US Basketball dream team in Athens in 2004.

Hey, great idea, we should ... (Below threshold)

Hey, great idea, we should have that vote in every state every 10 years.




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