There’s widespread disagreement on the nature of the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico and whether it should ever change. As Puerto Rico grows, its desire to become a state increases. However, the Trump administration seems unwilling to consider this possibility. Just this month, a spokesperson for the White House referred to Puerto Rico as “that country” on national television, while President Trump himself is notorious for engaging in impassioned rants against Puerto Rico’s leadership and the amount of goverment money designated to help the island after Hurricane Maria.
As President Trump and his minions continue to whine about the “crazed and incompetent” government of Puerto Rico, they fail in their responsibility to address the ongoing crisis that is occurring in a U.S. territory. Instead of leading, the President’s administration continues to complain about the amount of aid sent to the island to the extent that they have made up “alternative” dollar amounts to cover their pathetic response to a terrible natural disaster. Trump’s strategy is based on the premise that anybody else — from Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, to the Democratic Party — is to blame but him. Instead of providing any constructive effort, his empty rhetoric instead fuels the resentment against foreigners that his base seems to thrive on.
Trump accused Congress of being unwilling to help Midwestern states wrecked by other natural disasters and instead offering an exorbitant amount of money to a place that would “only take from USA.” Seemingly unbeknownst to him, Puerto Rico is part of the United States. Those living on the island are United States citizens, just as American as any farmer from the Midwest.
Trump’s gross incompetence disregards almost three thousand Americans who lost their lives after Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria. He further disrespects this loss of life by claiming that the death toll had been exaggerated by his enemies in order to make him look as bad as possible. Trump’s ignorant response to this tragedy only confirms a negative sentiment towards many Puerto Ricans who feel as if they are “second-class citizens.” It doesn’t help when those defending the President from criticism claim that he has no responsibility because Puerto Rico is not an official state of the U.S., but rather a territory. After all, they say that Puerto Rico has had plenty of opportunities to join the country but they have refused to do so. The fact the people living on the island are in indeed American citizens has been rendered insignificant.
Puerto Rico currently rests uneasily in a jurisdictional limbo. Those born in Puerto Rico are granted U.S. citizenship the moment they are born. They are permitted to participate in primary elections, but they have no electoral college votes — meaning that they have no say when it comes to Presidential elections. The island pays taxes, but not the income tax, which many people claim is reason enough for disqualification from incorporation. Puerto Ricans send representatives to Congress, but unfortunately, they have no ability to vote. In this sense, Puerto Rico is similar to D.C., and it participates in the political circus without having the ability to affect national decisions that will inevitably affect the lives of those who live there.
Some have described the relationship between the US and Puerto Rico as being “colonial” instead of equitable. If Puerto Rico wanted to pursue the path to becoming the 51st state, there is no protocol for them to do so. The most recent referendum to join the U.S. gained a 97% favorable vote. However, less than a quarter of the population showed up to the polls. The alienation between the U.S. and Puerto Rico is evident, and the rhetoric from the Trump administration certainly does not make things easier. Even though there is some truth behind the President’s remarks regarding corruption within the local government, Puerto Rico is not a foreign developing country far away in the middle of the sea. While it is an occupied territory rather than an official state, the lawful United States citizens who live on the island should be entitled to the same rights and obligations as those who inhabit the rest of the country.
Since its financial crisis, it seems as if many politicians have worked to create more public distance between themselves and the island. At best, Puerto Rico is viewed as a foreign territory that has little to do with the mainland. At worst, it’s coded as a parasite by national leaders. The United States seems to be concerned with maintaining its looming presence around the globe, even if that means clinging onto Puerto Rico without offering it proper representation.