For a nation primarily born out of a taxation dispute with its colonial over-lord, the US has had something of an ambivalent approach to imperialism ever since. So it is then that The Land of the Free doesn’t seem to apply to both Puerto Rico and Washington D.C in the way that it does to the regular 50 states of the Union. (The same is also true of the likes of Guam and American Samoa – discussions for another time.)

The issue of Puerto Rico and statehood was jarringly brought into perspective once more in the wake of the devastating impact of Hurricane Maria in late 2017. Trump’s dismal visit to the island to “address” that problem, was akin to that of a late nineteenth century European monarch’s superficial and disinterested excursion to a far-flung part of their overseas empire – arrogant, uncalled for and devoid of human decency. [1]

Nearly 3.5 million US citizens live in Puerto Rico. Despite that, they have no representation in Congress and while many are not obliged to make a federal tax return each year, they are still American taxpayers. “They pay payroll taxes, business taxes, and estate taxes. They helped pay for disaster relief in Texas after Hurricane Harvey and in Florida after Hurricane Irma.” [2]

The reality is, Puerto Rico is a hang-over from the late nineteenth century Spanish-American war. While liberated Cuba eventually broke free of American rule, Puerto Rico, swept up by the US during those hostilities, has never been afforded the luxury of anything else other than subsequent semi-colonial status.

The traditional role of the US being a full-throated advocate for democracy and being a role model for newly decolonized countries around the world, particularly so post World War Two, is fundamentally undermined by its current relationship with Puerto Rico. Sadly, there is also a questionable undertone of race that can be read here – the subservience of a Hispanic / Latino demographic to that of white America. That is absolutely unacceptable.