Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Memories of Empire, Part Two: My Old San Juan


American citizens may soon be surprised to find out that their choice for President will be decided by people who are not allowed to vote in the November election. No, its not a conspiracy of capitalist thugs or some shadow government. Its the people of Puerto Rico.

Right now, Clinton and Obama are running neck and neck to attract delegates before the nominating convention this summer. It seems every state counts. Puerto Rico is not a state, but since 1917, all Puerto Ricans are U.S citizens. They will be allowed to vote in the Puerto Rican primary. And it is going to matter this year. Puerto Rico has 60+ delegates in the primaries. That's more than most states have and ranks it up there with the powerhouses of New York, California, and Florida.

However, Puerto Ricans will not be able to vote in the general election in November. Why? Because they do not live in a state. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth holding of the United States. It has limited powers of self-rule and any laws passed by the government of Puerto Rico can be vetoed by Congress. According to the Constitution, it is the states that get to set the rules for voting (in accordance with federal law and the Constitution). Hence, it is only citizens who are residents in states who may vote in federal elections( thus, citizens of Washington, D.C. don't get to vote either--of course, there are 4 million Puerto Ricans, so its a big difference).

As Antonio Darder point out here, this primary situation is a mixed blessing. Hopefully, some people might be shocked to learn the power Puerto Rico has in this decision making process of leadership--without really having a meaningful place at the table--and start to ask questions.

The reason for all of it, of course, is simple: colonialism. Puerto Ricans are second class citizens and the island, an economic disaster, has been exploited for its natural and human resources for over 500 years, first by the Spanish and then by the United States.

Over a hundred years ago, Mark Twain spoke out over this condition. He became a leader in the Anti-Imperialist League and wrote about the Treaty of Paris between the U.S. and Spain that gave the former control over Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Phillipines. Perhaps we should finally heed his words:

"It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land."

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