Puerto Rico’s biggest problem in dealing with Washington is of the same nature as that increasingly shared by too many Americans. Puerto Rico’s biggest problem in dealing with Washington is of the same nature as that increasingly shared by too many Americans. We citizens much too often find ourselves in the position of supplicants to Washington rather than, at minimum, as dignified peers. Might there be a way to change this?
Puerto Rico is in the terribly awkward position of territorial status. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. Yet they are not entitled to vote for president. They have a “resident commissioner” to, not a full Member of, Congress. They have no Senators.
Some prominent Puerto Rican leaders are advocating recognition of Puerto Rico as America’s 51st State, with full dignity. Congress recently appropriated, and President Obama approved, $2.5 million to fund a referendum by Puerto Rico on whether its people wish for statehood.
Heritage Foundation acidly criticized this appropriation. “There is no reason for the American taxpayers to spend any money on another plebiscite — if the Puerto Rican government wants to do so, why doesn’t it do it on its own dime?”
Heritage might have a point, although not for its stated reason (of producing a one time saving of … a little less than a penny per American). Rather, Puerto Rico should think hard about accepting this money if it might involve strings that would put it at a disadvantage to Washington. How might that happen? For example, legislation pending in the Senate would confine the plebiscite to a yes or no on statehood (with no commitment by the United States to offer that).
If by taking the money Puerto Rico could be surrendering its trump card, it should decline the funding. What trump card might that be?
There is something out there that really would snap Puerto Rico out of supplicant status and command Washington’s attention. It might actively consider affiliation with a sovereign entity other than the United States.
Such as Russia.
If the leaders of the Puerto Rican statehood movement really wanted to galvanize America into making Puerto Rico the 51st state they could seek a dialogue with Vladimir Putin. Might Mother Russia, currently in an expansive mood, welcome Puerto Rico as its 86th political division. (Let us leave it to the Puerto Ricans whether it would prefer the status of oblast, republic, krais, autonomous oblast, or autonomous okrug.)
Imagine, if you will, the look on secretary of state John Kerry’s face one fine morning upon learning of a Puerto Rican delegation meeting with Vladimir Putin to open a conversation — just an inquiry, mind you — about whether Russia might wish to offer Puerto Rico statehood.
The Kremlin might well be interested in having such a conversation with Puerto Rican leaders. Would Moscow’s terms include full voting rights in Russian presidential elections? Full representation in the Duma? Encouragement of Russian tourism to the Isle of Enchantment? Promotion of fine Puerto Rican rum, within Russia, right alongside its traditional vodka?
Might Russia be in the mood to provide Puerto Rico some financial largesse in dealing with its staggering $70B, non-dischargeable, debt? Yes, $70B is a lot of money. It is slightly more than Russia spent in staging the Sochi Olympics….
Alfonso Aguilar, former head of American citizenship under President George W. Bush, now heads the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles (with whose sister organization I have a professional relationship on unrelated matters). He is a prominent Puerto Rico statehood advocate. By email to this columnist Aguilar writes, “I’ll say this: I wish Washington would show the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico the same level of loyalty and commitment that Vladimir Putin has shown to the Russian population of Crimea.”
President Ronald Reagan (on whose staff I had the great honor to serve as a junior official in completely unrelated areas) warmly embraced Puerto Rican statehood.. President Reagan’s Statement Reaffirming Support of Statehood for Puerto Rico, January 12, 1982:
Puerto Ricans have borne the responsibilities of U.S. citizenship with honor and courage for more than 64 years. They have fought beside us for decades and have worked beside us for generations. … In statehood, the language and culture of the island—rich in history and tradition-would be respected, for in the United States the cultures of the world live together with pride.
We recognize the right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination. If they choose statehood, we will work together to devise a union of promise and opportunity in our Federal union of sovereign States.
Some conservatives inexplicably have drifted from Reagan’s position. Some Republicans also seem unaccountably tepid toward Puerto Rican statehood. As for the Democrats, who knows? Statehood for Puerto Rico is not high on official Washington’s agenda.
That can be changed. Just the possibility of Puerto Rico’s joining Russia, and of America then awakening to find Russia only a 60 minute flight from Miami, likely would galvanize sudden conservative Republican enthusiasm for the idea of Puerto Rican statehood. Maybe it even would energize the liberal Democrats.
If advocates of Puerto Rican statehood wished to transform their cause into a very high priority matter for Washington, there is a ready way. Pick up the telephone and dial +7 (495) 606-3602, Mr. Putin’s office.
Ask for an appointment with Mr. Putin.
Send a delegation.
Start an international conversation.
For the benefit of my more literalistic readers… this is is not a call for Puerto Rico to join the Russian Federation. It is presented as a way for some of our fellow American citizens to approach an apathetic, out of touch, Washington, DC with citizen power and with the dignity, instead of supplicant status, that citizens deserve in dealing with their federal government.
Hasta la vista, baby.