Call for Comments: On Puerto Rico

People take to the Las Americas Highway in San Juan, Puerto Rico, July 22, 2019 on day 9th of continuous protests demanding the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló. – (Photo by Eric Rojas / AFP)ERIC ROJAS/AFP/Getty Images

From Katya: We have another serious episode in the works. On July 18th, Puerto Ricans began protesting in response to the leaked text messages of their governor, Ricardo Rosselló. The messages document his homophobia, misogyny and disregard for his own people— including mocking the victims of Hurricane Maria and the fatal response from the U.S. government in 2017.  Police have escalated these originally these non-violent protests into the conflicts we’ve been seeing in the news. All of this is merely the most recent incident in a much longer history of colonialism and corruption that has cost many Puerto Ricans their lives. And all of that is something I know very little about.

Every time Puerto Rico makes it into the national news we are reminded how many Americans aren’t even aware that the island’s inhabitants are American citizens, let alone anything more substantive about the political position of the island. I first learned about Puerto Rico in school as a brief sidebar in the textbook history of  the British Empire that amounted to “oh by the way the United States also has a colony but please look at the American colonists dumping tea in a harbor because sovereignty” Based on the statistics, it seems like my experience isn’t uncommon at all.

Puerto Rico was colonized in 1493 by Spain after the arrival of Christoper Columbus. Puerto Rican Sovereignty movements date back to, at least, 1868. The United States later acquired Puerto Rico in the Treaty of Paris in 1898, which ended the “Spanish-American War.”* Puerto Ricans became citizens in 1917, however the residents of the territory cannot vote in federal elections nor do they have voting representatives in Congress. With neither sovereignty nor statehood, Puerto Rico is the oldest colony in the Western Hemisphere. 

And that’s about where my knowledge ends, so in order to educate myself and our listeners I’m dragging a friend of mine on the show to talk about U.S. empire and the Puerto Rican resistance. If you have questions for us to discuss please leave them in the comments!

*I just want to flag this as a topic we will address but it was pointing out to me that the name “Spanish-American War” is misleading and problematic– want to know why? Listen to our upcoming episode!

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