he Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is a political and economic anachronism. Twenty-five years ago the establishment of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was the official U.S. response to the worldwide process of decolonization. It was the "showcase of democracy" for colonial peoples and underdeveloped countries, the U.S. model of how a country could pull itself out of poverty "by its own bootstraps" through an intimate political and economic relationship with the United States. By 1977, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has become a source of embarrassment to the United States. Today Puerto Rico is one of the few colonies left in the world. It is an extreme example of social deterioration, with some of the world's highest indexes for drug addiction, alcoholism, broken families, and criminality. The economy is admittedly decadent: real personal income has decreased since 1973, real unemployment rates fluctuate between 30 and 40 percent, while 71 percent of all households depend on the U.S. food-stamp program.1 The world has changed. The United States has changed. Puerto Rico has changed. But the legal and economic structures of Commonwealth status remain unaltered, a bar to economic, social and political development congruent with the new realities. Commonwealth is a brittle residue of the cold war, a pawn left over from a game of international politics long since concluded. On December 31, 1976, President Gerald Ford declared that he would submit to Congress legislation for the admission of Puerto Rico to the Union as a state. President Ford's Tory farewell to the bicentennial year of the Declaration of Independence was a confession of the economic and political failure of Commonwealth, and underlines the need to think anew on Puerto Rico-United States relations. This rethinking, in my view, will demonstrate that the convolutions of Puerto Rican political history can only be understood as a prolonged and vain attempt to circumvent independence as the self-evident right of Puerto Rico. II
On July 25, 1898, as a consequence of the Spanish-American War, U.S. troops invaded Puerto Rico. They confronted a homogeneous society four centuries old and at that time in the first stages of capitalist development. The still young native bourgeoisie was composed mainly of landowners of small and medium-sized holdings devoted to the cultivation and processing of coffee, tobacco and, to a lesser degree, sugar cane. It was a class of ample culture and growing political expertise. The urban middle classes were integrated by connections between government employees and retail businessmen closely tied to Spanish political and commercial interests. A small number of craftsmen and industrial workers spread throughout the Island had not yet coalesced into an urban working class. But the vast majority of the population were the landless agricultural workers and subsistence farmers, mostly illiterate and traditionally alienated from the official political and cultural institutions of the Spanish colonial system. Shortly before the invasion, the Autonomic Charter of 1897, accepted by Spain as a way of sidestepping independence, had established on the Island a limited elective government. This Charter, generous though it was, was the work of the Creole landowning class whose economic and social ideology closely matched the political program of fin-de-siècle Spanish liberalism. Autonomy meant the orderly administration of Puerto Rico by a privileged caste for its own benefit and for the economic and strategic benefit of a colonial power. This political system was unilaterally dismantled by U.S. military fiat and congressional action. Progressive Puerto Ricans, however, had organized and developed an independence program based on the need to guarantee individual liberties as much as on national liberation. The abolition of slavery in 1873 is directly attributable to the leaders of the independence movement, who, in 1868, had planned and tried to execute...
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