The Black Lives Matter movement has created the moment to rethink the country’s racist and discriminatory patterns against its territories.
In recent days it has been revealed that after the passage of Hurricane María, President Donald Trump inquired about the possibility of selling the island of Puerto Rico to another country.
The mere fact that the president could consider such a possibility uncovers another despicable side of colonialism: the discrimination and racism that the American citizens of Puerto Rico are subject to because of their political relationship with the United States.
This revelation took on greater importance in the face of the assassination of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others killed by police officers has forced the United States to question whether the nation is, in fact, upholding the principles of freedom and equality on which it was built. Experience shows that in the United States, Black citizens and other people of color have traditionally been discriminated against and deprived of the opportunity to reach their full potential.
The discovery of this imposture makes this the right time for the nation to face another important pattern of racist and discriminatory conduct. It is the policy regarding its territories, particularly Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans.
The United States has covered up its discriminatory policy against Puerto Rico under the deep and murky waters of the Territorial Clause—a constitutional provision that confers authority to Congress to manage the inventory of real estate that, for various reasons, comes under the control of the United States.
Through artificial legal scaffolding, the Territorial Clause concealed the degradation of the Puerto Rican people, reducing them to a subhuman category that justifies the possibility of the United States deciding to dispose of the island as if it were its guardian or owner.
In other words, what the Territorial Clause does is a legal leap of acrobatic dimensions: from the congressional control over a piece of land, it draws the power to degrade and treat human beings living in those territories different from other U.S. citizens.
In June, under the same clause, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized and validated, a financial oversight panel on the finances of the island appointed by Congress and the president, undermining the authority of Puerto Rico’s elected officials over strictly local matters.
If the U.S. constitutional scheme operates according to the understanding that the power and legitimacy of any governmental structure emanate from the will of all human beings, then it must be questioned, why does that not apply to Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans? Why do Puerto Ricans, unlike other Americans, have fewer rights and less freedom to act and decide on issues fundamental to our very existence?
In 1922, the former president, then Chief Justice, William Taft, laid out the basis for such distinctions in the case of People v. Balzac, stating that Puerto Ricans come from a distant oceanic community, have very different origins and speak a different language from the rest of the human beings living in the continental United States. Such articulation, a hundred years later, remains the basis of any distinction with Puerto Rico.
This is a racial-ethnic problem. It is derived from the concept that there are higher beings and lower beings and that this justifies the subordination of the latter to the former. Puerto Ricans, for the Supreme Court and many of those who hold the political and economic hegemony of the nation, are in the second category; that is, we are inferior beings.
If at any time that offensive and inhuman pattern of discrimination could be overlooked, today, after the assassination of George Floyd, it is simply neither admissible nor tolerable. Neither on the streets of Minneapolis nor in the “territory” of Puerto Rico is there justification for dispossessing a person of his or her own dignity and inalienable rights.
Congress can define how it manages its properties, but Puerto Ricans are neither things nor objects owned by others. There is an inherent bastion in the very human condition of Puerto Ricans that neither the Territorial Clause, nor Congress, nor Trump, nor anyone else, can strip from us.
If it is time for the United States to end the discrimination and denial of humanity to Black citizens, it is also time to end ethnic and racial discrimination against Puerto Ricans. The colony is the crudest of all types of discrimination and the moment for its final eradication has come.