Puerto Rico’s Justice

While much of the world’s attention is focused on protests in Iran, Puerto Rico quietly advances its case against U.S. … Continued

While much of the world’s attention is focused on protests in Iran, Puerto Rico quietly advances its case against U.S. imperialism at the United Nations. This year, as in others, more and more nations call for an international solution to Puerto Rican status and an end to colonialism throughout the world. If the issue ends up the U.S. Supreme Court, I know how Justice Sonia Sotomayor will vote

While a young professor of Puerto Rican Studies, I participated in the 1970s conference held at Princeton University where Sonia was a leader of the on-campus Latino student organization. While I would not claim any direct influence over a college-age future justice, the thinking she expressed in her senior thesis is right in line with the message of us independentistas.

Catholicism is at the basis of how Puerto Ricans think about their colonial status, even when not voting for independence candidates. As expounded by last century’s patriots, José de Diego (1866-1918) and Pedro Albizu Campos (1891-1965), Catholic philosophy on nationhood defends the rights of Puerto Ricans as a people, even when denied their sovereignty by an invader. (Ireland and Poland were nations, even when wiped off the map as independent countries). What was true when Spain ruled the island is also true now that Washington calls the shots. Both leaders emphasized that no so-called “plebiscite” imposed by the invader or any laws foisted without consent can take away from Puerto Ricans their God-given right to be free. In her Princeton senior thesis, Sotomayor defended these rights even if Puerto Rico were made a state of the union.

Her and everyone else’s legal arguments are based on fundamental principles derived from Catholic teaching about nationhood. Thus, for instance, by signing the United Nations Charter, the United States is obliged to follow the international procedures for decolonization outlined in the 1960 Resolution 1514 (XV). One can even question the validity of the 1898 Treaty of Paris that allowed the United States to annex Puerto Rico in the first place. Since Puerto Rico had already been granted its sovereignty by Spain in1897, goes the legal reasoning, the treaty is not valid because Spain cannot substitute for the consent of the Puerto Rican people. As a federal judge, Sotomayor has called into question the validity of international treaties and agreements that have not been approved. While her reasoning was focused on the process within the United States, it clearly applies equally to other countries, and most especially to Puerto Rico that claims her heritage.

Most U.S. presidents in the past have swept Puerto Rican status under the rug, suggesting that it is important to only a few Latinos and Latinas, who haven’t been able to make up their minds anyway. I’m not going to use as excuse the famous “divide and conquer” strategy of the FBI and the CIA to infiltrate and subvert independence movements and organizations. But Puerto Rican public opinion is building in favor of a definitive solution. I testified at the United Nations in 1978 when all the major parties – statehood, commonwealth and independence – admitted publicly for the first time that Puerto Rico is a colony. Few Puerto Ricans deny that today.

I think Catholic America has too long neglected the resolution of Puerto Rico’s status on the agenda for social justice, perhaps because the issue is presented as a problem of “those people.” But in fact, colonialism is the problem of the United States. If you hold colonies, you are an empire. While some commentators like Charles Krauthammer believe the United States should be an empire, others, like Catholic Pat Buchanan, constantly remind us that the United States should be a republic. He reasons that remaining an empire is against the fundamental American values of freedom and democracy. In that sense, all empires are “evil empires.” In fact, presidential candidate Buchanan stated that Puerto Rico’s freedom would be one of his first executive acts.

We know that up until now, no white male judge has intervened on behalf of Puerto Rico to restore its constitutional rights. If the U.S. followed its own constitution, it would not annex colonies. It would abide by its own commitments to international law. The reason there is confusion about whether Puerto Rico’s relationship with the U.S. is an internal matter or a case for international law at the UN is because no judge has ever clarified the Puerto Rican perspective.

This is one instance where we can be sure that a “wise Latina” would make a better decision based on her life experience.

Postscript – I welcome new bloggers to this post, many of them convinced Statehooders. Their strong defense of their option confirms the basic contradiction my column framed: the clash between the US considering PR status an “internal matter” and the international view that it is resolved by applying legal principles based on nationhood. On this issue, Sonia Sotomayor has broken with her more conservative mentor, Judge Cabranes. Moreover, the UN this week has taken the first steps of bringing the US control of PR to the General Assembly, where Resolution 1514 will no doubt be applied

  • Matthew16

    Dr. Stevens-Arroyo,Puerto Ricans are American citizens, many of whom proudly serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. The people of Puerto Rico freely elect their own local government, and remain a commonwealth territory of the United States. As they have done several times in the past (1967, 1993, 1998), if Puerto Rico wants to alter their current arrangement, they may vote to decide their future (although you assert that such a plebiscite, “foisted” on the people by an “invader”, is invalid – even if resulting in statehood). Puerto could vote to end their compact with the U.S., or petition to enter the union (my preference, BTW), or maintain the status quo; while Congress is not bound to abide by any plebiscite, they would surely give great weight to the wishes of one of the territories, whatever the outcome. You fail to note that in the most recent plebiscite in 1998 (not foisted on the people by the U.S., but called by Puerto Rican leaders), the two most popular options were “Statehood” (47%) and “None of the above” (~50%) (which amounted to keeping the status quo). “Independence” received only ~2.5% of the vote – hardly a ringing endorsement for independence – hardly a ringing indictment of this putative “colonial” status.God bless,

  • RaulRVidal

    Dr. Stevens, There are several fallacies in your article that, quite frankly, shock me. The first, and most obvious, is that you disingenuously allow the reader to assume that most of the people of Puerto Rico wish independence. Nothing could be further from the truth than this; a fact that can be easily ascertained by looking at the electoral results in Puerto Rico over the past 50 years. Independence has never enjoyed more than 12% of the popular vote, and currently basks in an inglorious %2. Secondly, you are indeed correct that the Catholic Church has had a long history of supporting different nations and their political integrity, but only when they so determine it. It is Catholic to believe in Free Will, and the Second Vatican Council is absolutely clear about the Church’s responsibility to uphold the political will of the people. This includes the 98% of Puerto Ricans who believe in a Union with the US. Thirdly, although Puerto Rico is indeed a colony, it has been so for over 500 years. Spain NEVER granted us sovereignty. Please do not confuse a small degree of self-government with sovereignty. Doing so does a great disservice to those that believe in independence. Finally, I believe, as most people believe in this country (USA), that the ultimate expression of democracy is in voting. Future Justice Sotomayor realizes that, and through her decisions, has upheld this, the most basic of rights. As we speak, there is a bill in Congress (HR 2499) that will grant this right to the people of Puerto Rico – and finally, we will have the right to move forward to our own destiny – not a destiny that a few choose for us. Self determination is a right of the people, not of a few of them, as Dr. Stevens seems to be calling for in this article.Raul R. Vidal y Sepulveda

  • puertoricostatehood

    The author is clearly not Puerto Rican.These ill-advised attempts to describe the colonial situation in Puerto Rico as the ailing of an oppressed peoples is nothing more than the discourse of Puerto Ricans born in the continental U.S. seeking an affirmation of their identity. But cultural affirmation should not translate into nationalism, or is a hot dog the same as a swastika?In reality, Congress has complete authority over Puerto Rico because of its self-imposed colonial situation, and a federally sanctioned referendum on the people’s status preference is long overdue. Over 95% of Puerto Ricans support either the current state of affairs or closer relations with the federal government (only 2% of the remainder supports separation or independence).I’ve never heard of “independistas”, such as what the author calls himself. But “independentistas”, the advocates of Puerto Rico’s separation from the U.S., have always been an irrelevant minority in Puerto Rico and its numbers will continue to decrease. It was the pro status quo Popular Democratic Party that imposed colonial rule upon the people of Puerto Rico. It was not a decision made by the U.S.It is a false notion that Spain granted us independence a few months before the U.S. Army occupied Puerto Rico, and it is nothing more than a myth created by independence advocates to sustain the argument of its feasibility. Puerto Rico has indeed been a colony for 500 years, with no hiatus whatsoever.Spain did not grant Puerto Rico any representation in the Spanish Kingdom, and our Governor would have been selected by the Crown. All of our legislators were required to be Spanish. Therefore, Puerto Rican government in 1897 was less Puerto Rican than the Puerto Rican government after the Foraker Act of 1900.The 5,000 members of the Puerto Rico Statehood Students Association, Inc. (“PRSSA”) condemn this blatantly false and inflammatory piece and strongly suggest they bar this writer from further providing false information regarding Puerto Rico’s political status. If On Faith wishes to publish a note regarding Puerto Rico’s relation with the U.S., the members of PRSSA will gladly open up our library to you and provide facts and research about Puerto Rico’s centennial path towards statehood. Such a sensitive subject should not be examined with the frustration of cultural dislocation.Everyone, including those who support the status-quo and independence as options, should rally behind H.R. 2499 and its provision for first-ever federally sanctioned referenda.Thank you,Eduardo J. Soto

  • paulc2

    Dr. Stevens-Arroyo,

  • jckdoors

    This has nothing to do with religion. The soon-to-be new Justice has no say in Puerto

  • maurban

    I just wanted to echo most of the comments already made here. The author is either oblivious to the fact the a vast majority of Puerto Rican residents don’t want independence, or he intentionally tries to mislead the readers into thinking they are. He makes it sound like the U.S. is holding them hostage. Every time Puerto Ricans are allowed to vote on the subject they reject independence. The charge of imperialism is quite absurd (at least in this case)

  • mrfett

    Wow what terrific insight. Yeah, a woman who grew up in the Bronx is going to advance the cause of a bunch of zealots who are a small minority of the population of the island of Puerto Rico. Bulletproof logic there champ.

  • jro_nyc

    Dr. Stevens-Arroyo,Are you serious in your assertions about the wishes of the Puerto Rican people? Do we want independence like our Dominican neighbors who regularly make the dangerous, illegal passage to Puerto Rico, risking life and limb, in little more than canoes? Or our Cuban cousins who do nothing but eat for a solid month once they leave their “worker’s paradise”. Oh, you’re at Princeton? Well, my suggestion is to fly from Newark or Philly to San Juan, and then skip your trip to the UPR campus in Rio Piedras to talk to the local Che Guevara fan club, take a road trip, see the island, ask a guy who drives a “carro publico” and see what he thinks, or go to Ponce and hang out at the Parque de Bombas and ask the people sitting on the benches how oppressed they feel, or drive inland and have some mofongo in Orocovis, in the center of the island, and ask the people how much wish they could be “free” like the Dominicans. And when you get back to Princeton, write another article about your road trip and what you learned from your new friends about the aspirations of the average Boricua. I look forward to reading it.Jaime Romero

  • hammeresq

    Are you serious? Do happen to know the role of a judge? Apparently not.

  • CloggedCleats

    I’m mostly echoing the comments of many others: Only a tiny minority of Puerto Ricans desire the Commonwealth to be independent from the US. This high level of non-support for independence has been the case for decades. The key issue is commonwealth vs. statehood status, and the discussion is largely, although not exclusively, economic. Puerto Rico is governed by an IRS (federal) tax code that is preferential and, under our Constitution, would be unavailable to it as a state. Also, some seem to have a misunderstanding about the status of Puerto Ricans themselves. They are citizens of the USA.

  • RoguesPalace

    left unsaid in the article is a future citizenship status for the 4 million plus folks who now live on the Island, as well as the unknown number (1 million? 2 million?) who were born on the Island but now live on the US mainland..do they become citizens of a newly independent Puerto Rico? of course., but should they offered the choice of selecting between US vs Puerto Rican citizenship? probably yes, but that could give rise to a situation where perhaps 50 percent of the current residents on the Island would want to keep US citizenship, and reject PR citizenship… a joint citizenship? i would say that should be dropped as a consideration… if PR wants to be fully independent, then all those who are born on the Island – whether they live there or not- should become citizens of the new republic… which all comes back to dollars and cents… most Puerto Ricans on the Island want to keep the continued status because they get the best of both worlds: no Federal taxes; all Federal benefits (food stamps especially; and health care); but no right to help elect the president or voting members in US House of Reps and Senate…

  • louisewilson1

    After reading “this Brief” the analysis is forcing the reader to an incomplete conclusion. This is one of the most poorly written articles on Puerto Rico’s situation. It is so much more complicated. This paper should do the research then get back to us with about a three page article filled with those facts. Because they will be used.

  • RoguesPalace

    another option could take the shape of our relations with 3 Island nations in the Pacific Ocean, all UN members which the US ruled for 40+ years under UN mandate: Palau, Marshall Islands,and Federated States of Micronesia. We acquired these islands after defeat of Imperial Japan in 1945, under UN orders to prepare their peoples for which took 40+ years. these three island groups opted for independence, while a fourth island group, the Northern Mariana Islands, became a US commonwealth, the stame legal status that Puerot Rico has.

  • gothic_reader

    Sr. Stevens-Arroyo,Your writing is a typical Independitas, who tries to convey that he/she is speaking for the pueblo of Puerto Rico. As many have stated in their comments, Puerto Ricans wish to remain as “status quo”. I could just see Puerto Rico as an independent country having relationships with Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro……..be honest Sr. Stevens-Arroyo, this is what the independistas are wanting. Why don’t you convey this message, instead of conveying that the U.S. is enslaving the Puerto Ricans.

  • charlie319

    Unlike Philly born Dr. Arroyo and Bronx born Sonia Sotomayor, I’m a born and raised puertorican who actualy voted in elections there. I also served our Nation in the States and abroad.To mention De Diego and Albizu is akin to showing you a twig to represent Central Park. There are also Jose Celso Barbosa and former governor Luis A. Ferre to counterbalance viewpoints. Curerntly, the Pro-Independence Party is a micro-minority that drew 2.04% of voters in the 2008 gubernatorial election. The pro-statehood party won the election with better than 52% of the vote and the pro-commonwealth party came in second with 41.3% It would seem that this is a far cry from the 1967 figures Mr. Stevens Arroyo chose to bring us.That many leftist governments have opted to support the cause of Puertorican independence underlines the fact, that even with overpopulation, Puerto Rico has a better standard of living than any of their countries.The Christian, and inclussive, solution to this situation is to invite the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, along with the District of Columbia, into the Union via a binding plesbicite on the question of Independence or Statehood which includes the vote of every puertorican in the island or the USA.To assumethat a US born Latina with a rather public opinion on the issue will put aside her opinion on any case involving our island is to be naive to the point of sin…Offer puertoricans the statehood so many of them have earned in the battlefields of the world in the interest of the US and then let Puertoricans decide wether they want to fish or cut bait.

  • tampr2

    I congratulate this article.US had the Loyalists (who ran to Canada at the end), Puerto Rico has those who support annexation. Colonialism is always colonialism no matter when or where and there will always be a group that supports annexation under the colonial regime.

  • William-JoseVelez

    Previous comments have said it best. The degree to which the reality of Puerto Rico is distorted in this column is frankly disturbing. It is shocking to see someone using religion to justify ignoring the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans, which include maintaining a union of some sort with the United States.Furthermore, the logic or lack thereof sustaining Mr. Steven’s arguments is disconcerting. Anyone with a remote idea of Puerto Rican thought knows that this piece is as far from reality as it can be. As said before, an ever-decreasing minority is the one who calls for independence, a call that has been rejected several times by the people.Additionally, if there is anything more important to Catholicism than identity, it is personal liberty as mentioned. If we are still a colony, it is because up to this date, Puerto Ricans have not democratically chosen another form of status, in essence following traditional values. Contrary to Catholic values however, is to argue that based on race, a judge can reach a better conclusion on a subject, where the people have yet to speak for change.Nevertheless, there is one truth in this writing, “Puerto Rican public opinion is building in favor of a definitive solution.”; just not for independence.William-José Vélez

  • EliudB

    This piece has some major flaws in its basic assumptions. It seems based on some very dated concepts, including that Puerto Rico is a typical “Catholic country” as others in Latin America were decades ago. I wish to point out some updated info to the author:1. Since the 1980’s there are at least the same number of Protestants than Catholics in the island. The connection made by the author between being Catholic and Puerto Rican independence is very weak at best. To compound it with speculation of what Sonia Sotomayor may or may not do based on her religion is very disappointing.Thank you.

  • ALongoPR51

    Dr. Stevens Arroyo’s historical revisionism with regards to the autonomy granted by Spain to Puerto Rico in 1897 needs to be corrected. As has been pointed out by Mr. Eduardo Soto, the Spanish Crown never granted sovereignty to Puerto Rico. The 1897 “Carta Autonomica” was the direct result of the demands by President McKinley that the Spanish Crown make Cuba an autonomous territory similar to Canada vis a vis the U.K.The Spanish Parliament ( Las Cortes ) adamantly opposed this idea and therefor the Regent Queen issued the autonomy bill in a royal decree that granted Puerto Rico and Cuba a limited form of home rule. In Puerto Rico this created a split in the Autonomist Party between Luis Muñoz Rivera, siding with the Spanish Monarchist Party of Prime Minister Sagasta, and Dr.Jose Celso Barbosa. The latter criticized the autonomist decree as a sham that maintained the absolute authority of the Crown through the Capitan General Had Puerto Rico remained under Spain this form of limited autonomy would have been The overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans are very much aware of this history and know that since the end of the Spanish American War we have become an integral part of our American nation as U. S. Citizens. Since 1950 we have enjoyed an autonomous form of government similar to the ones enjoyed by the States of the Union. Now the time has arrived to achieve full first class citizenship with all of its privileges and responsibilities by becoming the 51st. State.Antonio M. Longo, M.D.

  • hmfmcg

    As a Puerto-rican born and raised in the United States, I know of no one in my family, either in the continental U.S. or in Puerto Rico, that supports independence. The concensus in my family is that the status quo works for most people and that independence would lead to the collapse in the quality of life. No one wants the island to end up like the D.R. or Cuba. From my experience, the biggest promoters of independence are the left wing academics/activists (btw, I consider myself left-of-center). I hate to use the term “cultural-elite” to describe these people but that’s not too far off from the truth. Mr. Stevens-Arroyo should have mentioned the actual, most current statistics regarding public sentiment. Independence advocates who dismiss such small public support tend to make some variation of the tired “false consciousness” argument to justify why more Puerto Ricans don’t see things from their point of view. Puerto Rico is in a state of social and cultural flux. No one likes the commercialism that has popped up around the island but most accept it as a way of life and as a by-product of economic development. The economy is still largely dependent on government jobs for growth. There are few native industries on the island. Independence would create a vacuum that would be occupied chiefly by the narco-traficos who could throw alot of cash around quickly. Yes, the island is still very Catholic but our generation (under 30) has a very different relationship with Catholicism than with our parents. Some of us resent the degree to which Puerto Rican identity is defined by Catholicism. Puerto Rico has long existed as both a colony and as a nation. The people of the island should decide their future. Whoops they already have! However, I would hope that Judge Sotomayor keeps her mouth shut on the matter. She serves no one if people believe she is biased.

  • usapdx


  • juanrivera

    i would like this blog approved but it probably wont i would know why. it will be seen as radical.hopefully not free speech

  • barbablanca

    How long will the “americanos” continue feeding the lazy hominidae portorisensis? We need not one, but a million Ojeda-Rios!!

  • troymslneed

    I think it is US responsability to free Puerto Rico from their extreme dependency to US and allow Puerto Rico to be a free nation in Latin America. Having a colonial relationship in the 21 century is a international embarassment.

  • Paganplace

    A lot of Irish-Americans support Ulster being made part of the Republic of Ireland: It was the right thing to do when our ancestors got here. As of now, the Republic doesn’t *want* the North. Things are more or less OK with the UK, now, despite all the history, and the Republic couldn’t afford the UK health plan people are accustomed to there.

  • Carm1

    I don’t agree with this article. Simple truth 10% of Puerto Ricans want independence. 10% Why do they get more media that the other 90%? Why?

  • puertoricoentrepreneur

    Gosh, where to begin. Let me say I have lived in Puerto Rico 4 years. Let me say that I speak Spanish and I read Spanish newspapers and listen to Spanish radio here in Puerto Rico. Let me say that Mr. Arroyo doesn’t know what he is talking about. Puerto Rico does not want, and could not handle, independence.I get so tired of people pretending that Puerto Rico is somehow a disadvantaged colonial stool pigeon. Puerto Rico is the most blessed island in the world that takes the least responsibility for its own future. Whatever happened in the past, the reality of today is that PUERTO RICO ENJOYS ALL THE BENEFITS OF A U.S. STATE AND NONE OF THE RESPONSIBILITIES.I love how liberals have to whine constantly about Puerto Rico. And of course they cry at the U.N. Only there will they find liberals stupid enough to listen to them. Only there will people take their claims of “subjugation” seriously.Independence for Puerto Rico is a joke. I wish people like Mr. Arroyo would stop it. Someday soon, their whining may get them what they want. And woe is Puerto Rico then.

  • freebrainworking

    Incredible how this Pro Independence majority can make noise!…Only less than 5% of puertoricans are really Pro independence… Ninety five percent of Puerto Ricans value our US relationship but we really don’t like not being able to elect our President! (GO OBAMA) …Worst of all we still don’t have VOTES or equal representation in Congress!… USA should be an example to the world and promote democracy and equality for their American citizens. It is a shame that Puertoricans are still not treated as equal!… Slavery was abolished, Colonialism and Imperialism are still alive and USA is guilty in letting this go on!

  • freebrainworking

    Bah, religion and Politics don’t mix! Thats why my family is changing of church and going Episcopal like Father Alberto Cutie!… Our Puerto Rico Catholic Cardenal is really identified with the minority PRO INDEPENDENCE party. I feel he should not be participating in Politics but he is doing it!…Another reason why Catholicism is declining everywhere. Hope the Pope grabs his ears!