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