The Boston Globe has a rather interesting story this morning. It seems that some residents of Puerto Rico feel that their young men have been dying at a disproportionate rate in Iraq, and the notion that they are denied the full privileges of being a part of the United States has them questioning their current status as a semi-independent commonwealth.
Puerto Rico’s status is unique. It is a commonwealth, and its citizens have full United States citizenship and all the privileges thereof. But the island itself is not a state, and is not subject to the privileges and duties thereof. For examples, they have no representatives in Congress, they cannot vote in presidential elections, but they pay no federal income tax on income earned on the island.
According to the Boston Globe, some Puerto Ricans feel that these young men’s deaths are a good reason to re-evaluate their relationship to the United States. Perhaps they should seek independence from the US, and become their own nation. Or maybe they should seek full statehood, and bind themselves permanently to the US. (After all, they’re a hell of a lot closer to the US both geographically and culturally than Hawaii was when it became a state.)
But that’s irrelevant to the Globe’s story. The Globe is just using the Puerto Ricans to make a thinly-veiled swipe at the war in Iraq, using a few people’s doubts to buttress their case against the war.
My evidence? The people of Puerto Rico have, on numerous occasions, held referendums on whether or not to seek a formal change in their relationship with the United States — four times in the past decade or so. And each and every single time, the preservation of the status quo has won. Puerto Ricans have weighed their current economic benefits versus the political gains, and in each time voted for their wallets.
Further, the Globe seems to forget that we have an entirely volunteer military. Every single man and woman in the armed services CHOSE to sign up of their own free will, and to imply otherwise as the Globe does is to give them a grave insult. Further, the military is one of the greatest exemplars of Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of a color-blind institution — in many ways, the armed services are almost a pure meritocracy, where its members are judged not on the color of their skin, but the content of their character.
So the Globe thinks they should vote again? Fine. Let them. I suspect that despite the Glob’s hand-wringing and cherry-picking its interviewees, the people of Puerto Rico will once again choose to stay their current course.
And if not, fine. It’ll be a bit of a pain to redo the flag to add another star, but I’m sure we’ll figure it out.
The one thing that must not be done, however, is to extend to Puerto Rico any more privileges of statehood without incurring the responsibities and burdens of being a state. In a truly free society, rights and responsibilities are intertwined and inseperable. Rights alone are license and an invitation to anarchy and chaos, while responsibilities alone are tyranny.
So I welcome yet another vote by the Puerto Ricans. But the choices should be three: complete independence, with all that entails; formal statehood, with all that entails; or a continuation of their current status. And if they go for the third option, we should regularly re-visit it — say, another vote every five or ten years. None of this “one man, one vote, one time” crap that other, tyrannical nations try to pass off as “democracy.”
And whatever the decision is, by the majority of the people of Puerto Rico, we should respect and honor.
(Note: previous discussion of this issue here.)