Hurricane Maria & Puerto Rico’s lack of representation

The gargantuan hurricane Maria that tore through the Caribbean leaving mass destruction in its wake has left Puerto Rico in a great deal of trauma. Human suffering, lack of food and medical care, flooding and loss of vital infrastructure has inflicted turmoil, and the natural tragedy that unfolded has, in turn, also highlighted the human and political tragedy of the US Colony.

Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States. It’s not a state of America, nor is it an independent nation- but it still remains a part of the US. Puerto Rico has struggled to get the urgent aid it needs into the right places- a prime example of Puerto Rican’s being stifled through their lack of political representation. In a sad state of affairs through the decades, Puerto Rico has often been victimised by US imperialism- for example, during the 1970’s when Puerto Rican women were misled into being sterilised as a part of the US’s Operation Bootstrap.

Puerto Rican citizens lack any real representation in the US Congress, they can’t vote for the US President, but they must obey federal laws and pay federal taxes. An infamous phrase was uttered during the US Declaration of Independence and the ensuing revolution that followed: “no taxation without representation”. Puerto Ricans live that reality.

Imagine the gulf of difference the standard of living could be if Puerto Rico was granted federal representation, to have a voice on a national level. To organise and facilitate their own needs rather than being at the whim of a greater power. In turn, the domestic economy of Puerto Rico is firmly dependent to that of the US, removing self-determination, initiative and fortune. To navigate through this economy is difficult- being littered with lack of rights due to the islands politically ambiguous position. For instance, Puerto Ricans can’t claim social security, even if they meet the same requirements of people in the US mainland.

The 1920 Jones Act from is another prime example of Puerto Rico’s economy being rigged against itself for US interests. The Jones Act is a treatise of unjust legislation that forces Puerto Ricans to use the US Merchant Marine for all oceanic transportation of goods purchased. Obviously, being an island, Puerto Rico does not produce many of the things they want to consume. This is a costly venture that is forced upon the island colony. If they were allowed to transport goods however they pleased import costs would drop dramatically. This liberating move would save them many millions of dollars in product export.

Ultimately, the fate of all living in Puerto Rico will be improved by settling its political status- either becoming the 51st State of America or forging a path to becoming an independent nation state. The path to achieving this must be done with a genuine sense of co-operation. The injustice needs to come to an end.

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