Imagine for a moment that, tomorrow, three million people of color in the United States lost the right to vote for president and to elect voting representatives to Congress, even as that Congress continues to pass legislation that shapes their lives. Most Americans would rightfully consider it a democratic crisis and an affront to racial justice; political outrage and action would be swift.
And yet, that very political powerlessness has been the status quo in Puerto Rico for more than a century, since the United States invaded the archipelago in 1898 and established a colonial relationship that endures to this day. But like the proverbial frog in slowly boiling water, Americans have become so accustomed to this objectionable political reality that it hardly garners attention or concern.
This apathy and inaction must end: the United States has a moral responsibility to end its political subjugation of Puerto Rico. To that end, Congress should pass H.R. 2070, the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act (PRSDA), which would establish an inclusive and transparent decolonization process that respects Puerto Ricans’ rights, nationhood and identity.
We are two Puerto Rico-born Colorado residents working with Boricuas Unidos en la Diáspora (BUDPR), a group of Puerto Ricans in the United States and around the world who advocate for a just political future for our homeland. As part of this work, we have recently met with members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation, four of whom sit on the House Natural Resources Committee which oversees Puerto Rico — Representative Neguse is already a co-sponsor of the PRSDA, along with more than 80 other influential Democrats. Time and again, we’ve heard how important it is for members of Congress to hear from their constituents about this issue.
That relationship between public officials and the voters who elect them is fundamental to democracy, and it throws into stark relief the egregious political subordination of Puerto Ricans. Whose constituents are the millions of Puerto Ricans on the island? Who speaks for and listens to them? Puerto Ricans elect a single delegate to Congress who cannot vote on legislation and is therefore, for all intents and purposes, politically impotent. No other elected official in the United States answers to the Puerto Rican people. At the same time, the U.S. has ignored, in the best of times, and violently repressed in the worst of times, the Puerto Rican independence movement, suppressing any efforts toward national liberation.