Let Puerto Rico Remain Puerto Rico

by Patrick J. Buchanan – September 15, 1998

On July 25, 1898, U.S. Gen. Nelson Miles and his troops waded ashore at Guanica to capture Puerto Rico. Since the time of Queen Isabella and Columbus, the island had belonged to Spain.

On the 100th anniversary of Miles’ invasion, thousands came to Guanica — some to celebrate 100 years of association, others to decry a century of Yankee imperialism. In New York, 1,000 Puerto Ricans marched to the United Nations to denounce U.S. colonialism.

Few Americans took notice. But were Puerto Rico a state, these would be acts of sedition of the kind that prompted President Andrew Jackson to threaten to hang the secessionist leaders of South Carolina, including Vice President John C. Calhoun, in 1832.

Those U.S. senators who are blithely preparing to vote to put Puerto Rico on a fast track to statehood had best realize what they are doing. They are about to vote to have the United States swallow a nation with a separate culture, language and identity from our own, and to try to assimilate a people who will fight assimilation.

In 1996, Gov. Pedro Rossello declared that his island was not a nation. Yet a poll taken by the island’s main daily newspaper, El Nuevo Dia, found that 62 percent of Puerto Ricans disagreed. That 62 percent said Puerto Rico, not the United States, is their “nation.” And even statehood supporters say that the island’s Spanish language and culture are non-negotiable.

Not only is there nothing wrong with this sentiment, there is everything right about the patriotic pride the people of Puerto Rico have in who they are. America herself could use more of it.

But just as Puerto Rico has a God-given right to remain Puerto Rico, America has a God-given right to remain America. And when The Washington Post says that Puerto Rican statehood is an issue of “self-determination,” it neglects to mention that it is an issue of self-determination for Americans as well.

And here is where the statehood backers are arrogant. While they rightly insist that Puerto Rico not be forced to give up its unique identity, they are demanding that the United States give up its unique identity — and become a bilingual and bicultural nation.

The answer must be no. For that would be suicidal. From Russia to the Balkans, from the Po Valley to the Basque region of Spain, from Scotland to Quebec, bilingual, bicultural nations are breaking up over the issues of language and culture.

For the United States to attempt to absorb and assimilate this independent island people could trigger a renewal of the terrorism of recent decades, when Puerto Rican nationalists shot down five congressmen on the House floor and tried to assassinate President Truman.

In the war in which we acquired Puerto Rico, the United States made the most fateful foreign policy blunder of its history. After Adm. Dewey sank the Spanish squadron at Manila Bay, the United States annexed the Philippines, 10,000 miles away, and sent an army to crush the Filipino independence movement. Within two years, this republic was ensnared in the politics of imperial China, which led directly to repeated collisions and eventual war with Japan. From that war would come U.S. assumption of Japan’s strategic role of containing China and Russia. From that would come wars in Korea and Vietnam.

The one good thing to come out of war against the Filipino independence movement of Emilio Aguinaldo was that it soured Americans on imperialism. Thus, we did not annex Cuba.

We Americans are good at many things. But colonialism and imperialism are not the specialties of republics. Let Puerto Rico remain Puerto Rico, and let the United States remain the United States and not try to absorb, assimilate and Americanize a people whose hearts will forever belong to that island.

Indeed, it is not Puerto Rico’s people who are clamoring for statehood but the island’s political and corporate elite who see sugar plums dropping from Washington should statehood come and Puerto Rico become eligible for the lavish social programs funded by Congress.

If he does not get what he wants — a Senate vote, before adjournment, on the fast-track-to-statehood bill — Gov. Rossello has threatened to smear Republicans this fall as anti-Hispanic.

Majority Leader Trent Lott should send Rossello packing. Not only is his threat political extortion; it reveals how nasty and explosive ethnic politics have become. Indeed, Rossello’s conduct itself argues for the permanent separateness of our two nations and two peoples, not some shotgun marriage.