This year, the inhabitants of debt-ridden Puerto Rico marked a dubious anniversary: one entire century of United States citizenship.
The island was charitably commandeered by the US in 1898 following the Spanish-American War, but the conferral of citizenship didn’t take place until 1917 when, The Economist has noted, the move “conveniently allowed 20,000 [Puerto Ricans] to be drafted into service in the first world war the following year”.
In addition to the luxury of being eligible to fight and die in every US war since, Puerto Ricans have enjoyed numerous other perks as Americans do.
In the 1940s and 50s, for example, there was a pretty cool law prescribing 10 years of jail time for anyone who said, sang, or whistled anything that could be construed as being against the US government.
Add to that a lengthy campaign of forced sterilisation of Puerto Rican women, the conversion of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques into a US military base and navy bombing range, and the suffocation of the local economy for the benefit of US corporate financial interests, and you wonder how Puerto Rico could possibly be better off independent.
So much for that old line about “no taxation without representation” – which was, of course, America’s justification for overthrowing its own colonial masters some 100-plus years before the acquisition of Puerto Rico.
Lest any misled person mistakenly diagnose the Puerto Rican arrangement as one of straight-up colonialism, the US judiciously pressured the United Nations in 1953 to remove the island from its list of global “non-self-governing territories”.
Now, we are told Puerto Rico is a “commonwealth” – which certainly sounds a lot more civilised than the…