When U.S. President Barack Obama used terms such as “military intervention,” “universal right to self-determination,” “sovereignty,” and “international laws and obligations” in his initial remarks on Russia’s actions in Crimea I immediately thought of Puerto Rico.
What’s happening in Ukraine?
Crimea is an autonomous republic within the Ukrainian state. Recently, the Crimean Parliament (seized by Russia’s military) proposed to hold a public referendum later this week to determine whether or not the region will secede from Ukraine and be incorporated into Russia. President Obama has stated that such a referendum would be unconstitutional and in violation of international law. Indeed, the referendum would violate Article 73 of Ukraine’s constitution, which states that any alteration to its territory must be made through a referendum involving all of the state’s inhabitants. Sounds a lot like what happened in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico as the Crimea of the West?
It is generally known that the U.S.’ “unincorporated” colony was invaded by the United States armed forces on July 25, 1898 and that it also imposed a military government that lasted two years. This military intervention became a permanent occupation when the Treaty of Paris was ratified on April 11, 1899 to end the war between the U.S. and Spain. What many people don’t know is that this was all in direct violation of Puerto Rico’s autonomous agreement with Spain.
Prior to the occupation Puerto Rico gained local government from Spain through an autonomous charter on November 25, 1897. The charter states that any changes to this mutual agreement can only be made “upon the petition” of the insular parliament. So when the U.S. invaded and occupied the island, it was violating its inhabitants’ right to self-determination by illegally dissolving its local government (and without its consent). Puerto Rico is essentially war booty.
Today, Puerto Rico remains under the absolute power of the U.S. President and Congress, despite the current Commonwealth government adopted in 1952 (over half a century after the invasion).
As the U.S. denounces actions in Ukraine by Russia, it ought to follow through with its own initiatives regarding Puerto Rico. This includes the Presidential Task Force, formed to offer recommendations to resolve Puerto Rico’s status. Also, the United Nations’ Decolonization Committee has consistently called upon the U.S. to support self-determination in Puerto Rico. It’s time the U.S. looks at its own imperial actions before denouncing those of another.