The idea of political consent is thrown to the wind when considering many who are born, live, work and die in the United States without ever agreeing to any element of this relationship. No, I’m not here referring to the millions of de-enfranchised felons. I’m talking about the four million living in the United States territories without any representation in the federal government.
The major United States territories are the American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico. Together over four million call one of these places home. Just last December, American Samoa was the last territory to be given United States citizenship, and improvement from the non-citizen nationals they previously were. However, no territorial Americans have voting representatives in Congress or participate in the election of the President, and as a result they are de-facto colonies.
The largest American colony is Puerto Rico. During every single natural disaster they are denied significant quantities of federal aid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as was particularly the case during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Despite paying social security taxes, Puerto Ricans receive a fraction of the supplemental security income that American citizens are eligible for. The Puerto Rican economy has been diminishing for decades compared to American states which some would argue is due to federal neglect.
Puerto Ricans pay plenty of federal taxes including payroll, estate, business, social security taxes and large import taxes that no other state must pay. They paid $3.6 billion in federal taxes in 2016. They have historically been a very important plantation economy, and today their pharmaceutical and manufacturing industries are greatly beneficial for continental consumers and investors. Some businesses in Puerto Rico pay as little as $5.08 per hour, significantly lower than the federal minimum wage. Plenty of American corporations profit greatly from this cheap labor not to mention having access to large tax breaks for operating on the island.
The situation is similar in every other American colony. Local economic development is neglected in favor of the extraction of wealth and natural resources, resulting in much more poverty than any state. American colonies remain under our control because we are exploiting them. They contribute to our economy and government, and we deny them benefits and self determination because they are our subjects.
Puerto Rico was officially referred to as a colony when the United States originally acquired it in 1898. The governor of Puerto Rico was appointed by the United States President until 1948. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s covert and illegal counterintelligence program otherwise known as COINTELPRO has spent significant resources targeting the Puerto Rican independence movement. All the meanwhile, America has violently destroyed democratically elected governments in Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, Hati, Panama, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Honduras, The Dominican Republic, Mexico, Haiti, Guatemala, El Salvador, Uruguay, Grenada, Bolivia and Brazil in order to install fascist dictators. Just last November a coup d’etat supported by the state department and American corporate media ousted Bolivian President Evo Morales. Foreign and domestic policy reminds all American subjects that self-determination is not an option and their autonomy can always be overturned violently if necessary.
There are lively debates in every U.S. colony about whether statehood or independence would be more preferable over their current territorial status.
The problem is that any decision about statehood or independence for colonized peoples must be ratified by the United States Congress, which the President and Supreme Court also have the opportunity to overturn. For economic, political and imperialistic reasons the federal government has and will never honestly consider statehood or independence for any of these populations.
American colonialism is alive and well moving into the 2020s undebated at the national level. This situation endures because the United States is an empire which subjugates foreign populations to extract their labor and resources. Realizing the independence of colonized Americans is a matter of realizing a different politics in which power is distributed horizontally and imperialist business interests are left off the table.
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Harrison Raskin is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.