What Puerto Rico Can Learn from President Obama’s Policy on Palestinian Statehood

By  Julio Ricardo Varela

Ever since the Arab Spring, the world’s political status quo has been challenged, and the United States of America —still the globe’s only true superpower (maybe China will be there soon, but no now)— is still trying to figure out its role in this changing political landscape. While the Obama Administration was slow to recognize the Cairo revolution , it was quicker to respond to Libya. But what about Syria or Bahrain? And of course, what about Palestine?

Now, my position about Israel and Palestine is very similar to the views of many of my Israeli and Palestinian friends: a peace that will ensure security and co-existence for both countries. The violent views of extremists have no place in the dialogue. I don’t choose this view for religious reasons (unlike US evangelicals who believe that for the End of Days to come, all people of Jewish descent must first head back to Israel before the second coming of the Messiah) nor do I use history to justify why there should be peace in the Middle East. The reality is that every human, every country, has a right to self-determination, which last time I checked, was a basic tenet of America’s Founding Fathers when a new country revolted against the English Crown in the late 18th century.

What intrigues me about Palestine’s recent attempts to seek statehood from the United Nations is that they have the cojones to just go for it. Sure, such a move did not play well in Tel Aviv, but what is even more surprising is that it didn’t play well with President Obama either. What does that tell you about the United States? Self-determination is only encouraged when it fits the interests of the United States. So, sorry, Syria and Palestine, no dice. But Libya? Sure, you can determine your own destiny.

So what can Puerto Ricans learn, whose country in essence is one of the Western Hemisphere’s oldest colony, from what Palestine is trying to do and Washington’s reaction to it?

In the end, no matter how determined Puerto Rico is to finally resolve its 113-year-old political status paradox (are we a colony, a commonwealth, the 51st state of the Union, an independent country, or a freely associate state), in the end, San Juan is still subservient to Washington. Puerto Ricans and their politicians, from the pro-statehooders to the Populares to the Independentistas, have failed the island. Our system is broken. Politicians on the island are programmed to serve their own party’s interests, instead of working together to promote a new way to determine Puerto Rico’s political paradox. Instead of following the bold, and some critics would say disrespectful, steps of Palestine, Puerto Ricans stay silent and wait, passively, for others to make changes for them.

What is to stop us Puerto Ricans from forming our own non-partisan UN committee to demand that we finally determine our political status? Airline tickets from San Juan to New York are not that expensive, why can’t we go to the UN and say, “We have had enough NON-BINDING plebiscites about our status, it is time for the world community to support our intent to finally resolve our political status, no matter what that final vote is?”

Are we afraid of Washington? What would Washington do? Remove our federal benefits? Get rid of our Wal-Marts and Costcos? Why can’t we begin to work together and speak as one Puerto Rico and demand that the world finally pay attention to us?

Instead, we remain passive. We rely on a political system that for over 50 years has exploited us with dreams of free countries or adding another star to the American flag. Add the 60 years before the new Constitution was formed, and it is clear: our current ways to determine our future are not working.

So, to my fellow Puerto Ricans, will we go to the UN? Will we actually practice self-determination, or will we continue to be the colonials that we are? You know, the ones who would rather rely on Washington so as not to offend the federal government. While others fight, we stay silent.

As Republican presidential candidate John Huntsman so eloquently said this week in Orlando: America should worry about America. Will Puerto Rico begin to worry about Puerto Rico? Only we can answer that question. Nothing can stop us. Nothing.


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One Response to “What Puerto Rico Can Learn from President Obama’s Policy on Palestinian Statehood”

  1. Interesting Julio. I also thought of Puerto Rico when Palestinians went to the UN asking for recognition of statehood. Although the background is different, here you see two people that deserve this recognition. But both problems are complex when we realize that the same people do not have the ability to negotiate or pay the price to have their own state. In the case of Palestinians, they want the recognition without get into real peace negotiations. They just can’t, it is a country divided and ruled by extremist, as you stated. It is a fact that when Israel gave some part of land in Gaza, things got worse. Also, Palestinians also live out of the international aid that not only US, but other countries give them. To become independent, one must be economically independent.

    In Puerto Rico, as you mentioned, is not in the best interest from politicians to move forward (or maybe the people don’t want to move from the status quo). I am not an expert, but I agree with you. How long it will take to see these two nations live independently?

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