The Speech President Obama Should Give Right Now on Puerto Rico

Jan 2, 2015
3:17 PM

Now that President Obama has spoken about immigration and Cuba, the White House has several speech templates it can adapt to pay attention to the one issue no one wants to discuss but is just as important: Puerto Rico.

Understanding that Puerto Rico might not be a priority for the Obama administration, not to worry. I have it all figured out. What follows is a strategy and speech the president can give right now in the Oval Office during a live stream (FYI, I took his Cuba speech from December 17, 2014 and edited it). Lest we forget, there are over 8 million Puerto Ricans living on the mainland and the island. Puerto Rico should matter. If we are going to have these national conversations about Cuba with intense mainstream media coverage, let’s add Puerto Rico to the mix.

First off, here’s the pitch the White House can email the New York Times editorial board today:

Dear New York Times Editorial Board:

Can you start writing about Puerto Rico? Here is a quick pitch to get you going:

We are separated by 1,000 miles of water or a 3-hour flight on Jet Blue, but are brought together through shared relationships and the desire to promote a democratic, prosperous and stable Puerto Rico. In a few weeks, President Obama is taking action to cut loose the anchor of failed policies of the past, and to chart a new course in U.S. relations with Puerto Rico that will engage and empower the Puerto Rican people. Can you get the ball rolling with some editorials that no one will see coming?

Thanks for the Cuba love!

The White House

PS We will give you a heads up as to when POTUS will share his Puerto Rico speech to the nation, so you can write an editorial a few days before so that everyone thinks you are all amazing.

After the Times writes a few bilingual editorials about why it is time to deal with the United States’ “Puerto Rico Issue,” (just like the Paper of Record did for Cuba here and here, just three days before Obama’s Cuba speech), we can then have President Obama appear live at the White House (I suggest around 3pm local San Juan time during any “viernes social”) and deliver the following speech. It wouldn’t be that hard, since the White House already did one for Cuba. Just replace a few words, cut out some paragraphs and boom. In fact, the White House can just use this and thank me later:



Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release INSERT DATE HERE


THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. Saludos to all the boricuas out there. Today, the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Puerto Rico.

In the most significant changes in our policy in more than 117 years, we will end an outdated colonial approach that, for more than a century, has advance our interests at the sacrifice of the Puerto Rican people, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries. Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Puerto Rican people, who are in fact American citizens, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.

There’s a complicated history between the United States and Puerto Rico. I was born in 1961 –- just around nine years after we decided to help Luis Muñoz Marín create a sham “Commonwealth” system that the U.S. supported since it just solidified our desire for more cheap labor and a hyperconsumer culture we perpetuated in partnership with some of the most mediocre politicians the United States has ever worked with. Over the next several decades, the relationship between our countries played out against the backdrop of the Cold War, and America’s steadfast opposition to communism, because there was no way in hell Puerto Rico would become another Cuba, so it made complete sense to try an economic experiment that would keep Plaza las Américas thriving while having no real industry emerge that wasn’t directly controlled by the United States. We are separated by just over 1,000 miles or a three-hour Jet Blue flight from Orlando to San Juan. But year after year, the colonial barrier hardened between our two countries. A colonial barrier that we, the United States, set up in 1898.

Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican community in the mainland United States made enormous contributions to our country –- in politics and business, culture and sports. Like U.S. citizens before, Puerto Ricans helped remake the United States, even as they felt a painful yearning for the land and families they left behind. All of this bound the United States and Puerto Rico in a unique colonial relationship, at once family and foe.

Not so proudly, the United States really hasn’t supported democracy and human rights in Puerto Rico through these 117 years. We have done so primarily through policies that aimed to isolate the island, allowing for a bilingual brain drain that has benefited the mainland but has done little to advance the island of Puerto Rico. And though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions and has made Wall Street incredibly rich, no other nation joins us in perpetuating this colony. This is all on us. Just look at what the United Nations says every year about our colonial relationship with Puerto Rico. Such a policy has had little effect beyond providing Puerto Rican political parties with a rationale for playing a political status sham with its people. For decades, the United States has let Puerto Ricans bicker and get distracted by the all these non-binding plebiscites –as if we even care what Puerto Ricans actually think– so that they didn’t focus on the fact that our nation still treated the island as a colony, and had no problem sending young Puerto Ricans to fight for the United States, from World War I up to our current engagements in the Middle East. By the way, it’s no coincidence that Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens in 1917, just months before we entered World War I. Thank you for your service.

As they say on the island, it’s all about the “politiquería,” which loosely translated, means political bullcrap. Yeah, I just said political bullcrap in the Oval Office. Today, Puerto Rico is still governed by the most mediocre politicians ever contrived, whether you are for the status quo, for the statehood option or for independence. Add the fact that the United States, previous administrations nor the vast sessions of Congress don’t care one bit that Puerto Ricans on the island are U.S. citizens but can’t vote to elect officials in Washington, and it’s clear to me that our Puerto Rican policy has failed. Even when I presented a solution a few years back, my heart wasn’t really into it. If the United States doesn’t care about Puerto Rico, why should I? I mean, it’s not like people on the island can vote for me in a real election!

Neither the American, nor Puerto Rican people are well served by a rigid colony policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born. Consider that for more than 35 years, we’ve had relations with China –- a far larger country governed by a Communist Party. Nearly two decades ago, we reestablished relations with Vietnam, where we fought a war that claimed more Americans than any Cold War confrontation. And there there is Cuba. I just decided to start talking with them. Yet when it comes to resolving a human rights abuse of our own citizens, we have decided to do nothing for 117 years. That needs to stop. Ahora. Right now.

That’s why -– when I came into office -– I promised to re-examine our Puerto Rico policy. Actually, I didn’t, but that’s a minor detail. Nonetheless, I ask you to forgive me and let you know that because of my mistake, I have decided to release Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican political prisoner who has been in a federal jail since 1981. Over many months, my administration has been watching all these Puerto Ricans on Twitter call for Oscar’s release, you boricuas sure can tweet, and when I realized we have more serious terrorist threats all over the world, I don’t think some man in his 70s is a security threat to the United States. I mean, we never convicted Cuban American terrorists like Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles and they committed some rather brutal crimes. López Rivera should be free.

Today, Oscar returned home –- reunited with his family at long last. Let the man be. He was a product of a system that the United States created and perpetuated. It is well-documented that the United States did all it could to repress any attempts of self-determination for the Puerto Rican people. We massacred Puerto Ricans and we tortured the island’s most charismatic leaders. When it came to keeping the colony alive, we enticed one former Nationalist, Muñoz Marín, to a deal that he was smart enough to accept. Help us fight he Cold War from the communist threat on your island and we will persecute your political enemies while at the same time you become the head of a colony that we will now call a commonwealth. Your political enemies leave the island and become cheap labor for us on the mainland, and you become a great governor that eventually gets his photo taken with President Kennedy and makes the cover of TIME. It’s no wonder many Puerto Ricans thought we were colonial pigs. I can’t blame them. Yet at the time, we needed a bad guy, a terrorist narrative, that would keep the majority of the American people thinking that Puerto Ricans, their fellow U.S. citizens, were thugs and anti-U.S. criminals. West Side Story didn’t help that image, either. It worked perfectly for decades. Until the tax breaks stopped, the commonwealth started falling apart, the spending party ended, we started focusing on other threats and Puerto Ricans began to reject the status quo, even though in the end, they still behave with colonial minds. Colonialism does that do to a people, and it needs to stop now.

Having released López Rivera and basically admitting that the United States was complicit in creating a colonial system that has failed millions of people, I’m now taking steps to place the interests of the people of both countries at the heart of our policy.

First, I’ve instructed the Congress to immediately pay attention to the millions of voting Puerto Ricans living on the mainland who want this country to finally address Puerto Rico’s colonial system. The I-4 corridor is now the new Calle Ocho. Meanwhile, I am asking Puerto Ricans, both on the mainland and on the island, to actually put aside their differences and work together to elect better leaders who want to move Puerto Rico forward. Because, quite frankly, as much as the United States has owned your colonial culo for 117 years, I can’t name one Puerto Rican leader right now who wants to put Puerto Rico first, without going into typical status quo, statehood or independence mode. Stop fighting with each other and maybe this colonial power will pay attention to you!

The colony that’s been imposed for decades is now pretty much as permanent as the current Cuban embargo. So you better start speaking with a more united voice, boricuas, or else no one will listen to you. Why not take a page from the Cuban American community? They seem to be able to have more access to political power. They have not one, not two, but three U.S. Senators. All you guys have are a bunch of House members who keep the “politiquería” alive, people like Rep. Gutiérrez and Rep. Velázquez, some guy born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, but who now lives in Idaho, Rep. Labrador, and a Resident Commissioner, Rep. Pierluisi, who has no vote but submits a Puerto Rican Statehood Bill no one cares about and doesn’t want to extend his hand to anyone who is not for statehood. You really think Congress cares about statehood for Puerto Rico when it can’t even get its act together about immigration or Cuba? As an aside, I would like to give Rep. Serrano some credit. He seems to be trying, but the moment he mentions that Puerto Ricans who live in the mainland should vote for the future of their homeland, everyone who supports the “politiquería” drowns him out. And Luis Fortuño? If he’s Puerto Rico’s best hope to push for more Republican attention on Puerto Rico, good luck with that.

So, Puerto Ricans living on the island, you should be engaging the Puerto Ricans living on the mainland some more so that your voices can get to their elected officials and things can begin to progress. Stop falling into the trap that if you left the island, you don’t care about the mainland. Didn’t I tell you earlier in this speech that the United States created this colonial system for the very purpose of weakening your power? Step up your game. We’re the United States. Número uno. Top dog. Expand the tent a bit and put Puerto Rico first, have thousands of Puerto Ricans protest outside my window and then go to Congress and do the same. You might learn from all those #Not1More demonstrations. I mean, those hecklers frustrated me with all this “Deporter in Chief” talk, but I eventually delivered, right? Start calling me the “Colonizer in Chief” and let’s see what happens.

As these changes unfold, I look forward to engaging Congress in an honest and serious debate about addressing Puerto Rico.

However, I’m under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Puerto Ricans. The United States still believes that no Puerto Ricans on the island should vote for actual federal officials and I know we will continue to support that for as long as all you boricuas let us.

Moreover, given Puerto Rico’s history, I expect the island will continue to pursue policies that will at times be greatly favored by U.S. colonial interests. I do not expect the changes I am announcing today to bring about a transformation of Puerto Rican society overnight. But I am convinced that through a policy of honesty and tough love, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Puerto Rican people help themselves as they move into the 21st century.

To those who oppose the steps I’m announcing today, let me say that I respect your passion and share your commitment to liberty and democracy, and also your commitment to keeping Wall Street happy. The question is how we uphold that commitment. I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over 117 years and expect a different result. Moreover, it does not serve America’s interests, or the Puerto Rican people, to try to push Puerto Rico toward collapse. Even if that worked -– and it hasn’t since 1898 –- we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos. We are calling on the Puerto Rican government to unleash the potential of 3.6 million Puerto Ricans on the island by ending the culture of extreme colonial mediocrity, one that we created but one that is also enabled by the Puerto Rican ruling class. In that spirit, we should not allow U.S. colonial sanctions to add to the burden of the Puerto Ricans that we seek to help.

To the Puerto Rican people, America extends a hand of friendship. Heck, you are citizens just like us! Some of you have looked to us as a source of hope, and we will continue to shine a light of freedom. Others, ok, actually all of you, have seen us as a current colonizer intent on controlling your future. Ramón Betances once said, “There’s no difference between being a Spanish colony or a Yanqui colony.” Today, I am being honest with you. He’s right. We can never erase the history between us, but we believe that you should be empowered to live with dignity and self-determination, and be given the right to choose your own destiny, a choice the United States will have to respect and obey. Puerto Ricans have a saying about daily life: “Es la misma mierda” –- it’s the same crap. Today, the United States wants to be a partner in making the lives of ordinary Puerto Ricans a little less crappy, more free, more prosperous.

Finally, our shift in policy towards Puerto Rico comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas. Last December, I went on this tangent that we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas. If I spent so much time focusing on Cuba and those 11 million Cubans who live there aren’t even U.S. citizens, why not Puerto Rico? Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections. A future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible if we work together — not to maintain power, not to secure vested interest, but instead to advance the dreams of our citizens.

My fellow Americans, the city of Orlando is only a three hour Jet Blue flight from San Juan. Countless thousands of Puerto Ricans have come to Orlando — on planes and Disney tours; some with little but the shirt on their back and hope in their hearts. Today, Orlando is often referred to as the capital of Puerto Rico, as the new Miami that will redefine Florida. But it is also a profoundly American city -– a place that reminds us that ideals matter more than the color of our skin, or the circumstances of our birth; a demonstration of what the Puerto Rican people can achieve, and the openness of the United States to our family to the Southeast. Todos somos Americanos.

Change is hard –- in our own lives, and in the lives of nations. And change is even harder when we carry the heavy weight of history on our shoulders. But today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do. Today, the United States chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future –- for the Puerto Rican people, for the American people of which Puerto Ricans are a part of, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world.

Thank you. God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

Done. And I am not even charging the White House for the speech. Let’s get it on the calendar.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77) founded in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. A 1990 Harvard graduate in the History and Literature of Latin America, his personal blog,, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last two years, Julito represented the Rebeldes on several outlets, including MSNBCCBSNPR,  Univision and The New York Times. Recently, he was a digital producer for Al Jazeera America’s The Stream.