In a recent barrage of angry tweets, President Donald Trump has basically said he is sick of Puerto Rico, describing it as a corrupt island in the middle of a huge ocean that exaggerates its woes. Its politicians are crazed and inept who “only take away from USA,” but he denies what many Puerto Ricans consider themselves—American citizens.
Puerto Rico got 91 Billion Dollars for the hurricane, more money than has ever been gotten for a hurricane before, & all their local politicians do is complain & ask for more money. The pols are grossly incompetent, spend the money foolishly or corruptly, & only take from USA….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2019
These citizens expected Washington to come to their aid in times of need, after Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the island and caused the deaths of almost 3,000 people in 2017, when Puerto Rico was already bankrupt and on its knees. Trump has made it clear that the cavalry is not coming because he could care less about an island that has only served to throw his budget out of whack, given him a black eye on the world stage and recently stalled a Republican-backed bill in Congress.
The initial reaction of Puerto Ricans has been denial, and then confusion and bewilderment—the first stages of grief. But as Trump stacks opprobrium upon insult, they are becoming angry, an anger that is growing into a national spasm of indignation. More and more, people on social media are calling for retribution and justice, with even pro-statehood governor Ricardo Rosselló saying, “If the bully gets close, I will punch the bully in the mouth.”
It has crystalized the discussion around colonialism. For the truth is that Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States, by law belonging to, but not part of the United States.
In short, Washington can do whatever it wants with it.
“Are we sure Puerto Rico isn’t one of the Mexican countries Fox was talking about?” one profile asked on Twitter.
Are we sure Puerto Rico isn't one of the Mexican countries Fox was talking about?
— Joel (@joel728) April 2, 2019
Puerto Rican producer Frances Solá-Santiago went further: “A morning reminder that Puerto Rico IS NOT the United States. It is a colony of the United States. And saying otherwise erases the lives and experiences of millions of colonized American citizens for more than 120 years.”
A morning reminder that Puerto Rico IS NOT the United States. It is a colony of the United States. And saying otherwise erases the lives and experiences of millions of colonized American citizens for more than 120 years.
— Frances Solá-Santiago (@frances_sola) April 3, 2019
Or as one prominent Puerto Rician political specialist posted on Facebook about Trump’s latest Twitter onslaught: “Well, let’s try this: demand more autonomy, since we are ‘that country.’ We might as well make our own decisions; then we can start making deals with Russia and China (they’d love to get their hands on ‘that country’), and see the reaction from Washington, DC.”
Trump’s betrayal goes straight to the heart of the Puerto Rican dilemma and the endless debates on politics and the island’s status. Are we or aren’t we a colony, U.S. citizens, a state of the United States in waiting, or that love that dare not speak its name—independence.
Those that have called for independence now sit and say, “I told you so.” For them, Trump and his insults are the gift that keeps on giving because, in the end, this deception only serves to politicize and radicalize Puerto Ricans against the colonial status quo.
Since Puerto Rico became an “unorganized territory” of the United States in 1901, at best the invading American forces promised, in the words of the conquering U.S. General Nelson Miles, “to bring you protection, not only to yourselves, but to your property; to promote your prosperity, and bestow upon you the immunities and blessings of the liberal institutions of our government. It is not our purpose to interfere with any existing laws and customs that are wholesome and beneficial to your people so long as they conform to the rules of military administration of order and justice. This is not a war of devastation, but one to give all within the control of its military and naval forces the advantages and blessings of enlightened civilization.”
At their worse, feelings now verbalized by Trump, they see Puerto Ricans as “beyond doubt the dirtiest, laziest, most degenerate and thievish race of men ever inhabiting this sphere. It makes you sick to inhabit the same island with them. They are even lower than Italians.” The latter written in a letter by Cornelius Rhodes , an American cancer specialist doing research of the island in the 1930’s.
Trump has grandiosely said that no “living human being” has cared for Puerto Rico better than he has. But in reality, the President is practicing bigotry on a grand scale. Almost like a lover who has promised you the moon and the stars, but never delivered, Puerto Ricans are slowly waking up to the truth that Washington would rather Puerto Rico and its citizens, be they American or not, just go away.
In the dock of Puerto Rican public opinion, Trump has betrayed the island and abandoned American citizens to a disastrous fate. This colonial tyranny has opened a Pandora’s Box, one which has most Puerto Rican’s saying that we are not “property,” we are not “your citizens.” And we demand our self- determination.
Because of Trump, Puerto Rico’s most difficult hour might very well turn out to be its finest.
Susanne Ramirez de Arellano is the former News Director for Univision Puerto Rico and a writer and journalist living in New York City. She has a blog in El Nuevo Día called Dos Caminos y Una Subversiva. Comments can be sent to her email. You can follow Susanne on Twitter @DurgaOne.