With former President Donald Trump finally set to face charges for conspiring to steal the 2020 elections and prevent the peaceful transfer of power, it’s a historic moment for Americans and will define what democracy in the United States looks like in the future.
The moment is also a watershed for Puerto Rico —under Washington’s control since the U.S. invasion in 1898— because it shatters the looking glass through which the archipelago views the U.S. and the possibility of statehood. What many Puerto Ricans now see reflected is not a nation they would like to be a part of but one engulfed by a white supremacist movement led by an autocratic leader and the dangerous weakening of U.S. democratic institutions.
Trump’s indictment for his attempts to overturn the 2020 election results, which ended in a swarm of his supporters attacking the Capitol on January 6, put paid to the illusion of “America” as a democratic nation where things like this do not happen.
The Trump Effect
Trump is still the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination by far, and is tied at 43 percent with President Joe Biden in a hypothetical rematch, according to a recent poll by the New York Times and Siena College.
It’s hard to comprehend how, even after three indictments and a possible fourth, Trump remains the Republican Party’s most popular figure. Trumpism has infested the GOP core and left no doubt about its willingness to do anything to take power and keep it.
Puerto Ricans have also not forgotten Trump’s brutish behavior after Hurricane María devastated the island in 2017, resulting in the deaths of almost 3,000 Puerto Ricans, while Democrats did little but pay lip service.
With the empire trapped in a Twilight Zone, Boricuas have begun to reconsider if becoming a state is worth it —or even in the cards— or whether the island wouldn’t be better off as a sovereign nation.
“We’re definitely living in strange times,” Federico A. de Jesús, a former spokesman for President Barack Obama and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and ex-deputy director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, told Latino Rebels.
“No matter who’s president, whatever happens in Washington is magnified in Puerto Rico, given the country’s high levels of dependency on federal funding and policy control,” he explained. “That is why it is so important to empower the Puerto Rican people so they do not remain hostage to the whims of the U.S. economic and political winds.”
The archipelago’s colonial status, in limbo for decades, has recently been placed on the front burner since the House passed the Puerto Rico Status Act in 2022. The bill calls for a federally binding referendum scheduled for November 2025, in which Puerto Ricans would choose between one of three non-colonial options: statehood, independence, or free association with the U.S.
But, when and if the referendum is held, will Boricuas be disgusted enough with the status quo to transcend 125 years of colonial brainwashing, think twice about statehood, and become the architects of their own future? Will they ignore that “La Junta,” a fiscal control board imposed on the island by President Barack Obama and subsequently weaponized by Trump, has more say over their lives than the governor?
They shouldn’t, not because Puerto Ricans don’t want a relationship with the U.S., but because they desire an end to colonization and a path towards self-determination for an island in dire straits.
A Treasonous Act
Puerto Rico is hurting, and badly. The archipelago has become a financial paradise for crypto bros, tax evaders, and opportunists —from the U.S. and elsewhere— who have descended on the island under Act 60 (formerly Act 22), which exempts most investment income of new residents from local and federal taxes.
The 2012 brainchild of pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP, in Spanish) Gov. Luis Fortuño, a vocal Trump supporter, Act 22 was created to lure investors and fresh revenue to the cash-strapped islands. But the experiment failed miserably, creating an economy that services the wealthy, with gentrification pushing many Boricuas out of their homes.
The law has attracted the likes of wealth manager Kira Golden, who moved to the island under Act 60 and recently said in an interview that Hurricane María was “amazing for the island.”
The truth is that Act 60, which would likely disappear under statehood, is not a mutual transaction. It benefits gentrifiers to the utter detriment of Puerto Rico. The principle behind Act 60 runs counter to the interests of everyday Puerto Ricans who are tired of working two and three jobs to make ends meet while seeing foreigners get the better deal.
They are tired of rampant gentrification, constant blackouts due to the greed and incompetence of LUMA Energy, an ever-increasing cost of living, collapsing health care and education systems, and the corruption and malfeasance embodied by the administration of PNP Gov. Pedro Pierluisi.
As the 2024 elections near, Pierluisi, desperate to maintain power, plays on his followers’ hopes by promising statehood and the free flow of federal funds while pursuing an economic strategy that has embedded the colonial status at the expense of statehood.
The Party’s Over
Pierluisi won the last election in 2020 by the skin of his teeth —with a mere 33 percent of the vote— because Puerto Ricans turned away from the two traditional parties, the PNP and the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), embracing instead new parties such as the Citizens’ Victory Movement (MVC) and the ultra-religious Dignity Party.
These two new parties have gained ground since then, especially the MVC, seen as a viable alternative to the status quo that aims to become the second most powerful party on the island, supplanting the PPD. There is also the possibility of an alliance between the MVC and the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), headed by Juan Dalmau—a prospect that has the PNP running scared.
And now an internecine battle between Pierluisi and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colón, another fervent Trump supporter, for the PNP’s nomination for governor threatens to split the party, further weakening its chances of winning in 2024.
Yet, more than political infighting, what has cost the PNP and Pierluisi dearly is a disastrous reliance on federal funding and debt, selling the island like parts of a used car, plus entrenched colonialism and the persistent stench of corruption.
“Most local politicians are more preoccupied with keeping their faces in the newspapers and on television and ensuring they stay guisando (grifting) with sweetheart deals and contracts with their friends and family,” Puerto Rican writer Rafael Riera told Latino Rebels.
But the movement from statehood towards sovereignty is not strictly due to PNP misconduct. Again, it also owes a lot to Trump.
His neglect of the island, his championing of the white supremacist MAGA movement, and his attempts at destroying U.S. democracy have removed the colonial blindfolds from many Puerto Rican eyes and tipped the scales away from statehood and the PNP—which could spell defeat for the ruling party in 2024.
Puerto Ricans must now decide what future they want for their islands and themselves and stop bowing their heads to the U.S. with the obligatory “Sí, Jefe“—especially if the jefe is as rotten as Trump.
Susanne Ramirez de Arellano is the former News Director for Univision Puerto Rico and a writer and journalist living between San Juan and New York City. Comments can be sent to her email. Twitter: @DurgaOne