By Mason Quah
THE events of both the Trump presidency and the 2020 election have created distrust towards the state of American democracy.
Biden should take the opportunity to expand the democratic rights of American people, especially in areas that are still denied representation.
Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million population are unrepresented in the US capitol.
While the United States has dropped the moniker of “colony” from the Caribbean island after conquering it from Spain, there is little difference in their treatment as an unincorporated US territory.
Without representation at the federal level, the needs of American citizens in Puerto Rico are often neglected. In the wake of the 2017 hurricane Maria, federal support was slow to arrive.
For two weeks the US declined calls to waive the Jones Act that prevented relief supplies being delivered to the territory, eventually reversing the decision after heavy criticism.
The same level of reluctance was not seen under disaster relief efforts targeting the US mainland.
Polls taken at the time show that only 54 per cent of American mainlanders knew Puerto Ricans were American citizens. This is understandable when viewed in the context that Puerto Rico is only present in the American newsfeed when struck by natural disasters.
Even outside of disaster scenarios, the shipping act is highly unpopular in Puerto Rico, where it is attributed for increases in the cost of essential goods.
Without democratic representation, they have little capacity to challenge these impositions of the mainland, intended to protect American interests but neglecting the Americans who cannot vote.
Statehood is not a partisan issue in Puerto Rico, with an absolute majority of the electorate voting YES on the prospect of immediate statehood.
Local democrats and republicans have both written to congressional leaders and the president-elect asking them to respect the wishes of the Puerto Rican people.
Similarly, Washington DC’s more than 700,000 people are also denied representation at the federal level. It matters little to these people what euphemism is used to deny their democratic rights as American citizens.
Congress has the ability to block any policies coming from DC’s city council or Mayor. The residents of DC have repeatedly had their political goals stonewalled by republican congressmen, often at no cost to their own careers.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, in 2015, pushed for Congress to overturn DC’s anti-discrimination laws for reproductive health.
Campaigning group 51 for 51 points out that DC residents are also at an economic disadvantage, as the primary employers in the area are federal government and international institutions that do not pay taxes on property, sales, or income.
DC is often left to carry the financial burdens of events such as inaugurations and protests.
Both President-elect Joe Biden and vice President-elect Kamala Harris endorsed DC statehood on the campaign trail. Despite the smaller population, DC’s chances of achieving statehood appear much higher than Puerto Rico’s.
This may prove unpopular though, as Gallup polls show 64 per cent of Americans are opposed to DC statehood.
The process of extending statehood is held by congress, not requiring any amendment to the constitution or the involvement of the supreme court.
A law can be passed to induct a 51st very early into a Biden presidency. The process is not reversible, with the new State given equal footing as the original States.
If America improves the treatment of its colonies this would also put increasing pressure on China to do likewise in Hong Kong. The status of Puerto Rico and Washington weakens America’s credibility as a promoter of democracy on the global stage.
America’s founding values are that government requires the consent of the governed, and that taxation should not be applied without representation.
Those living in American Colonies have not forgotten America’s own history as a colony and the parallels form a strong part of their argument.
Puerto Rico’s status as an unincorporated territory has forced the territory to be dependent on the US economy, while simultaneously having economic barriers in place that limit their ability to trade with other states.
Statehood is not the only tool by which democratic rights in America should be expanded. Even without the two-thirds majority that would be required for constitutional amendments on issues such as the electoral college, there are many smaller ways to improve American democracy by increasing voter turnout and combatting voter suppression and gerrymandering.
The addition of both a 51st and 52nd state should be priorities for a Biden administration that wants to recentre the conception of American values.
It is not only the democratic will of the Puerto Rican populace but also of the majority of citizens stateside, 66 per cent of whom in 2019 supported Puerto Rican statehood.
Opinion articles featured on Redaction Politics reflect the views of their author, not those of the publication as a whole. Only Editorials display the opinions of our management.
Redaction cannot survive without your help. Support us for as little as $1 a month on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/RedactionPolitics.