Thursday, May 8, 2014

Puerto Rico Libertarian Proposes “Micro-Independence” and Partition of Island

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has held several referenda—including major ones in 1967, 1993, 1998, and 2012—on the question of its future status.  Today, the island nation is as self-governing as any of the 50 United States of America, but it has no voting representatives in Washington and Puerto Ricans cannot vote for U.S. president without relocating to one of the fifty states.  Most of the previous referenda have offered Puerto Ricans three choices: (1) admission as the 51st state—61.13% opted for that in the 2012 vote; (2) “free association” (the status currently enjoyed by three former U.S. colonies in the South Pacific, which rely on the U.S. for defense but have United Nations seats) (33.33% in 2012); or (3) independence (5.54%).  (See a previous article for a fuller discussion.)  The 2012 referendum was non-binding, so while most national politicians advocate statehood in principle, it is essentially blocked by the divisiveness and intransigence of the U.S. Congress, whose job it is to approve the addition of any new stars to the flag.

Puerto Ricans have their own Olympic team, but can’t vote for their own president
(you know, just like Cuba).
But Puerto Rican independence—an idea which was buoyed in the 1950s and ’60s by Cuba’s revolution not far to the west and has traditionally been associated with leftist radicalism and thus demonized and suppressed by the U.S. government—is persistent in the Puerto Rican consciousness, despite its low numbers.  But this does not mean those not choosing independence would be happy with statehood or the status quo.  In the 1998 poll, 46.6% voted for statehood, but the fourth option, “none of the above,” got 50.5%.  Since the U.S. snagged the island in the Spanish-American War, there has been discontent in Puerto Rico, and a feeling of nationhood, but nervousness about its viability as an independent state (the most prosperous Caribbean nation-states are tiny, low-population tax havens; no one wants to be the next Haiti).  The Puerto Rican electorate also worries about the political consequences of a long, divisive push for secession—especially if it ends up failing.

One Puerto Rican, Frank Worley-Lopez, founder of the Libertarian Party of Puerto Rico, has a proposal for a way toward more self-determination that mixes some of the benefits of the others.  In a recent editorial, he calls the idea “micro-independence.”  It involves giving something to different camps in the status debate by partitioning Puerto Rico, with one half becoming a U.S. state and the other half becoming an independent nation, with or without the “free association” apron-strings currently loosely tethering the Marshall Islands, Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia to the mother country.  But if you’re picturing a bisected island which mimics the line that runs through neighboring Hispaniola to separate Haiti from the Dominican Republic, the partition wouldn’t need to be exactly into halves.  As Worley-Lopez puts it, “Even if the portion that becomes an independent ‘micro-nation’ is only a handful of the island’s 78 municipalities, it would still allow those who truly support independence to achieve their stated goal, while allowing others to reach theirs.”  (Puerto Rico does not have counties or the equivalent.)

Frank Worley-Lopez
But is this idea viable?  For one thing, it would not eliminate the problem of getting a statehood bill through Congress, or the trickier problem of how to negotiate independence.  President Barack Obama, after all, in 2012 gave a firm thumbs-down to the idea of secession in the wake of a tsunami of post-reelection secession petitions uploaded to the White House website.

Secondly, there is the question of how to draw the new border.  Worley-Lopez seems to suggest asking each municipality to pick a side.  In reality, this may not end up creating a very clean line.  It might be a wild gerrymander, with lots of exclaves.  This could lead to disruptions at the administrative and economic levels; it could also prove to be more divisive at the community level than even the multiple-choice referenda have been.

Referenda in Puerto Rico do not follow clear regional patterns.
Finally, we can look to places where something similar has been done.  In Switzerland, the seven districts of the contested Jura region of the Canton of Bern each had a chance, in 1979, to choose whether to stay in Bern or form a new canton or join the neighboring Basel-Land.  But the referendum was so designed because the divide was both geographical and linguistic and would not create a difficult border—though Switzerland already has plenty of crazily wiggly lines dividing its cantons, including lots of exclaves.

Switzerland’s Jurassians had to leave some territory behind
when they seceded from Bern in 1979.
Another example is Quebec, where Anglophone opponents of the province’s separation from Canada have reacted to independence pushes by suggesting different parts of Quebec choose whether to stay in or out.  In fact, indigenous groups staged their own counter-referenda in remote parts of Quebec in parallel with the failed 1995 independence vote.  But Puerto Ricans should take note that such talk was designed specifically to divide the Québécois nation and stifle national aspirations.  Some would say it worked.

Quebeckers, too, have had to contemplate what their independent state
might look like it if they couldn’t secede with all of its territory.
Perhaps the closest example is the curious path taken by some municipalities in Spain’s separatist autonomous region of Catalonia.  Starting with San Pere de Torelló in 2012, more than 200 jurisdictions within Catalonia have now declared themselves independent of rule by Spain and part of what they call Territori Català Lliure (Free Catalan Territory).  Since it is not just municipalities but sometimes whole districts as well taking these measures, by now about a fifth of Catalonia’s land has this status—at least by self-declaration.  But no one wants Catalonia divided.  This is a mostly symbolic gesture, seen as a strategy to be used on the way to independence for the entire country.

Scattered bits of Catalonia have already seceded—but not as a final goal.
On the whole, if you ask Chinese and Taiwanese, and if you ask Koreans or Germans—or Ossetes, to take a more extreme example discussed in this blog—none of them would say that there is anything inherently desirable in having a nation divided into two different state entities.  Albanian nationalists in Kosovo, Azeris in northern Iran, and Inner Mongolians in China tend to feel the same way.  And so do Ukrainians, of course.

I love Azerbaijan so much, I am happy that there are two.
Worley-Lopez writes, “The idea of allowing independence supporters to retain a small portion of the island is not new.  It’s been proposed multiple times by multiple people, including myself in the past. Yet so far, the Puerto Rico Independence Party has steadfastly—and curiously—refused to take the idea seriously.”  But I’ll reckon that most Puerto Ricans, and most Americans, find Worley-Lopez’s micro-independence idea highly problematic, and there is nothing “curious” about that at all.  Yes, nations and communities should be allowed to choose their own destinies, and, yes, referenda are for the most part the best way to do it.  But turn on the television, and you will see city halls in various parts of Ukraine ringed by burning tires and barbed wire while masked men with machine guns wave separatist flags.  Right now, this week, a town-by-town, village-by-village plebiscite does not strike most people as the way to peaceful co-existence—or freedom from colonialism.  Puerto Rico deserves a better solution to its problems; “micro-independence” probably isn’t it.

One face of “micro-independence”: a “People’s Republic of Donetsk
separatist posing in his Archie Bunker chair.
Related articles from this blog:
“Venezuela’s President Maduro Urges Puerto Rico to Declare Independence, Join Latin American Bloc” (Jan. 2014)
“Puerto Rico Votes for Statehood—or at Least for Some Kind of Change” (Nov. 2012)

[You can read more about Puerto Rico, Jura, Quebec, Catalonia, South Azerbaijan, and other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]


  1. verytime a nation, a colony or a land asks for voting, mention the word referendum or talk about freedom, self determination or independance, anywhere...often inner independentists or separatists puerto rico *a new colony(, as a clear latin society with tj\heir own traditions and their own spanish way os speaking, history, etc is A HOLE, is a clear people in a clear island *just like irland, corsica, feore, it is a nonsense to metion partitions, etc

  2. Very interesting article, as always! Note though that most Taiwanese people do support Taiwan being separate from mainland China. Within Taiwan today, the idea that Taiwan and China should ideally be united under the non-communist Republic of China is at best seen as old-fashioned, and at worst a fringe position kept alive by quiet support from powerful Kuomintang elites (whose families came to Taiwan after WWII), backed by the letter of the law per the constitution they unilaterally imposed on the island in the 1940s.

  3. Could PR be decolonized through elections?
    Impossible. Why?
    The 1% makes the laws of the United States (US) government for the 99%. And that 1%, of course, is above the law. This is why the 1 % wants Puerto Rico to pay the cost of her colonial relationship with the United States in what many are calling the “Puerto Rico’s debt”. The 1 % never wants to lose!
    Noam Chomsky says on page 146 of his book PROFIT OVER PEOPLE that over 2 hundred years ago in the leading democracy of his day, Oliver Goldsmith observed that “laws grind the poor, and the rich men make the law”. “He who makes the law makes the trap” is a popular Puerto Rican saying. Pedro Albizu Campos said that if Puerto Rico’s independence were possible through elections, the US government would abolish them. Trying to decolonize Puerto Rico via elections would be like trying to win in a casino that is rigged, so that the players will always lose. So why do 80% of Puerto Ricans vote in the colonial elections in Puerto Rico?
    The US government has brainwashed our minds. History is always written by the winner. The US government has had 117 years to mold Puerto Ricans to serve its interest. The 1 % knows that it could stay in power forever, if it could control our minds. If the 99% ever knew the truth, it could use its numerical power to stop the 1%, despite its enormous wealth and power. How have we been brainwashed?
    It has been achieved through the Puerto Rico education system, the imposition of US citizenship against our will, state terrorism like the Rio Piedras, Utuado, and Ponce Massacres, the assassinations like in the Cerro Maravilla and the Machetero leader Filiberto Ojeda Ríos.
    Most Puerto Ricans believe that it is their duty to vote, and if they don’t vote, than they shouldn’t complain later. Many believe that Puerto Rico is a democracy, although they know that Washington has the final word on what happens here. So how do we decolonize ourselves?
    We know that the United Nations (UN) will not do it. It is controlled by the US government. How do we know that?
    The UN has thus far issued 34 resolutions asking the US government to immediately decolonize Puerto Rico, and it has ignored them all! The morning session’s video, of the last Puerto Rico decolonization hearing where the Chairperson said that he felt disrespected when the UN at the last minute decided not to broadcast live the hearing after telling him it would, has never been available for public viewing on its WEBCAST as it is normally done. The resolution of this year’s hearing has never been published on the UN website as it usually does. Obviously, the US government wants to hide to the world its colonial relationship with Puerto Rico!
    We know that it will take a long time to reverse 117 years of brainwashing. But, as more and more Puerto Ricans become convinced that we are destined to be its colony forever, more and more Puerto Rican could choose to stop voting in the colonial elections. This way we can say to the world that we are not the democracy that the US government wants it to believe!
    Instead, we should protest permanently and peacefully. Once we get the tsunami of people necessary, and demand once again our inalienable right to self-determination and independence, the US government, like in Vieques, will have no other choice, but to comply with the 34 UN resolutions.
    Once we become our own nation, we must permanently stay vigilant, because the US government will try to install, as it has done so many times before in many parts of the world, a puppet government to continue exploiting us. We must do so, because those who govern only for the 1%, definitely don’t believe in JUSTICE FOR ALL!


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