Growing up as a Cuban boy, Cuba and Puerto Rico stood as archipelagic foils—vestiges of an American empire that seized economic control, either directly or indirectly, for centuries. Both Spanish colonies were engulfed by the United States in the “Splendid Little War.” However, their agricultural-based economies diverged in course following a slew of American puppet regimes.
A communist dictatorship led by Fidel Castro galvanized the Cuban soul. Thousands lined the streets in defiance of Batista’s American-first agenda—they yearned for an upheaval of the sugar cane hierarchy, funneling funds to US firms. Castro’s egalitarian mission morphed into a reign of terror plagued by famine, repression, and hopelessness. A severance from American business and subsequent friendship with the Soviet Union turned the de-facto colony into a 90-mile foe.
Puerto Rico remained attached to America, a colony irrevocably bound to a distant economy, culture, and government. Tenets of liberty, justice, and equality crumbled before the Insular Cases, validating decades of constitutionally-sanctioned lawlessness. These dueling tales epitomize debates surrounding American presence in the Caribbean. The central irony lingers: systemic injustice pervades each of these bastions, regardless of Uncle Sam’s grasp.
The United States has long asserted her role as a beacon of liberty, brimming with opportunity for all capable citizens. These ideals, however, cease at America’s mainland borders. The American dream is grounded in fallacy–it is not accessible for the Americas but rather for 50 states.
As American imperialism molds Cuba and Puerto Rico’s divergent paths, we must reconsider the spread of a pseudo-American dream grounded in exploitation and suppression. The United States’ presence abroad has cultivated a disdain for the “uniquely American” ideals it wishes to embellish.
South America and the Caribbean, ravaged by chronic corruption and instability, cannot escape the United States–their cross-cultural, economic connections are deeply intertwined with the American marketplace. The United States cannot embrace Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico cannot embrace the United States if America is to be forced into an indignant colony. Indeed, history unearths the dangers of Puerto Rico’s statehood hokey-pokey with the United States. Their cultural fabric unravels at the prospect of a foreign force silently seeping into the “Boricua dream.” Will we allow the United States to destroy another American neighbor? If not for statehood, the only way by which to avoid such a disaster is to relinquish America’s claim to Puerto Rico altogether.