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The United States' Citizenship of Puerto Ricans

It is strange, that you having denied us the American
citizenship when we asked for it, now you want to impose
it to us when the majority of our People reject it.
-Luis Muñoz Rivera to US Congress (1916)

If you are not an "American citizen" under the Constitution
if you don't pay contributions, you can't vote for the President
nor do you have all your political rights, you have to ask
yourself an honest and respectful question:  What are you?
-Juan Santiago Nieves (March 1, 2002, Fuego Cruzado)

I don't know what citizenship we are celebrating. [. . .]  I don't
agree that those who favor statehood of Puerto Rico should
celebrate it. [. . .]  I think we should carry out a protest to our
citizenship, because we are not fully American citizens.
-Ignacio Rivera, pro-statehood lawyer
(March 1, 2002, Fuego Cruzado).

    Recently I have been watching the events happening in Puerto Rico concerning the praise of the US citizenship (or the so-called "American" citizenship) or Puerto Ricans.  Many of the advocates of today's Commonwealth (colonial) status quo and of the pro-statehood movement, want to point out the great love that Puerto Ricans have to their American or US citizenship.  In the case of the pro-statehood movement it even has a day to celebrate the US citizenship of Puerto Ricans, and in the case of the pro-Commonwealth status they celebrate their American citizenship.

    I personally do not deny at all that the vast majority of Puerto Ricans love their US citizenship.  Many of them think that without their US citizenship, they would lack of all the rights that Puerto Ricans have today.  In fact they link US citizenship with the relative prosperity that Puerto Rico had in the second half of the twentieth century.  On Monday, March 1-3, 2002, the newspaper El Nuevo Día a series of articles by Rubén Arrieta Vilá, which were called "Cuesta arriba el camino hacia la ciudadanía",  "Cruzada de Roosevelt por la ciudadanía" and "Ciudadanos estadounidenses con la firma del Acta Jones" respectively which talked about how the Puerto Rican people at the beginning of the century how hard it was to convince members of the US Congress to grant American citizenship to Puerto Ricans, and how much Puerto Ricans wanted it so badly.  In the mind of most Puerto Ricans, apparently, it seems to be a privilege about the US citizenship.

    This deep admiration, almost to the point to be a fetishist attitude, towards the "American" citizenship, is because of a deep misinformation about Puerto Rican history to its people.  In many public schools, the history of the twentieth century is never given, and if given, it is almost always superficial and without any kind of substance.  Then, because many Puerto Ricans don't know their history, they believe what they are told about the American citizenship, that without American citizenship, Puerto Ricans wouldn't have any rights nor prosperity.  Not only that, that the American citizenship was the result of long fights and struggles that Puerto Ricans had in its favor at the beginning of the twentieth century.

    All of these assertions in favor of the American citizenship of Puerto Ricans are completely false, and this is mostly the result of falsifying our own history, specially through political leaders, and politically oriented education.  I hope that this page will provide proof of the real purpose behind the US for imposing, not granting, the US citizenship to Puerto Ricans.  Not only that, through the research made by many lawyers and historians, such as Juan Santiago Nieves, specially in the case of Ramírez de Ferrer v. Mari Bras, that Puerto Rican US citizenship is really a citizenship of slaves, and equivalent to those of subjects in a monarchy, not a citizenship under a democracy.  I hope that this page will help demystify all the myths surrounding the Puerto Rican "American" citizenship.  The juridical analysis of the American and Puerto Rican citizenship will be based on the reasoning brought forth by Juan Santiago Nieves (references below), in the case of Ramírez de Ferrer v. Mari Bras.


Brief Historical Background of Puerto Rico's Colonization Under the United States

    At the end of the nineteenth century, while Puerto Rico was under Spanish rule, some problems began to surface in the United States.  The market of that country was sufficiently developed so that it required the capital to get out of that country and invest in others.  This supposed, not only economic expansion, but also military expansion in order to protect United States' investments in those countries.

    For that, a very important military expert called Alfred T. Mahan, who saw the importance of the Caribbean in protecting those interests, stated that it was important to have absolute control over interoceanic space of Central America.  The Panama Canal would be important in this task.  Four places were very important military strategic points in order to dominate the area.  The first one was the Yucatán Canal between Mexico and Cuba, where the ships exited from the Mississippi River.  The second one was the Pass of the Winds between Cuba and Haiti, which was the main route to the Northern Isthmus.  The third one, the Pass of Anegada, close to St. Thomas, located between the Isthmus and Europe.  The fourth important location, would be the Mona Canal, between Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.  These locations not only would enable the United States to control the area, but also it would take away any kind of power of the enemy in the area while maintaining communications (Estades 13-31).

    Mahan mention much the importance of Puerto Rico except to point out its importance to the Anegada and Mona Canals.  According to William Livezey, Mahan's biographer, he thinks that this omission has been deliberate for political reasons.  In order to "free" Cuba from Spain, it would be necessary take away the importance of the strategic nature which the United States would have in another colony of the Caribbean.  Much later, Mahan would give constantly the strategic worth of Puerto Rico (Estades 32; Livezey 139-141).

    Mahan participated actively in the Spanish-American War, which culminated in 1898 in which, through the Treaty of Paris, the United States obtained Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippine Islands and Guam.  In fact, it was during and after this war, that Mahan pointed out how crucial obtaining Puerto Rico was not only as a way of ending the war, but also for the establishment of a future naval base.  Mahan was the main responsible of proposing Puerto Rico as one of the points where an US naval base would be located overseas (Estades 32-33).

    The mysterious explosion of the Maine in 1897 set a pretext for the United States to obtain territories.  Due to the Spanish-American War, Major-General Nelson Miles decided to invade Puerto Rico.  Miles was a military hero in the United States, but many people doesn't know why he was a hero.  As many people have pointed out, Miles participated in wars and massacres against native Americans, like the Red River War, the confrontations with the Nez Percés, and the Battle at Wounded Knee, where hundreds of Sioux Indians were massacred (Acosta 59-68).

    This was exactly the same person who in its message to the people on Puerto Rico in Spanish said:

To the inhabitants of Puerto Rico:  In the continuation of the war against the Kingdom of Spain by the People of the United States, in the cause of freedom, justice and humanity, its military forces have come to occupy the Island of Puerto Rico.  They come here carrying the flag of freedom, inspired in the noble purpose to seek the enemies of our country and capture all those who offer armed resistance.  They bring you a comforting arm of a nation of free people, whose great power consists in justice and humanity to all those who live in their community (García 127).

The invasion and the subsequent domination of Puerto Rico by the US under the Treaty of Paris, inspired hope in many sectors of the political leadership in which some wanted independence, and others wanted to form part of the United States, as a state of the Federation.  This is the main reason why Luis Muñoz Rivera and José Celso Barbosa created two political parties in which both asked for statehood to the United States.  They founded the Federal Party and the Republican Party respectively.

    Of those Americans who first visited Puerto Rico was Henry Carroll, who sympathized a lot with Puerto Ricans and described them in his report as being good mannered, courteous, joyful, respectful of the law and order and lovers of peace; he advocated giving Puerto Ricans the American citizenship (Scarano 652; Carroll 36).

    On the other hand, some discussions were also being carried out about granting the US citizenship to Puerto Ricans, but Congress refused for different reasons.  One of them is that it is for the very first time that the United States had territories under its supervision.  Another reason was because of a hostile racist way in which some Congressmen regarded Puerto Rico.  During a debate in the US Congress concerning the Foraker Act (1900), which established a civil government in Puerto Rico, one senator spoke against the idea of Puerto Rico being given statehood saying that Puerto Ricans were "a heterogeneous mass of mongrels" and "savages addicted to head-hunting and cannibalism" (Pérez 9). There were other remarks made by Americans who went to Puerto Rico, who said that the Puerto Ricans were "ignorant, filthy, untruthful, lazy, treacherous, murderous, brutal and black" (Scarano 651; Picó 170).

    How would Congress deal with Puerto Ricans, if they were not going to be US citizens?


Puerto Rican Citizenship

    In 1900, all the hopes of freedom or under independence vanished with the approval of the Foraker Act.  The Foraker Act was the law that was passed by Congress to establish a colonial civil government in Puerto Rico.  We will refrain ourselves to discuss anything else about it except the fact that under this Act, Congress recognized that all of those who were subjects of Spain while living in Puerto Rico, and all those born after 1899 would be "citizens of Porto Rico" (García 133;  Foraker Act, April 12, 1900, 31 Stat 79, secc. 7; 48 USA 733.3).

    Now, let's focus in what kind of citizenship is the Puerto Rican citizenship.  For a clear reference frame we need to study some of United States' history.  Many of us will have to recall the Dred Scott v. Sandford case, which was very significant repercussions in subsequent events concerning the Civil War some years after the case was decided by the US Supreme Court.  Dred Scott was a slave whose master took him from Missouri (a slave state) to Illinois (a free state), and after that to Wisconsin (a free territory under the provisions of the Missouri compromise), and finally into Missouri again.  In 1846, anti-slavery lawyers tried to convince Dred Scott to sue for his freedom on the grounds that residence in a free state and a free territory made him a free man.  The Supreme Court  determined in 1856 that Scott had no right to sue, because he was not a citizen, but a "property to be used in subserviency to the interests, convenience and will of his owner" and "without social, civil or political rights".

    Now, a problem arose when that happened.  If a person or a slave is neither a citizen, nor a foreigner, then what is he or she?  Let's see what the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision has to say about this subject:

The words 'people of the United States' and 'citizens' are synonymous terms, and mean the same thing. They both describe the political body who, according to our republican institutions, form the sovereignty, and who hold the power and conduct the Government through their representatives. They are what we familiarly call the 'sovereign people,' and every citizen is one of this people, and a constituent member of this sovereignty. The question before us is, whether the class of persons described in the plea in abatement compose a portion of this people, and are constituent members of this sovereignty? We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word 'citizens' in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them.

[. . .]

In discussing this question, we must not confound the rights of citizenship which a State may confer within its own limits, and the rights of citizenship as a member of the Union. It does not by any means follow, because he has all the rights and privileges of a citizen of a State, that he must be a citizen of the United States. He may have all of the rights and privileges of the citizen of a State, and yet not be entitled to the rights and privileges of a citizen in any other State. For, previous to the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, every State had the undoubted right to confer on whomsoever it pleased the character of citizen, and to endow him with all its rights. But this character of course was confined to the boundaries of the State, and gave him no rights or privileges in other States beyond those secured to him by the laws of nations and the comity of States. Nor have the several States surrendered the power of conferring these rights and privileges by adopting the Constitution of the United States. Each State may still confer them upon an alien, or any one it thinks proper, or upon any class or description of persons; yet he would not be a citizen in the sense in which that word is used in the Constitution of the United States, nor entitled to sue as such in one of its courts, nor to the privileges and immunities of a citizen in the other States. The rights which he would acquire would be restricted to the State which gave them. The Constitution has conferred on Congress the right to establish an uniform rule of naturalization, and this right is evidently exclusive, and has always been held by this court to be so. Consequently, no State, since the adoption of the Constitution, can by naturalizing an alien invest him with the rights and privileges secured to a citizen of a State under the Federal Government, although, so far as the State alone was concerned, he would undoubtedly be entitled to the rights of a citizen, and clothed with all the rights and immunities which the Constitution and laws of the State attached to that character (Dred Scott v. Sandford 60 US 393 (1856) 404-06).

In other words, this decision distinguishes between citizens of the United States, aliens, and subjects.  A citizen of the United States is he or she who has all the powers conceded under the Constitution of the United States, including the power to vote for the President and Congressmen, and hence they form part of a body politic called "people of the United States" which is sovereign.  However, the black slave Dred Scott is not a citizen.  Neither he is an alien, since he was born in the United States.  That leaves us with the fact that he is a subject of the United States.  That means that he has more rights than an alien because it has the juridical-international protection under the United States, but he doesn't have the rights of a citizen, and is not a member of the sovereign people of the United States.  Much later, after this decision the Nationality and Immigration Act didn't want to use the word "subject", since there was a feeling that the United States was a democracy and not a monarchy.  Therefore they changed it to the word nationals.  So, being "national" is a courteous way of being "subject" of the United States, and this policy can be seen clear when in 1924 the United States' government considered the native Americans as "nationals", this is inhabitants of the United States, but they are not citizens of the United States under the Constitution.  They are their right to govern themselves as nations in the reservations (8 USC 1401 (a) (2)).  About their "nationality" the Supreme Court has said:

Indian tribes are "distinct, independent political communities, retaining their original natural rights" in matters of local self-government. [. . .]  Although no longer "possessed of the full attributes of sovereignty," they remain a "separate people, with the power of regulating their internal and social relations." [. . .]  They have power to make their own substantive law in internal matters, [. . .] and to enforce that law in their own forums (Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martínez, 436 US 49, 55).

Our relations with the Indian tribes have "always been . . . anomalous . . . and of a complex character." [. . .]  Although we early rejected the notion that Indian tribes are "foreign states" for jurisdictional purposes under Art. III, Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 5 Pet. 1 (1831), we have also recognized that the tribes remain quasi-sovereign nations which, by government structure, culture, and source of sovereignty are in many ways foreign to the constitutional institutions of the Federal and State Governments. [. . .]  As is suggested by the District Court's opinion in this case [. . .] efforts by the federal judiciary to apply the statutory prohibitions of 1302 in a civil context may substantially interfere with a tribe's ability to maintain itself as a culturally and politically distinct entity  (Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martínez, 436 US 49, 71-72, my bold).

    Why is this pertinent to our discussion?  Well let me tell the reader a story, a woman called Isabella González was arrested in New York, because it was thought that she was an illegal immigrant.  Under this case, the Supreme Court of the US made one of the most important decisions made for the People of Puerto Rico.  One of the important points of this decision concerned Puerto Rican citizenship: the United States recognizes a body politic that is apart from the United States':

By [Section] 7 [of the Foraker Law] the inhabitants of Porto Rico, who were Spanish subjects on the day the treaty was proclaimed, including Spaniards of the Peninsula who had not elected to preserve their allegiance to the Spanish Crown, were to be deemed citizens of Porto Rico, and they and citizens of the United States residing in Porto Rico were constituted a body politic under the name of The People of Porto Rico (Gonzales v. Williams 192 US 1, 11 (1903)).

So, though Puerto Rico was not conceived as foreign country for the ends of the tax laws of the United States (Lima v. Bidwell, 182 US 1 (1901)), the Puerto Rican citizenship came as a consequence of the recognition of the Puerto Rican nationality in the Island.  This is the reason why the Supreme Court also determined the following in a different case:

We are therefore of opinion that the island of Porto Rico is a territory appurtenant and belonging to the United States, but not a part of the United States within the revenue clauses of the Constitution; that the Foraker act is constitutional, so far as it imposes duties upon imports from such island, and that the plaintiff cannot recover back the duties exacted in this case (Downes v. Bidwell, 182 US 244 (1901), my bold).

But there was something more in this case that is very important decided in the Gonzales v. Williams case.  They found a reason why she could not be considered an illegal immigrant:

Gonzales was a native inhabitant of Porto Rico and a Spanish subject, though not of the Peninsula, when the cession transferred her allegiance to the United States, and she was a citizen of Porto Rico under the act. And there was nothing expressed in the act, nor reasonably to be implied therefrom, to indicate the intention of Congress that citizens of Porto Rico should be considered as aliens, and the right of free access denied to them. [. . .]

    Conceding to counsel that the general terms 'alien,' 'citizen,' 'subject,' are not absolutely inclusive, or completely comprehensive, and that, therefore, neither of the numerous definitions of the term 'alien' is necessarily controlling, we, nevertheless, cannot concede, in view of the language of the treaty and of the act of April 12, 1900, that the word 'alien,' as used in the act of 1891, embraces the citizens of Porto Rico. [. . .] (Gonzales v. Williams 192 US 1, 12 (1903)).

In other words, she was not a citizen of the United States, nor an alien, she is a "national" or "subject" under Federal Law.  Why is that?  Because Federal Law recognized the Puerto Rican nationality, a body politic apart from the United States, just as they recognized the Indian nations in their land, and they are subjects or nationals under the US law.  The only difference between the case of Indian nations and Puerto Rico, is that the Federal government cannot intervene within the decisions of the Indian nations; but through the Foraker Act, the US government decides everything in the case of Puerto Rican nationals.  This was argued very eloquently by José de Diego who realized fully what was going on in the colonial treatment of the United States to Puerto Rico.


More Historical Background on the American Citizenship

The First Rejection of Puerto Ricans to US Citizenship

    After the Foraker Act, many political leaders from all ideologies joined together in what came to be known the Union Party, and its purpose was to go to US Congress to ask for a solution for the colonial status quo of Puerto Rico; however there was also the Republican Party that solely asked for statehood for Puerto Rico, and there was also the Socialist Party.  In 1907, Pres. Theodore Roosevelt in his address to Congress, he recommends the extension of the US citizenship to Puerto Ricans.  And then in 1912, a group of Puerto Rican leaders joined together to ask Congress to give Puerto Ricans the US citizenship, and through those means reach a self-government or statehood.  The leaders included José de Diego, José Celso Barbosa, Coll y Cuchí, Santiago Iglesias Pantín, Roberto H. Tous, Luis Muñoz Rivera, among others.

    However, in that same year and in 1913, there were internal fights inside the Union Party.  Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón, Luis Lloréns Torres y Manuel Zeno Gandía founded the Party for Independence and the Puerto Rican Civic Association, and then also statehood was eliminated also from the program of the Union Party.  By that time too, President Woodrow Wilson recommended the US citizenship for Puerto Ricans.

    Then there were initiatives by Congress in an attempt to do so, through the Olmsted Bill, and later by the Jones Bill.  Though both of them conceded the US citizenship to Puerto Ricans, they started from the premise that Puerto Rico would be forever a territory or a colony of the United States, and didn't grant in any way self-government.  The House of Delegates (the only political entity that was elected by Puerto Ricans then) rejected unanimously that offer of US citizenship, specially the way it was put by the Jones Bill.

    Also some Congressmen showed some skepticism to any bill proposing American citizenship to Puerto Ricans.  For example, Sen. Elihu Root told the Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson that once conceding the American citizenship to them, it would be impossible to deny them statehood.  Giving them citizenship and not statehood would constitute an inconsistency in the government scheme, because there would be two kinds of American citizens (Estades 207).  Due to these and other objections, the Olmsted Bill and Jones Bill were not dealt with by Congress.  Olmsted Bill was not approved, and Jones Bill was filed in 1914 and not dealt with in Congress.


First World War

    It was during this time period that the United States got into World War I, having Germany as its enemy.  In the middle of WWI, the United States realized the importance of Puerto Rico as a strategic military point, but there was something more to it.  The Naval War College arrived to the conclusion that the small island of Culebra, which is also part of Puerto Rico, would be a favorable strategic position.  It was in fact a superior position than that of Guantánamo in Cuba, and would be a perfect place for a Naval base.  During this process, the US Navy incorporated Puerto Rican citizens in their military forces, though these forces were incomplete (Estades 180-202).

    Once the United States declared war on Germany, these Puerto Rican military forces would go to the Panama Canal to protect it.  The Germans were pretty aware not only that Puerto Rico was a strategic military point, but also that the island of Culebra would be ideal for their purposes of controlling the whole area of the Caribbean, specially with respect to the access to the Panama Canal.

    All of this was seen by the United States, but there was one problem, and it was not a military problem, it was political in origin.  If the Germans invaded Culebra, its inhabitants and those of Puerto Rico, were not American citizens.  On top of that, the Governor of Puerto Rico, Cornel George Colton, stated that more and more people in Puerto Rico were beginning to favor independence.  Radical movements in Puerto Rico asking for its independence would affect the prestige of the United States before the rest of the world.  In order to guarantee the loyalty of Puerto Ricans and the only way to do it, was to give Puerto Ricans the United States' citizenship.  Also, granting this citizenship to them would give an international diplomatic argument to avoid the invasion of Germans.  It would be evident for the international community that Puerto Rico was under the protection of the United States, since it is protecting its citizens.


The Jones Act

    The Jones Bill practically came to be again in 1916 under discussions in Congress.  Among the reforms to the colonial policy to Puerto Ricans, the Bill proposed that Puerto Rico would stay as a territory belonging to the United States.  Many things led politically to this bill to be considered again.  For example, in the case of the Philippines, the US gave them the US citizenship, and under those circumstances many Congressmen saw that it could also be given to Puerto Ricans.

    But the suggestion of "granting" US citizenship to Puerto Ricans came from none other than the Secretary of War.  Remember that Puerto Rico was a military-strategic point in the Caribbean, at least the most important at that time, and remember also the diplomatic problems that the US would have if Puerto Rico, and specially Culebra, would fall on the enemy's hands without Puerto Ricans being American citizens.  They needed also the loyalty of Puerto Ricans to the United States to insure its dominion on the Island.

    The pro-statehood party, the Republican Party, under the leadership of José Celso Barbosa, asked that Puerto Rican pledge their loyalty to the United States as a requirement for the US citizenship.  If this could be done, then Puerto Ricans would have right to statehood, but this petition of Barbosa was rejected.  Luis Muñoz Rivera expressed the unanimous position of all the Puerto Rican loyalty in the hearings of the Jones bill in 1916, in which Puerto Ricans rejected the US citizenship again, because the Jones bill supposed that Puerto Rico would be forever a non-incorporated territory.  Not only that, the rights of this citizenship would be determined, not by the Constitution of the United States, but by what Congress determined.  Muñoz asked Congress to submit a bill to make a referendum in Puerto Rico to let Puerto Ricans decide if they wanted the American citizenship, but this suggestion was not even considered by Congress.  The House of Delegates in Puerto Rico rejected the Jones bill unanimously again.

    The Jones bill was approved and in 1917, and under the signature of the President, it came to be known as the Jones Act, which imposed US citizenship on Puerto Ricans with the majority opposing to it.  To save the appearance of democracy, that Puerto Rican who didn't want to have the US citizenship, would go to court and state under oath that he didn't want to have it; however, if they did so, then that person couldn't hold office in Puerto Rico's government and couldn't vote.


Did the Imposition of American Citizenship Change Anything?

    Well, in order to understand the consequences of the American citizenship we have to take a look on the Jones Act.  First of all, this is an organic document in order to establish a form of government in Puerto Rico.  What makes suspicious the fact that the rights of the Constitution of the United States to American citizens are not extended to the People of Puerto Rico is the fact that it enumerates certain rights that Puerto Ricans would have.  If Puerto Ricans, under their brand-new American citizenship, had the same rights of those of those who are born in the United States, then why enumerate their rights in a territorial law, the Jones Act?

    Why is this important anyway to our discussion?  Well, let me tell another story.  A Puerto Rican called Jesús M. Balzac was an editor of a daily paper in Arecibo called "El Baluarte".  He published in there articles with charges of libel in April 15 and April 23, 1918.  In order for him to defend himself, he demanded a trial by jury, because he was an US citizen under the Jones Act, and like every other American citizen in the United States he should have a trial by jury, specially under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution of the US.  The Supreme Court of the United States made a very important decision in which the real nature of the Puerto Rican American citizenship is revealed.  Under the Jones Act a Puerto Rican can go to any of the states of the Union and share all the rights of the other citizens,  but the Supreme Court clears up:

In Porto Rico, however, the Porto Rican can not insist upon the right of trial by jury, except as his own representatives in his legislature shall confer it on him. The citizen of the United states living in Porto Rico cannot there enjoy a right of trial by jury under the federal Constitution, any more than the Porto Rican. It is locality that is determinative of the application of the Constitution, in such matters as judicial procedure, and not the status of the people who live in it. [. . .]

On the whole, therefore, we find no features in the Organic Act of Porto Rico of 1917 from which we can infer the purpose of Congress to incorporate Porto Rico into the United States with the consequences which would follow. [. . .]

This court has passed on substantially the same questions presented here in two cases, People of Porto Rico v. Tapia, 245 U.S. 639 , 38 Sup. Ct. 192, and People v. Muratti, 245 U.S. 639 , 38 Sup. Ct. 192. In the former, the question was whether one who was charged with committing a felonious homicide some 12 days after the passage of the Organic Act in 1917, could be brought to trial without an indictment of a grand jury as required by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. The United States District Court of Porto Rico, on a writ of habeas corpus, held that he could not be held to answer and discharged him. In the other case, the felony charged was alleged to have been committed before the passage of the Organic Act, but prosecution was begun afterwards. In that, the Supreme Court of Porto Rico held that an indictment was not rendered necessary by the Organic Act. This court reversed the District Court in the Tapia Case and affirmed the Supreme Court in the Muratti Case, necessarily holding the Organic Act had not incorporated Porto Rico into the United States. These cases were disposed of by a per curiam. Counsel have urged us in the cases  at the bar to deal with the questions raised more at length in exposition of the effect of the Organic Act of 1917 upon the issue, and we have done so. [. . .]

The judgments of the Supreme Court of Porto Rico are

AFFIRMED  (Balzac v. People of Porto Rico 258 US 298 (1922), my bold).

    In other words, the Supreme Court is saying in plain words:  "Ok, Balzac, you are an American Citizen, but your rights as citizen are not in the Constitution of the United States, they are in the Jones Act.  If the Jones Act does not say you have a right to trial by jury ... well ... too bad, so sad, but you don't have that right".  Another fact that is important to notice here is the fact that the US confirms the fact that this imposition of the American citizenship does not mean a commitment to statehood, like many times was cleared up by Congress.  In fact, the one who wrote this was Chief-Judge Taft, who was earlier President of the United States, who also advocated giving Puerto Ricans the American citizenship without giving them the right to be a state of the Union.

    This is not an American citizenship like those who are born in the states of the Union.  This is another kind of American citizenship, this American citizenship is the citizenship of "nationals" or "subjects" of the United States.  If the American citizenship is not those of the states, nor are Puerto Ricans considered aliens, then the inevitable alternative is that this is the citizenship of "nationals" or "subjects" as was clearly defined by Dred Scott v. Sandford case.  Afterwards came the 600 Law,  which derogated the Jones Act and provided a means so that the Puerto Ricans organized a local government.  This law stated all the articles of the Jones Act that were derogated, but one of the articles that was never derogated was Article 5, which is the Article that required Puerto Ricans to be American citizens.



    Let us see again what Rubén Arrieta says at the beginning of his article in El Nuevo Día.

Los Puertorriqueños consiguieron la ciudadanía de los Estados Unidos al cabo de luchar casi 20 años contra la resistencia de miembros influyentes en el Congreso (Arrieta, 1 marzo 2002)  [Translation:  The Puerto Ricans got to have the United States' citizenship after fighting for almost 20 against the resistance of influential members of Congress.]

As we could see in this page, this is totally false.  At the beginning the Puerto Rican leadership wanted a real United States' citizenship, but by 1914 and 1916,  you find the entire Puerto Rican political leadership (including those who favored statehood to Puerto Rico) rejecting a fake United States' citizenship, because they realized that the whole thing was a fiasco.  It is the citizenship of "nationals" or "subjects" of the United States, this is the "citizenship" that the blacks, the descendants of slaves and the American natives have.

    It is a frequent myth from the pro-statehood side that the United States wanted to grant Puerto Ricans the American citizenship to make Puerto Ricans equals to the other citizens in the states of the Union.  It is also a myth from the independentist side that the United States made Puerto Ricans American citizens to recruit them in their army.  This is not true, because before the Jones Act, Puerto Rican citizens were recruited to fight and protect the area of the Caribbean, specially the Panama Canal by the United States government.   The reason why the United States imposed its citizenship to them only took into consideration a strategy of war, for international-diplomatic relations purposes, and also to include them as citizens "loyal" to the United States' government.

    Also, the case Balzac v. Puerto Rico destroys the myth that once we were American citizens, then all the rights miraculously came to be for Puerto Ricans.  In fact, we can see in this case that the right of trial by jury was not guaranteed for a Puerto Rican American citizen because only a colonial law dictated which rights these American citizens of Puerto Rico would have.  Historically, these rights have been achieved from struggle to struggle by the Puerto Rican people, and not because the United States laws.

    Another it is incomprehensible when pro-statehood leaders and pro-Commonwealth leaders try to celebrate and praise our American citizenship.  Why would we lie to ourselves and praise such a citizenship of "subjects" of "nationals", in which the rights of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico cannot be guaranteed.  In the pro-statehood case we find their propaganda filled with the assertion that we have a second-class citizenship, which is true; but then they go and celebrate that second-class-citizenship as a great achievement of the People of Puerto Rico.  I think that a consistency with the pro-statehood ideal would be to protest against the second-class citizenship and demand the United States to give us the real deal, the real United States' citizenship that the people of the states of the Union enjoy fully.

    As an independentista, I also question the often heard argument from the pro-statehood and pro-Commonwealth leaders that we should have the equality of the rest of the states of the Union, and that Puerto Ricans love their American citizenship.  The problem with this argument is that Puerto Ricans love their American citizenship deceived by the appearances of prosperity and/or political rights that seem linked to it.  There is also a sense that if Puerto Rico was independent we would not have these rights.  Reality is that if we were independent, Congress would not have intervened in 1950's in the rights that would be conceded to Puerto Ricans through the Commonwealth Constitution and took them away.  We would have more democratic rights under independence than under Commonwealth right now.  Also, it seems that in the psychology of many Puerto Ricans, the American citizenship seems like some kind of faculty that gives them dignity in front of the rest of the world.  Why a Puerto Rican citizenship under an independent Republic of Puerto Rico would not be as dignifying?  Or do we think we are less quality people if we are not American citizens?

    These are all questions to ponder upon.  However, I hope this page has helped very much to demystify many misconceptions that many Puerto Ricans have concerning US American citizenship imposed on them.

Home Up


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Copyright (c) 2001-2003,  Pedro Rosario Barbosa.
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