Even after most of Latin America had become independent, Puerto Rico, along with Cuba, remained a rich colony of Spain, trading in sugar, coffee and tobacco. The island was finally handed over to the U.S. in 1898 after the Spanish-American War and has been in flux ever since.
Puerto Rico is still torn between full statehood and complete independence. In the last plebiscite, a tiny majority voted for Puerto Rico as the 51st state of America. Instead, it remains an “unincorporated territory” with islanders being U.S. citizens eligible to be drafted to fight in her wars but not entitled to vote in presidential elections, even though the American president is head of state.
“Full statehood might be the answer to many of our problems, but what we want is not really important,” says my old friend Anton Clemente as we sit down to lunch in an Old San Juan restaurant. “With the current state of partisan politics in America, no one there is going to vote for a new state full of Spanish-speaking, Catholic Puerto Ricans.
“We also do not have the resources to function as an independent country, so we have to accept the status quo. That’s fine with many people. Lots of Puerto Ricans can carry on depending on the Federal Government to support them – what we call ‘el mantengo’ – and Americans get to go on holiday somewhere exotic where they do not need passports, yet can still spend dollars and find a Burger King or a Taco Bell.”