United States and its right to self-determination

Statehood for Puerto Rico constitutes an exercise in self-determination for the United States. This is not a case of adding one more state to the union or one more star to the flag, but a transformation from what the US has been throughout its history, a nation-state, into a multi-national state.

World history has various examples of sovereign states that are composed of more than one nation. Unlike a multicultural and multiethnic state, where different racial, religious, and/or linguistics majorities and minorities live in the same territory, but are all part of one historical and sociological nation, (like the US); in a multinational state different nations share their territory, history and culture, which distinguish one from the other, but are united in one state under political arrangements.

When my generation went to school, we were taught about the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Under communist and totalitarian regimes, those states survived with a unitary state despite having different nations coexisting within the same state. In the Soviet Union 15 nations co-existed, in Czechoslovakia two, and in Yugoslavia six. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, these nations that throbbed silently within these antidemocratic regimes reclaimed their space and joined the community of nations with their own rights, and today none of the three exists.

But multinational states don’t exist solely under totalitarian regimes. At this very moment, the world is observing what is happening in Great Britain with Scotland and in Spain with Catalonia. The United Kingdom of Great Britain is a democratic state that is made up of four nations with their own territories and history: England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, each with different levels of autonomy as agreed with the central government. Scotland is part of the United Kingdom since 1707, but today, more than 300 years after the start of that union, the friction between Scotland and the rest of Great Britain is evident, with a strong independence movement that, although lost a recent referendum by a small margin, has regained strength after the triumph of Brexit , and at the moment, the autonomous government of Scotland is in the hands of the pro-independence party.

Spain is living with a similar situation, where, although it has never clearly recognized that it’s a multinational state, its linguistic and cultural reality support it is. Catalonia has been part of what we know today as Spain since the fifteenth century. But during that period, with its ups and its downs, under repressive regimes like Franco or under models of greater autonomy, Catalonia has preserved its national identity, its language and its own idiosyncrasy. Today, large sectors of the catalan society claim their independence and the local government is in the hands of the independence movement.

The United States is nothing like the previous two examples. Although it is a nation of immigrants and different minorities live in it, its objective since its beginnings has been that they all incorporate into one nation, what is known as the ‘melting pot’. Since its inception, the American nation has had in its official seal the following motto : “e pluribus unum”, which in Latin means, “from the many, one”.

Nobody in their right mind can doubt that Puerto Rico, sociologically, is a nation. We have our own territory, history, language and culture. Unless we suffer a rapid racial, linguistic and cultural assimilation that destroys our nationality- something that hasn’t happened in the more than 116 years of our relationship with the United States- statehood for Puerto Rico would mean that the United States would integrate into their federation a distinct nation. It would mean going from “e pluribus unum” to “e pluribus duo”. There is no doubt that this decision equates to an act of self-determination that in its day the American people will have to make.

Originally published by El Nuevo Día.
Translated by Gabriela Acevedo Gándara