Para ser digno y libre, ¿a quién esperas?
Lo serás, si es que quieres, cuando quieras.
—Luis Muñoz Rivera, ‘‘A Cualquier Compatriota’’ (1887)
As this book was nearing completion, the debate over the future of the
island of Puerto Rico, one of five U.S. territories, took a puzzling turn.
Suddenly, we learned (from political leaders on the island and in Congress)
that it was, perhaps, ‘‘too soon’’ to resolve the problem of Puerto Rico’s
colonial status. Although the island had been a colony for half a millen-
nium—and an American colony since the end of the nineteenth century—
now, on the verge of the twenty-first, it seemed untimely, to some, for the
island’s colonial existence to come to an end. The reason? Puerto Rico’s
electorate had recently participated in a ‘‘status plebiscite’’ (a nonbinding
referendum o√ering several status options), and a slight majority had cast a
befuddling vote: ‘‘none of the above.’’ This inscrutable result suggested to
many that the issue of Puerto Rico’s colonial status was best left untouched.
A friend to whom I tried to explain the plebiscite laughed when I told her of
the winning non-option. ‘‘Isn’t that a vote for the status quo?’’ she asked.
And I, unable myself to believe it (or perhaps to accept it), responded that
the issue was more complicated than it seemed. I hoped.
Puerto Rican patriot Luis Muñoz Rivera would, if he were here, shake his
head in wonder. ‘‘To have dignity and to be free,’’ he wrote of his people in
1887, ‘‘for whom are you waiting? You will be so, if that is what you want,
whenever you want it.’’ That was over one hundred years ago, and the status
quo at the time was four centuries of Spanish colonial rule. Over the course
of the last of those centuries, Puerto Rico had gained and lost varying
degrees of local self-government and representation in the Spanish Parlia-
ment innumerable times, as the island’s fate had fallen victim to Spain’s