if you don’t know, now you know

I have to admit, I know very little about the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. I mean, I know it’s a colony, but just what that means about the rights due to people from the island I’ve never been to sure about. Every few years there are elections to decide whether or not Puerto Rico should remain a commonwealth, become the 51st state of the U.S., or become independent. Without knowing much of P.R.’s history and not being Puerto Rican in the slightest bit, I always imagined that I would be among

the 4% voting for independence – I mean, they can’t vote in presidential elections (then again, does that really matter?), but they are still subject to presidential authority.

Well, a leader in the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, Juan Mari Brás, recently won a lengthy, court battle for something that never existed before: Puerto Rican citizenship – kinda. At 79 years old, Brás has been in the fight for over a decade. At one point, 13 years ago, Brás renounced his U.S. citizenship, which effectively meant that he could no longer vote in Puerto Rican elections and he was a citizen of no land in particular (remember, Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizenship). Brás sued to regain the right to vote without American citizenship and won. Now that he has won Puerto Rican citizenship, which hadn’t existed before October of 2006, many are quick to point out that it is a symbol with no legal meaning or rights to it.

In a mission to prove Puerto Ricans had a separate national identity, Mari Brás in 1994 went to the American embassy in Caracas and renounced his U.S. citizenship. When he returned to Puerto Rico, a local statehood activist sued him, arguing that Mari Brás no longer had a right to vote in local elections. Puerto Rico’s electoral law says that only U.S. citizens can cast ballots.

”I wanted to see if in Puerto Rico you could continue breathing without being a U.S. citizen,” he said.

The case made the Puerto Rican Supreme Court, and, last fall, Mari Brás won.

”It’s extraordinary,” said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York group that has represented Puerto Rico’s independence activists. “He has been after this for 30 or 40 years. The next step is people will demand passports. What other things can flow from there?”

Read the Article

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~ by Anayah on July 17, 2007.

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