News & Politics

San Juan Mayor: Puerto Rican Statehood Like 'a Slave Becoming a Slave Owner'

YouTube screenshot of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz berating President Trump, comparing his delay on aid to Puerto Rico to a genocide.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz gained national media attention after attacking President Donald Trump, sparking a war of words between Trump and yet another Cruz. The San Juan mayor has made some very dubious remarks in the recent past that have nothing to do with Trump, however.

In a June interview with Britain’s liberal The Guardian newspaper, Cruz compared Puerto Rico’s current status as a U.S. territory to slavery and said that Puerto Rico becoming a U.S. state would be tantamount to a slave becoming a slave owner.

“You don’t fight injustice by asking to become part of the system that committed the injustice against you in the first place,” Cruz told The Guardian. “That’s like a freed slave striving to become a slave owner.”

“The issue of eradicating colonialism is extremely important, not for us as a country that’s going through very hard times, but for the US which has been a beacon of freedom around the world, or at least has portrayed itself as that,” Cruz added.

The San Juan mayor placed a heavy emphasis on the fact that the United States has engaged in imperialism, an ironic fact of history given that the United States threw off the imperial yoke of Great Britain. This irony is similar but not as egregious as the irony of the U.S. — a country founded on the idea that “all men are created equal” — harboring race-based slavery for nearly a century after its founding.

Cruz is a member of the opposition party, Partido Popular Democrático (PPD). The PPD does not advocate for Puerto Rican statehood, but a sort of middle ground between full independence and statehood. Her party supports full sovereign powers for Puerto Rico, but close ties to the U.S.

The U.S. territory held a referendum on statehood in June, and a full 97 percent of voters elected for the territory to become the 51st U.S. state. The turnout was only 23 percent, however. Puerto Rico also voted for statehood in 2012, but opponents said the voter turnout was too low to accurately reflect the will of the people.

President Trump signaled during his presidential campaign that he is open to Puerto Rico becoming a state. The governor plans to implement his “Tennessee plan,” which involves choosing two senators and five representatives to go to Washington, D.C., and request statehood.

Cruz’s attack on statehood by comparing it to slave ownership seems outrageous, but it is in keeping with the new tradition of slamming America’s history as irredeemably tainted by racism and colonialism.

Leftist writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates argue that America was founded on white supremacy and still enshrines racism in its social structure, a sin that cannot be expunged without ultimately rejecting the Constitution itself. Coates also argued that white supremacy is the force that elected Donald Trump.

While Coates’ position is extreme, many others have adopted a similar line. A recent HuffPost article argued that athletes who refuse to bow during the National Anthem are tacitly supporting white supremacy. Black leaders like Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson have been attacked as “black white supremacists” for supporting President Trump.

Slavery was indeed America’s original sin, but according to Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, the United States paid the debt on that sin through the bloody Civil War. Racism still exists in this country, but white nationalists are a small and powerless minority. There is no evidence to suggest Trump’s leadership as president is anything like “white supremacy.”

In her attacks on Trump, Cruz suggested that the president’s delay in providing aid was “something close to genocide.”

While the president praised the mayor by name earlier last week, he pivoted following her attacks. “Results of recovery efforts will speak much louder than complaints by San Juan Mayor,” Trump tweeted. “Doing everything we can to help great people of PR!”

On Sunday, he added a subtle dig that likely referred to Cruz. “We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico. Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates, people are now starting to recognize the amazing work that has been done,” Trump tweeted.

The war of words between Trump and Cruz seems to have abated, for now. But Cruz is still the woman who compared Trump’s delay to “genocide” and said Puerto Rican statehood — a position Trump has endorsed — is tantamount to slave ownership. It’s likely America hasn’t heard the end of her extreme rhetoric.