Thursday, July 23, 2015

Exploiting Puerto Rico's Fuzzy Sovereignty

With the homeland as neither nation nor state, Puerto Ricans twist in the wind of political whimsy.

Theme: Human rights geography

Subject Article: "The problem with Puerto Rico's debt."

Other Links: 1. "Murder at Sea: Captured on Video, but Killers Go Free."
2. "American Experience: The Pill."
3. "The Insular Cases: Constitutional experts assess the status of territories acquired in the Spanish–American War."

Postscript: "Reconsidering the Insular Cases: The Past and Future of the American Empire."

Over a century has passed since the United States Supreme Court decided a series of cases, known as the “Insular Cases,” that limited the applicability of constitutional rights in Puerto Rico and other overseas territories and allowed the United States to hold them indefinitely as subordinated possessions without the promise of representation or statehood. Essays in this volume, which originated in a Harvard Law School conference, reconsider the Insular Cases. Leading legal authorities examine the history and legacy of the cases, which are tinged with outdated notions of race and empire, and explore possible solutions for the dilemmas they created. Reconsidering the Insular Cases is particularly timely in light of the latest referendum in Puerto Rico expressing widespread dissatisfaction with its current form of governance, and litigation by American Samoans challenging their unequal citizenship status. This book gives voice to a neglected aspect of U.S. history and constitutional law and provides a rich context for rethinking notions of sovereignty, citizenship, race, and place, as well as the roles of law and politics in shaping them.

Thinking about the Insular Cases in a generic sense, citizenship in any space at any scale is not a binary. In terms of territory or turf, citizenship is experience on a continuum. In a neighborhood, newcomers do not enjoy the full benefits of citizenship that the most tenured residents enjoy. Newcomers are expected to conform and labor to fit in, prove they belong. For example, Spike Lee's rant about the gentrification of Brooklyn:

Then comes the motherfuckin’ Christopher Columbus Syndrome. You can’t discover this! We been here. You just can’t come and bogart. There were brothers playing motherfuckin’ African drums in Mount Morris Park for 40 years and now they can’t do it anymore because the new inhabitants said the drums are loud. My father’s a great jazz musician. He bought a house in nineteen-motherfuckin’-sixty-eight, and the motherfuckin’ people moved in last year and called the cops on my father. He’s not — he doesn’t even play electric bass! It’s acoustic! We bought the motherfuckin’ house in nineteen-sixty-motherfuckin’-eight and now you call the cops? In 2013? Get the fuck outta here!

Nah. You can’t do that. You can’t just come in the neighborhood and start bogarting and say, like you’re motherfuckin’ Columbus and kill off the Native Americans. Or what they do in Brazil, what they did to the indigenous people. You have to come with respect. There’s a code. There’s people.

In this passage, Spike Lee is anti-newcomer. He isn't anti-gentrification. He invokes tenure as the measure for the right to define cultural space. Hey Spike Lee, get the fuck outta here with your xenophobic bullshit.

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