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Monday, August 16, 2004

The United States Men's Basketball Team lost to . . . Another United States Men's Basketball Team?

In a stunning defeat, the U.S. Men's Basketball team lost to the Puerto Rican Men's Basketball team in the first round of Olympic play.

This, of course, begs the obvious question: Why is there a separate Olympic team for Puerto Rico?

Last I checked, Puerto Rico was part of the United States. More precisely, according to the CIA's World Factbook, Puerto Rico is a "commonwealth" of the United States. The Factbook also notes that Puerto Rico's constitution was approved by the U.S. Congress in 1952; its system of courts is "within the U.S. Federal system of justice"; its chief of state is President George W. Bush; and its currency is the U.S. Dollar. On the other hand, Puerto Ricans do not enjoy voting representation in the U.S. Congress, and though their chief of state is indeed the U.S. President, they cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections. Additionally, Puerto Ricans pay no federal income taxes.

Now, I'm sure most Puerto Ricans like having their own Olympic squads. And I can easily see why. It preserves some sense of autonomy, and, more practically, it enables more Puerto Ricans to participate in the Olympics. And clearly, Puerto Ricans, like those living in Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are not afforded all of the electoral benefits (or tax burdens) of American citizenship. Maybe that's why all three of those territories demand separate Olympic teams. After-all, the United States did show up in their lands years ago--uninvited by the indigenous peoples--and have never really left.

But at the end of the day, the people of Puerto Rico, like those of Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are still citizens of the United States. Doubtless, some of them may like that arrangement, while others may not (incidentally, in a 1993 non-binding Puerto Rican referendum, 49 percent of the populace voted to remain a commonwealth, 46 percent voted for statehood, and 4 percent favored independence -- and ambivalent result indeed).

So perhaps for that reason, it worth asking this question: As long as we are all part of the same country, shouldn't we all play on the same team?

I'm honestly not sure. I can see both sides of the equation. And in a larger sense, maybe that's why the desirability of American territories at this point in our nation's history is likewise so unsettled, both here and there.


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