Washington - Even if it were a "bad-taste joke," the comment attributed to President Donald Trump stating that he wants to trade Puerto Rico for Greenland reaffirms that he perceives the island – in accordance with the U.S. Constitution Territorial Clause - as a possession.
Trump's first comments about wanting the U.S. to buy Greenland seemed a joke, partly due to the way the U.S. president expresses himself.
Things, however, became complicated and caused a diplomatic rupture.
Trump, highly susceptible to criticism and a real estate tycoon himself, canceled a planned trip to Denmark on September 2 and 3 at the invitation of Queen Margrethe II, after Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen described the U.S. President's insistence on acquiring Greenland, a Danish self-governing territory, as "absurd."
And the international turmoil reached the island.
A former Trump government official told The New York Times that in 2018, in the middle of a meeting and during Hurricane María recovery process, the President joked about wanting to trade Puerto Rico for Greenland.
The joke comes at a time when Puerto Rico is seeking to overcome a serious political crisis and, according to Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, has 'zero' credibility in the U.S. capital.
Trump has seen Puerto Rico as an obstacle in the face of complaints about the slow and inefficient federal response to Hurricane María, which caused nearly 3,000 deaths and over $100 billion in damage.
He has questioned - and tried to stop- disaster relief funds for the island after Hurricane María on September 20, 2017. His attacks on the island's politicians have been constant.
But this comment on trading the island for Greenland would be the second time Trump jokes about Puerto Rico's relationship with the United States.
In June 2018, Trump also joked about statehood for Puerto Rico, when, faced with a proposal by Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, Trump asked him whether he can guarantee the election of Republican senators.
This is not the first time the White House considers the possibility of giving Puerto Rico to another country, including its citizens.
In the White House Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status report in December 2005, the George W. Bush administration seriously said that giving the island to another country was an alternative.
"The Federal Government may relinquish United States sovereignty by granting independence or ceding the territory to another nation; or it may, as the Constitution provides, admit a territory as a State, thus making the Territory Clause inapplicable," the report said, ruling out the possibility of a 'new Commonwealth' and a "bilateral pact" that cannot be broken without "mutual consent."
Since mid-August, Trump has made public his interest in the United States acquiring Greenland - which, like Puerto Rico, has once been considered a strategic military enclave - an idea that was also promoted in 1946 by former President Harry Truman.
Jeffrey Farrow, a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands and chairman of President Bill Clinton's White House Task Force on Puerto Rico and now an adviser to pro-statehood groups, recalled that the United States acquired the Virgin Islands in 1917 by the United States -for $25 million - precisely from Denmark.
However, Farrow said that speaking about “trading colonies” as Trump allegedly said is "tasteless, offensive" and reminds him of "an ancient time in history."
Also, Farrow said the simplicity of that expression ignores the legal complications that issue would have for the 3.2 million Puerto Ricans on the island who are U.S. citizens and Congress jurisdiction over the island's political future.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Puerto Rico belongs to, but is not part of, the United States. For Farrow, Trump sees Puerto Rico as a possession he can sell, but that in practical terms, he can't do it.
The White House, Commissioner González - Trump's ally - and the Puerto Rican government office in Washington did not comment yesterday on what Trump would have said.
"It is difficult to give way to an anonymous complaint," said Javier Ortíz, who was part of Trump's Transition Team and is the executive director of FixPuertoRico.org.
For Emilio Pantojas, sociologist and professor at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), Trump's colonialist, imperialist, racist and Eurocentric vision should cause a mass reaction from Puerto Ricans led by Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced, who has identified with the Republican philosophy, and Commissioner González.
"They should respond. Take the rebuff on behalf of the people of Puerto Rico. The answer (also) must come from all Puerto Ricans, especially from PNPs who believe themselves to be North Americans," he said.
Pantojas said the comment attributed to the U.S. President "is a confirmation that for the Americans who support Trump, Puerto Rico is a separate nation from the United States. We are a Latin American nation, they know it and they despise us for that reason."
Meanwhile, attorney and law professor Rafael Cox Alomar, thinks that Trump's "racist and paternalistic" view is "anchored in a very twisted view of the U.S. Constitution and the scope of the Territorial Clause. It is the same position that the U.S. government defended before the U.S. Supreme Court when it questioned the constitutionality of PROMESA's Oversight Board, Cox Alomar said.
"It's the same argument Trump uses - disguised here - that Congress has the power to do whatever it wants with Puerto Rico. That's the vision these people have. It's not a joke. It's a limiting, imperialist legal view. It's a colonial, imperialist, racist and dehumanizing position," he said.
For UPR Political Science professor Melody Fonseca, Trump's "sick joke" "is that he can give us away, similar to his idea of Central American countries and Africa, which he called 'shitholes.'"
Fonseca said Commissioner González, who supports Trump's re-election and has defended his government, should say what “she thinks of those expressions."
Cox Alomar said this new episode between Trump and Puerto Rico should fuel a debate on the right to self-determination of Puerto Ricans.
"It also calls us, Puerto Ricans to discover new forms of autonomy," the professor said.
Cox Alomar said Greenland had greater autonomy than the island since 2009. In international relations, it can reach economic treaties. And it has decision-making power over some natural resources, such as hydrocarbons.
"I believe that once again Trump, with his clumsiness, brings the incomplete self-determination agenda. With the same figth for consensus, we must march, demand in Washington that it fulfills its legal obligation to decolonize Puerto Rico. It is a wake-up call to the conscience of Puerto Ricans to resume the battle that began in the summer and focus on the unfinished agenda that has to do with the island´s status and economic regeneration," added Cox Alomar.
Anthropologist Yarimar Bonilla agreed that the joke "highlights Puerto Rico's colonial relationship with the United States."
Trump's comment reminded Bonilla that of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in July 2015, who, faced with U.S. intervention in the Greek debt crisis, said the European Union was willing to give Puerto Rico entry into the eurozone if the United States was willing to take Greece into the dollar union.
Trump's expressions pose a "challenge" for New Progressive Party (PNP) leaders, who advocate for statehood, said Profesor Fonseca. She affirmed that "these are the moments to see if the demand for annexation comes from the challenge to colonialism or from a policy of not confronting the metropolis."