Forty-eight hours after the Republican Party put on its version of The Howdy Doody Show in Tampa, I’m still chuckling over Clint Eastwood’s chit chat with an empty chair in front of a convention audience that seemed willing to appear equally intellectually vacuous as they smiled along and applauded this fiasco. The performance conjured up references to Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”, the classic portrayal of how a racist America prefers to view Black America, particularly its men: out of sight; silent; and impotent.
The laughs continue once you take a closer look at the GOP’s platform. What caught my eye was the GOP’s reference to the rights of the U.S. Territories to participate fully in the American political process. U.S. territories include American Samoa, Guam, Northern Marianas Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. When I passed along this portion of the GOP platform to my fellow Virgin Islanders, the response was a collective laugh.
In a number of ways, the U.S. Virgin Islands has always been that invisible man for the United States. The territory was purchased from Denmark in August 1916 partly to serve as a base from which the United States could launch naval operations. Almost 100 years after the transfer of the islands to the U.S., Virgin Islanders enjoy a unique relationship with the American Mainland and the Caribbean region.
If you were born in the U.S.V.I., you are an American citizen. Virgin Islanders spend U.S. currency and draft laws subject to the U.S. Constitution. We have a non-voting delegate that represents the territory in the United States House of Representatives. We travel on U.S. passports, and consume American goods and services.
Virgin Islanders are also West Indians. Our ancestors hail from other parts of the Caribbean. The parents of a significant number of friends and classmates, along with mine, were born on other islands. Frequent trips to other Caribbean nations helped keep our West Indian culture intact.
But to most Americans the U.S. Virgin Islands may as well be invisible. Ask the average American about the V.I. and you would be lucky to get a comparison to Jamaica. Some Americans are surprised to learn that we even speak English. Finding an American who could identify where the U.S.V.I. is on a map would be synonymous to beating the odds for the lottery.
So it was ironic that the GOP, a party not known for its outreach efforts to minorities, would actually mention us in their platform. The vagueness of the platform’s verbiage was enough to let me know that our mention was self serving and shouldn’t be taken seriously.
What should be taken seriously by the people of the Virgin Islands is a move toward independence. Other than being a tourist destination and an afterthought for the U.S., I never saw much of an equitable relationship between us and the mainland. If we are to be taken for granted by the U.S., then why not exercise our independence in the process?
Naysayers to independence could bring up a number of arguments. We are too small. We like being American. We like spending the greenback. We can’t sustain ourselves. We need the United States.
People that push these arguments have no confidence in the benefits their own liberty can yield, which is why the arguments fall muted and mute on my ears. There are a number of countries that have populations equal to or smaller than the Virgin Islands. There is no reason that the currency of the Virgin Islands could not remain the greenback. The requirements of the expanding knowledge economy, a growing financial sector, a large deep water port, an established tourism industry, and the talent located in the Virgin Islands provides a base for a vibrant economic hub in the Caribbean. The location of the Virgin Islands and its continued importance to America’s national defense posture makes the U.S. need the Virgin Islands as much as the Virgin Islands needs it.
The concerns of the naysayers could be addressed by establishing a compact of free association between the Virgin Islands and the United States. A compact of free association is an agreement between the United States and an independent sovereign nation that has the U.S. providing the nation with economic assistance, including eligibility for certain federal programs, and external military defense. In exchange, the United States receives defense and certain other operating rights in the nation, and denial of access by other nations into the territory of the party to the compact.
Examples of this type of agreement abound. The United States has compacts of free association with the sovereign nations of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. All of these nations were formerly part of a trust administered by the U.S. before gaining their independence.
If the GOP were really serious about the full participation of the Virgin Islands in the political process, they would have offered a more aggressive plank position: encouragement of the Virgin Islands to pursue its global and political independence.
Otherwise, GOP, I’m still laughing.