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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Quiet Empire and Slippery Geography: Puerto Rico as Nonsovereign Territory


This essay addresses sociospatial asymmetries configured into the status of nonsovereign island territories. It examines the roles of discourses as legal substructures for policies with clear economic and racial impacts. It also looks at the flexible ways location has been used by national courts, the executive branch, and US Congress to justify differential applications of rights toward island-based citizens. Slippery definitions of incorporation help ensure a nontransferability of national rights and a transferable system of cost-bearing and debt. The essay argues that neoimperialism was the realpolitik that gave logic to the territorial acquisition of Puerto Rico. It discusses diaspora, monocultural production, environmental vulnerability, and locational citizenship in the context of the US Insular Cases, beginning in 1901. By coding islands as suspended spaces from the metropole, quiet colonialism operates through obfuscation. It does not nest in any clear geographic form or authority, but instead works through laws, logistics and installations that are zoned at the crossroads of the foreign and domestic.

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