A new book on Puerto Rico, When Colonialism Wins by Jose Torres Pabon, proposes a different future for Puerto Rico from the usual three political status options. Torres Pabon suggests that Puerto Rico is not ready for statehood or for independence. As for the “commonwealth,” Torres Pabon says, “There is no commonwealth. There is colonialism.” He wants to see economic self-sufficiency for Puerto Rico before any consideration of a change in status.

Torres Pabon is not the only one to call for prosperity before status. Numerous politicians have said that Puerto Rico should stop thinking about political status. Senator Joe Manchin said, “The issue of Puerto Rican political status is undoubtedly important. However, I would bet that most Puerto Ricans would rank job creation, education, and strengthening the economy as the most pressing needs on their mind.”

“To Reach Statehood, Puerto Rico Should Improve Its Financial Practices,” the Cato Institute proclaimed.

“The all-encompassing debate over status,” wrote Governing.com, “has itself become a major distraction from fixing the economic problems at hand.”

Can economic problems be solved without a status decision?

Puerto Rico is working hard to solve its economic woes, but there are serious obstacles in the way. Torres Pabon doesn’t believe that a status change is the solution, though. He believes that the problem is a learned dependence on the part of residents of Puerto Rico. With a greater commitment to self-reliance, he thinks, Puerto Rico can bring labor force participation to the same level as the states and thus be ready to become a state or an independent nation.

Torres Pabon envisions a nonpartisan task force to restructure Puerto Rico’s economy. The members of the task force could be chosen by the governor or the president, and they should use AI to examine models like Singapore, Israel, and South Korea for inspiration. Then there will be federal laws requiring able-bodied people to work, development of the best schools in the nation, and food independence. The premise is that these things can be done under the current territorial status, if everyone will work hard.

What about statehood?

Torres Pabon has an interesting take on the doctrine of equal footing. Instead of the more usual understanding that each state is admitted on an equal footing with all the other states — that is, having the same rights and responsibilities as all the others — Torres Pabon says that equal footing is a “prerequisite” for admittance.

That is, until Puerto Rico is on the same economic level as current states, the Island is not eligible for statehood on Torres Pabon’s eyes. That is not how statehood has worked in the past. History shows that nearly every territory that entered the Union did so in poverty. Becoming a state brought the territories out of their poverty and into prosperity.

But that is not the path Torres Pabon foresees. Instead, he figures the current residents of Puerto Rico will be replaced by wealthy investors from the states. Moving in with support of Act 600, these people will replace the current population. Once they live in Puerto Rico, though, they will discover that they do not have the full protection of the U.S. Constitution or a full vote in American democracy. These new residents, Torres Pabon believes, will demand equal rights through statehood. He thinks they’ll get it, too. Having had the full rights of U.S. citizens living in states, “these ‘news Puerto Ricans’ will move Congress to action.”

“Puerto Rico will most likely become the fifty-first state of the union once the bulk of the current native population has relocated out of the territory,” Torres Pabon writes.

An alternative scenario

Suppose that instead of leaving Puerto Rico and waiting for incomers from the states to demand statehood from Congress, the current residents of Puerto Rico demand statehood from Congress, with the help of U.S. citizens in the state who have multiple representatives in the House and Senate to listen to them. This option will also take hard work, but it will also level the playing field and make the prosperity Torres Pabon desires more likely.



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