George Laws García, Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Statehood Council, gave an interview to Politics + Media 101.
Beginning with an overview of the history of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States ( which was, he says, “becoming an evil superpower”). Puerto Rico was strategically important for the effort of protecting the Panama Canal. After the World Wars, “Operation Bootstrap” increased Puerto Rico’s standard of living significantly, but then came recessions, economic inequality, and financial crisis.
Laws Garcia runs quickly through the laws affecting Puerto Rico, including the Insular Cases.
He goes on to discuss the loss of population of Puerto Rico and the establishment of the PROMESA financial oversight board. “A lot of people thought we had escaped being a territory,” he says, but of course that was not true. Inequality and economic stress led to financial crisis. “We ended up with a situation where Puerto Rico’s debt just ballooned to an unsustainable rate.”
The establishment of the board burst the balloon of the “commonwealth” — the idea that Puerto Rico had sovereignty “went out the window.”
The host asked why Hawaii and Alaska, both of which have similarities to Puerto Rico, became states but Puerto Rico has not accomplished that. “The big difference really had to do with the legal instruments which the Congress used,” Laws Garcia says. Once the Supreme Court drew the distinction between incorporated territories and unincorporated territories, with concerns about the Philippines in mind, “the structure for unincorporated territory status applies to Puerto Rico today.”
The 2020 referendum
The discussion goes on to reflect on the plebiscite’s. Laws Garcia reviewed the three plebiscites of the 21st century. In all three, statehood was the winner.
The conversation then comes up to date with the Puerto Rico Status Act, including the way it was developed and its passage in the House. “Congress has a responsibility to offer the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico a final and definitive choice out of this territorial limbo,” Laws Garcia says. “We’re focused on the immediate steps.”
The conversation is a great way to catch up on the history of the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States and the action that needs to be taken going forward. Take a listen!
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