Congressperson Nydia Velazquez pointed out during the recent hearing on Puerto Rico that Puerto Rico had access to chapter 9 bankruptcy protection from 1933 to 1984. Many commenters, in Congress and in the media, have suggested that the 1984 law change that excluded Puerto Rico from chapter 9 was a mistake or a typo or an anomaly.
But the fact that Velazquez mentioned shows a deeper reality: getting concessions from Congress now will not provide equality for Puerto Rico in the future.
Puerto Rico had chapter 9 protection for more than half a century. Then one day Congress took it away. No one in or out of the Congress now seems to have any recollection of why they did this. Congress can give that protection back to Puerto Rico tomorrow… and take it away again any time they like.
Because Puerto Rico is a territory, Congress has complete power over the Island. Here’s what the U.S. Constitution says: “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.”
Puerto Rico’s 1952 constitution doesn’t change that.
So anything the Congress does to Puerto Rico now, from returning its ability to use chapter 9 to restructure debts to giving equal treatment for Medicare to making a moratorium on lawsuit against Puerto Rico — any changes they make in the direction of equal rights for Puerto Rico — can be undone by a future Congress. Or by this Congress if they decide to change their minds.
There is one exception to this rule. If Congress agrees to make Puerto Rico a State, Puerto Rico will have all the rights and powers of a State, and Congress can’t change that.
32 of the current 50 states were territories in the past. They achieved statehood and now the people who live in those states — including people from Puerto Rico — have full citizenship in the United States. It’s time for Puerto Rico.