A comment in social media caught our attention. “Colleagues,” Jose Torres said, “H.R. 2757 is necessary as is S. 3231 in the Senate, but both are inadequate and should be amended before they are taken up for consideration on the floor.”
We would like to see some amendments, too, so we read on.
“The bills must be amended to include the requirement to achieve a number of economic milestones before any further plebiscite,” Torres continued. “A referendum in 2025 with a following change in status soon thereafter would cement the socio-economic conditions on the island. We can’t let that happen as is. We, Boricuas, need to refocus our effort towards rebuilding now; specifically getting the people off federal aid and back to work. Before any further referendum, we need to develop comparable labor force participation and production rates with the rest of the US States; or comparable sovereign nations. We definitely do not want to join the union as a welfare state.”
Let’s examine this suggestion further.
We have heard this one before. It is often suggested that Puerto Rico is too poor to be a state. The insidious thing about this suggestion is that Puerto Rico’s economic problems are the result of territory status and cannot be solved while the Island continues to be a territory. Statehood will provide a level playing field and lead to prosperity for Puerto Rico as it has for all the territories which have already become states.
And this is the other side of the coin. Territories in the past were never required to become prosperous before they became states. All became prosperous after they became states. Hawaii and Alaska, both poverty-stricken territories, are now affluent states. The suggestion that Puerto Rico, alone among the U.S. territories in history, should have to meet economic milestones — or a national referendum, or a 60% majority for statehood, or any of the rest of the proposed special requirements — is purely discrimination.
Cemented socio-economic conditions
“A referendum in 2025 with a following change in status soon thereafter would cement the socio-economic conditions on the island,” Torres suggests. In fact, changes in socio-economic conditions would be the logical outcome. If Puerto Rico votes for statehood again, investors will flock to the Island, as they did to Hawaii, to get in on the stronger economy which will follow. Stability and the promise of federal financial support will encourage local entrepreneurs as well as multinational corporations to invest in Puerto Rico.
A win for independence would have a different set of economic effects, but there certainly would be changes.
Comparable labor rates
Torres expresses a desire for Puerto Rico to increase labor participation, and few would argue.But this would certainly be easier to accomplish in a more stable and less discriminatory environment. Currently, Puerto Rico is in a stronger economic position than most of the neighboring sovereign nations. As a state, the Island will offer greater opportunities to residents.
On average, people who move from Puerto Rico to a state earn twice as much as those who remain in Puerto Rico. With a level playing field, Puerto Ricans will be able to thrive on the Island. Like other territories which have become states, Puerto Rico can expect new residents instead of a constantly dwindling population. With greater federal support, the Island will be able to reduce local taxes and still meet residents’ needs. This will reduce the current incentive to work only in the informal economy.
A welfare state
It is already true that larger proportions of Puerto Rico residents rely on federal benefits than residents of states. This is a direct result of the economic problems created by the territory status. As a state, Puerto Rico can expect to be more prosperous: every territory which has become a state has had this experience and there is no reason to think it will not be true for Puerto Rico as well.
This won’t happen instantly, but history shows that it happens quickly. Over time, Puerto Rico can expect to produce more wealth for its own people and for the United States as a whole. As a territory, Puerto Rico is crippled by the inequality and disadvantages of being a territory. Attaining prosperity is not even a realistic goal for a territory.
The proposal to delay a final, federally-sponsored referendum until Puerto Rico is in a stable economic position is just a proposal to delay solving the problems created by the current colonial status. For the few people who benefit from the territory status, it provides more time to exploit Puerto Rico. For the vast majority of Puerto Ricans, it would only extend the current inequality and suffering.
Whether Puerto Rico chooses independence or statehood, the end of territory status is a necessity for any chance of prosperity, equality, and justice. It’s time.