How attractive is Puerto Rico? Puerto Rico is a tropical paradise boasting stunning natural landscapes, beautiful beaches, lush rainforests, and picturesque mountains. The Island has a rich blend of Spanish, Taino, and African cultures reflected in its music, dance, art, and cuisine. Old San Juan, with its colorful colonial architecture and historic forts, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major attraction for tourists and residents alike. Outdoor enthusiasts find many opportunities for hiking, surfing, snorkeling, and more. Puerto Rican cuisine, known for dishes like mofongo and arroz con gandules, is a draw for food lovers. Puerto Ricans are known for their warm and welcoming hospitality, which is surely an attractive quality. But none of these attractions are what we have in mind with this question.
We’re wondering how attractive an independent nation of Puerto Rico would be as a strategic location. During its time as a colony of Spain, Puerto Rico was attacked by Dutch, French, and English forces, all of which wanted to take it over as part of their Caribbean domains.
When the United States flirted with imperialism at the end of the 19th century, one of the reasons for wanting to annex places like Hawaii and Puerto Rico was the fear that other nations would threaten them, and thereby threaten the United States as well. The U.S. worried that Britain had its eyes on Hawaii, as they had courted Texas not long before Texas joined the union.
Japan invaded and occupied the Philippines in the 20th century. In the 21st century, China and Russia seek to extend their influence in the Pacific, the Caribbean, and Latin America. According to the State Department, “the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using military and economic coercion to bully its neighbors, advance unlawful maritime claims, threaten maritime shipping lanes, and destabilize territory along the periphery of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This predatory conduct increases the risk of miscalculation and conflict.”
If Puerto Rico chose independence, would larger countries be tempted to attack the Island?
If Puerto Rico negotiated a Compact of Free Association with the United States, U.S. defense would be part of the deal. The U.S. provides military defense of the three nations which currently have compacts of free association with the United States. The U.S. has military installations in those fully independent countries, and has the right to override their government’s decisions about their relationships with other nations. It is likely, if the U.S. negotiated free association with Puerto Rico, that the treaty would involve these features.
This is not what supporters of free association for Puerto Rico describe when they talk about free association.
The Caribbean region contains a number of countries which are smaller and (at the moment) less economically secure than Puerto Rico, and they are not going in fear of being invaded by larger nations. China may be working to expand their influence over these countries, but the world would be very surprised if, say, North Korea suddenly invaded Jamaica. We are not suggesting that a newly independent Puerto Rico would be in immediate danger of being overcome by another nation.
But it is worth recognizing, as we hear separatists dreaming of beneficial economic connections with other countries, that an independent Puerto Rico would be in a different position, in terms of defense, than a state of Puerto Rico would.