In the recent House subcommittee hearing on Puerto Rico, Rubén Berrios, the head of Puerto Rico’s Independence party, expressed concern that the people of Puerto Rico would choose statehood. Asked for his prediction of what would happen in 20 years if there was not change in Puerto Rico’s status, he forecast that there would be “more and more supporters of statehood.”
It is true that Puerto Rico has more and more supporters of statehood. In fact, more that 61% of the voters in the most recent status referendum chose statehood. Independence has never gained more than 5% of the vote.
But Berrios is concerned that the people of Puerto Rico would choose statehood “for the wrong reasons.” Specifically, he worries that the people of Puerto Rico will choose statehood because it would mean more federal support. Berrios sees this as part of a dangerous “culture of dependence.”
The federal government provides the money that builds the roads for all the states… and for Puerto Rico, but at a lesser rate. Federal money pays for medical care for people in need in all the states… and in Puerto Rico, but at a lesser rate. Federal funds provide help with food for families in poverty in every state… and in Puerto Rico, but at a lesser rate.
Being able to have the support taxpaying citizens receive in every state would not make Puerto Rico more dependent. It would help solve some of the problems that keep Puerto Rico focused on solving financial difficulties instead of on growth.
32 territories have become states so far. Every one of those territories has been better off financially as a state than it was as a territory. So yes, statehood probably will lead to greater prosperity for Puerto Rico. That seems like a good reason to choose statehood.
But there are reasons beyond economic opportunity:
- A desire to take full part in the democratic process in our country
- A belief in equal rights and democracy
- A patriotic desire to keep U.S. citizenship, which has been the birthright of the people of Puerto Rico for nearly a century
Statehood would be a permanent relationship with the United States, not the uncertain relationship implied by the territorial status. It’s natural that the Independence Party should worry about losing supporters to the ideals and the practical advantages of statehood.