One argument against statehood that we sometimes see is that Puerto Rico’s government is corrupt. There are two questions we should examine about this argument:

  • First, is Puerto Rico’s government particularly corrupt?
  • Second, is this actually an argument against statehood?

Is Puerto Rico’s government corrupt?

Adrian Florida of NPR said, “It’s worth noting that studies have found that Puerto Rico is not more prone to corruption than other places in the United States.” That is true.

Trading Economics reports that Puerto Rico is ranked at #31 out of 180 countries and territories, where #1 is the least corrupt and #180 is the most corrupt.  Puerto Rico is ranked #15 among the states of the U.S. for corruption, according to the New York Times.

Corruption in politics is never a good thing, but Puerto Rico is not especially corrupt.

 Is corruption an argument against statehood?

More importantly, corruption in a territorial government is not a reason not to become a state. In the history of many states, it has been an argument for statehood.

Many territories in the past worked for statehood to gain law and order. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • In Arkansas, “The Family” controlled government in the territory. Duels and murders were part of the territory’s political life, including a stabbing that took place on the floor of the legislature while it was in session (this took place just after statehood — the last hurrah of the territorial government).
  • Both New Mexico and Arizona had to overcome their reputations as lawless places with gunslingers and  gangsters terrorizing the populace. An unusual recent study found that their accounting improved when they became states, too — statehood brought about better accounting and increased public accountability, in that “improved accounting brings light to murky transactions and the back-door deal making of government officials.”
  • Kansas’s territorial government in the 1850s was known as the “Bogus Legislature” because more votes were cast in the election than there were residents living in the territory.
  • According to an essay on Colorado history at Constituting America, “By the early 1870s the territorial governors appointed from Washington, D.C., had become so corrupt at to be unbearable to the people of Colorado. So they began to seek statehood.”
  • In what became the state of Louisiana, according to papers from the time, “The litigant who was able to pay the largest bribes to the commandant generally succeeded.”
  • The Congressional Record for 1952 reports that “Corruption in the present Alaska administration has been widespread for many years” and goes on to give details of “the notorious Palmer land deal” in which the territorial government misrepresented the costs of land for an airport to gain funds from the federal government, among other examples. Alaska was a territory at the time.

This list could be much longer. Accountability and support from the federal government have historically led to greater safety, less corruption, and better government in states than in the territories they had previously been.

If Puerto Rico were more likely to have government corruption than states, statehood would be a solution to that problem.



One response

  1. “Nothing discloses real character like the use of power. It is easy for the weak to be gentle. Most people can bear adversity. But if you wish to know what a man really is, give him power. This is the supreme test. It is the glory of Lincoln that, having almost absolute power, he never abused it, except on the side of mercy.”
    “Works of Robert G. Ingersoll” volume III, published in 1902

    All types of corruption have existed throughout history pretty much everywhere—petty corruption, political, private, public, often leading to systemic grand corruption.

    Its existence is undeniable, yet it must remain unacceptable. It should be continually exposed and, when possible, legally challenged.

    Puerto Rico’s way forward through statehood will provide a firmer ground to challenge ongoing corruption at the federal and state level with federal agencies’ resources.

    It is impossible to imagine a successful Puerto Rico without any form of federal accountability through agencies such as the FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security. Among other things, this is what statehood will bring and secure.

    Puerto Rico must invest its federal funds wisely. A comprehensive education is key to optimizing Puerto Rico’s socio-economic future.

    The PR public educational system must transition to an all English curriculum to optimize students’ standardized testing and lead them to educational bilingual nationwide competitiveness.

    Civility, manners, and decency are not weaknesses but traits that lead to the formation of a solid individual, and yes, it starts at home and school.

    As voters, it is our responsibility to choose ethical elected officials and remove from office those that have failed us. We must not be afraid to ask for transparency, accountability, and short and long-term performance outcomes. An unproductive, self-serving public official has no place in government.

    Lastly, and respectfully, Congress cannot use the present or past corruption in Puerto Rico to stop our statehood request.

    Let’s remember that special interest lobbying may be legal, powerful and effective, yet it is not necessarily devoid of harmful obstructionism and/or moral bankruptcy.

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