Social Fabric of Puerto Rico Impossible to Mend Without Statehood
Times were hard and growing desperate before hurricane Irma and Maria. These natural disasters mercilessly kicked Puerto Rico when it was down. PR51ST warned our readers of the potential for acceleration of the mass exodus of residents fleeing for the states already underway before the hurricanes struck.
We predicted “domestic refugees” in the tens of thousands could flood into Florida and other states to escape the economic downturn and social anxiety caused by the fiscal insolvency of the “commonwealth” regime of territorial government. We also pointed out that as much as 40% of those who leave for states pay federal Social Security and Medicare taxes, but benefits paid in Puerto Rico are materially less than in any state.
If there was ever a formula for fueling induced if not forced migration that might be it. In that context, one enlightened leader in the Florida state legislature sounded the call that a mass migration of citizens eligible for increased federal benefits could drive up the cost of health care in Florida and other destination states.
“Commonwealth” Proven National Folly
In the aftermath of Maria the failure of Congress to resolve the status of Puerto Rico in the decade after WWII is being revealed as national folly. In that decade the Philippines territory and its non-citizen population became an independent nation. Hawaii and Alaska where Congress had granted U.S. citizenship became states.
In Puerto Rico the Congress granted U.S. citizenship as it had in Hawaii and Alaska. But perversely instead of statehood the anti-statehood “autonomy” party and its lobbyists in Washington promoted the false promise of “commonwealth” as if an alternative to equal citizenship through statehood. The “autonomy” leaders and special interest allies in Congress pretended “commonwealth” would provide the “best of both worlds” by combining features of statehood and nationhood.
The mythology of “commonwealth” as a status solution fraudulently induced too many of our fellow Americans to sleep on the right to self-determination and equal rights within reach through statehood. Instead Puerto Rico gambled with the clever but doomed mythology of “autonomy” and the illusion of rights of nullification over federal law that are not within reach and never will be.
Now the man-made political disaster and failed social engineering experiment known as “commonwealth” has crashed and burned, and the natural disaster known as Maria has put the last nails in its coffin.
If the U.S. invests too little in recovery for the island the people will leave and it will become a largely abandoned failed territorial dependency. If the U.S. invests enough to make recovery possible but does not declare a permanent future political status policy based on self-determination, Puerto Rico will fail again, and again.
Statehood is the only proven model for success of a political economy for U.S. citizens. It provides rule of law and equal rights in states empowered by the American system of constitutional federalism. If nothing else, making statehood possible would result in massive private sector investment in addition to government investment in recovery.
Maria Makes Statehood Necessary
Statehood is not easy, it’s best understood as an allocation of new benefits and burdens. But historically all 32 U.S. citizen populated territories that became states reached a point where the only thing harder than statehood was to delay admission to the union any longer.
The British Invasion and War of 1812 made delaying statehood for Louisiana the only thing harder than admitting Louisiana as a state. At the time Congress represented only the politically homogeneous 15 states with predominantly Protestant populations that shared British colonial and American revolutionary history.
Yet, even then Congress understood that granting U.S. citizenship meant eventual equality through statehood, and that admission would become harder rather than easier if conditions in the territory were allowed to deteriorate further. So Congress granted statehood on an equal footing with the first 15 states to make full integration a success.
Louisiana was granted statehood by a far more divided, besieged and much less diverse Congress that had the wisdom to admit a non-English speaking and economically underdeveloped Catholic population with French and Spanish heritage that included their European civil code of laws.
Today, Puerto Rico is far more developed and integrated into the political, legal, social and economic life of the nation than most if not all of the 32 territories that became states. If denied statehood now, Puerto Rico will be the first large and populous U.S. citizen populated territory in history denied statehood at the historic moment when the balance of burdens and benefits attainable through statehood has become more favorable than under continued territory status.
If the U.S. invests tens of billions in recovery from Maria without harnessing the power of private sector led development by declaring statehood as the future political status of the territory it will mean the current Congress is arguably far less enlightened than the Congress in 1812.
As long as statehood is attained on terms defined by Congress and ratified by the people of the territory, history proves that only statehood is a model of sustained economic growth and stability that makes our citizens and homeland one nation under God.