As the federally created PROMESA financial control Board for Puerto Rico searches for economic recovery strategies, and now the bankruptcy process under the PROMESA law plays out, history will repeat itself. The worse things get the more obvious it will become that statehood is the only way Puerto Rico can recover from the collapse of the territorial “Commonwealth” regime into failed client state syndrome.
“Commonwealth” was simply a form of “state-like” but not sovereign autonomy without state-like sovereign accountability. That enabled officials in the territorial regime to pretend debt financing of federally created “Commonwealth” government was backed by the full faith and credit of the federal government. It was only a matter of time before federal officials allowed local officials to make promises that could not be kept without borrowing more than the territorial regime could pay back.
Instead of trying to invent yet another hybrid model of a political economy, as good choices become fewer we all will realize that statehood NOW is the only proven model for a U.S. territory that retains U.S. national sovereign rule and citizenship to also become a political and economic success story. Statehood is the only model for transition to full democracy and fiscal viability that has been tested and worked for 32 other U.S. territories that “hit the wall” of developmental arrest before admission to the Union.
Can you imagine the inflow of investment to Puerto Rico once Congress declares that statehood for Puerto Rico best serves the national interest? The real estate market boom alone will lift the territory out recession, bring unemployment to historic lows and restore revenue streams to end fiscal crisis.
Tourism and diversified modern manufacturing will expand. Statehood will come sooner and be smoother than anyone thought possible. That is what happened in New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii.
Some are still talking about converting territorial “commonwealth” to a non-territorial third path combining features of statehood and nationhood, so that a choice between them is not necessary. This tired old idea has not worked for all these decades. Even the commonwealth party junta leaders must suspend disbelief to recite the liturgy of autonomy to the growing ranks of former devotees — now non-believers.
The local independence movement is now smaller and more obsolete than the independence movements in Vermont, Texas, Alaska and Hawaii before those territorial jurisdictions within the U.S became States. The best the anti-statehood autonomists and independence faction can come up with is a collection of perversely idiosyncratic narratives about the worst moments in Puerto Rico’s history under American rule.
A 2015 book entitled War Against All Puerto Ricans, by an anti-statehood propagandist named Nelson A. Denis, is being circulated. The book’s title is a fabricated fictional rendition of a statement made by a federally appointed territorial Chief of Police. The book recites the history of civil strife in the territory, as if that somehow proves that Puerto Rico’s past means statehood is impossible in the present and future. That flawed premise ignores the redeeming power of freedom and democracy, which thrives best when it overcomes the denial of freedom and democracy.
Nations are not formed and expanded by incorporating new territories and peoples without adversity. Indeed, the internal and external political turmoil, government corruption scandals and civil strife in Puerto Rico existed on a small scale and were not major disruptions of civic order when compared to the history of other territories that became States:
- Arizona unilaterally declared itself a State then joined the confederacy in rebellion against the Republic and the Constitution. The U.S. Army invaded and occupied Tucson to restore federal law and order.
- Native tribes in the territory that became Oklahoma imported slaves from southern states, expanding the slavery conflict, after which some Indian tribes also joined the confederacy in rebellion against the Republic and the Constitution. Plans to form a geographically expansive mid-western state of the union for native tribes were rejected, creating conditions contributing to the tragedy of Indian Wars.
- The State of Ohio and the Territory of Michigan each called up and amassed troops along their disputed borderline in the event war broke out preventing a settlement of claims.
- Like Puerto Rico, there were cross-cultural, linguistic, legal, economic and political tensions that arose because immediately before being annexed by the U.S. the territories of Louisiana, California, Alaska, New Mexico and Hawaii had been under the sovereignty of foreign powers and had populations that were not U.S. citizens.
- The percentage of English speakers in Puerto Rico today is far greater than Louisiana and New Mexico when admitted as States.
- In Louisiana, economic as well as fiscal problems, allegiance of the formerly French and Spanish population to those nations, and anti-U.S. plots by territorial leaders led Congress to realize the only thing worse than admitting the territory as a State would be to deny statehood.
- Just as the War of 1812 did not prevent Congress from admitting Louisiana, the Puerto Rico bankruptcy makes statehood more inevitable to reverse the current failed client state syndrome.
Puerto Rico currently is more integrated into the political, economic, social and cultural life of the nation than any of the 32 territories that became States. The only thing abnormal is that Puerto Rico was not admitted to the Union as State in 1959 with Alaska and Hawaii.
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