George Laws Garcia, Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Statehood Council, spoke with Roifield Brown on Puerto Rico’s quest for statehood on the MidAtlantic podcast. He explained that the struggle for statehood is “a citizen issue,” as well as a question of civil rights.
“America was founded on the principle of government by consent of the governed,” Laws Garcia reminded listeners. “It’s enshrined into the Declaration of Independence, and the U. S. Constitution is a legal mechanism that basically sets up a structure where citizens can have a say in the government that makes the laws that they live under.”
Laws Garcia explained the history of Puerto Rico, comparing it when asked with Hawaii and with other states that used to be territories.
Brown, a British broadcaster speaking at that time from Canada, asked whether Americans resisted statehood for Puerto Rico because of the relatively high level of poverty on the Island. While Puerto Rico is economically stronger than its neighbors in the Caribbean and Latin America, it is less prosperous than any of the 50 states. Did Americans hesitate to admit Puerto Rico, Brown asked, because it would be too expensive for the United States?
Laws Garcia explained, “The people who are thinking that Puerto Rico should get its economy in order before statehood have it backwards.”
Every territory which has already become a state was less prosperous as a territory. Some faced famine and relied on people in the states to send food to their territory. Most had high levels of poverty and worried about being able to afford a state government. This was, in fact, one of the most common anti-statehood positions.
While California, which was never a territory, joined the Union during the Gold Rush. For all the former territories, statehood provided the basis for prosperity. For Puerto Rico, Laws Garcia pointed out, statehood will provide a level playing field that will allow the Island to gain economic stability.
Brown was interested to learn that the political parties on the Island are not the Republican or Democratic parties. “Within those parts there are individuals that identify as Democrats or Republicans on a national level,” Laws Garcia explained. “There’s no definitive statistic on whether the Island leans more Democratic or more Republican…Our local political are experienced through the lens of the status issue…I believe that if Puerto Rico were to become a state, it would be a toss-up state. It’s going to be a battleground state.”
The candidates that engage Puerto Rico, that support statehood and provide a vision for the Island, can expect to win with the Puerto Rican people, Laws Garcia said. It will be an opportunity for both Republicans and Democrats to reach a new group of voters. “Puerto Rico’s importance at the national level has increased for a number of reasons.”
Laws Garcia also spoke about the changes in Puerto Rico’s political system, describing it as “a real turnaround.” He also said, “Puerto Rico its ready for an economic take-off.”
Brown then asked about the security importance of Puerto Rico for the United States. Laws Garcia spoke about the tension between the U.S. and China. “Few if any Americans are actually looking at how Russia, China, Iran and so on are trying to extend their sphere of influence in Latin America — which is literally in our back yard.” Most Americans, he said, have an inaccurate mental map of the United States and its antagonist, which doesn’t include the Caribbean and South America. They need to include Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in their understanding of the threats we face. “Puerto Rico is strategically located in the center of that,” he pointed out.
Laws Garcia described the work of the Statehood Council and the national movement, which resulted in the passage of the Puerto Rico Status Act in 2022. “My goal would be to pass legislation in Congress to allow Puerto Rico to resolve its status…We’re building up the base of support and empowering people to reach out to their members of Congress and say, ‘This is not what America is about.'”
“This seems to me pretty much like a slam dunk,” said Brown. He expressed worry that the argument for statehood was so compelling that he had not been able to present the counterarguments fairly. He brought up the resistance of some Republican politicians. “You’re going to have more and more success and you’re going to have more and more pushback.”
Listen to the full podcast above or at Brown’s podcast in the Apple Store.