Status Decisions Are Not for Fools

Susanne Ramírez de Arellano wrote in an NBC opinion piece that holding a status vote in Puerto Rico now would be a “fool’s errand.”

Our house is falling apart, the walls are crumbling, the larder is about to be bare and we are spending our time looking at color swatches for some new curtains to hide the glare of truth. What color goes best with Total Catastrophe: Blue for statehood? Green for independence? Red for the Commonwealth option? What an ossified bag of tricks and political chicanery. What a fool’s errand.

Puerto Rico’s status is not comparable to the color of the curtains. It’s comparable to the foundation of the house.

Consider: what economic decisions will be equally good for an independent nation, a territory, a nation in Free Association with the United States, and a state?

The current territorial status means dependence on the United States, but unequal federal funding compared with the states, and a continual losing battle for the Earned Income Tax Credit and other programs that are provided for states but not for territories. Federal laws apply but voters have no influence on the people who make those laws.

Statehood would automatically bring equality in federal programs, the full Child Care Credit and Earned Income Credit, and full participation in U.S. democracy. No lobbying, constitutional amendments, or special treatment would be required. States have rights and sovereignty.

Independence? That’s uncertain. Whether it’s complete independence or independence in Free Association with the United States, it will probably mean much less financial support from the United States. It could mean a change in currency and surely will mean a change in laws.

Imagine that you plan to start a business, build a factory, or choose a vendor. Can you do that in the same way under each of those scenarios?

Imagine that you need to determine the best kind of tax structure and public support for Puerto Rico. Can you do that in the same way under each status?

Of course not. It is not possible to come up with any realistic, practical plans that will work equally well regardless of the status of the Island.

Ramírez de Arellano says that Puerto Rico should “focus on a solid path to build a better future.” We agree. But that cannot be done while the status of the Island is still uncertain. Opinion pieces that say Puerto Rico should wait on the status question until a more convenient time never offer any kind of “solid path.” Like that of Ramírez de Arellano, they simply say that there should be a plan. They never propose one. That’s because no real solid path to prosperity can be made without knowing whether Puerto Rico will be a state or a nation. No path will work equally well for both options.

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