In the last decade America has seen a sharp increase in aggressive gestures from other global powers who seek to undermine our position and role as the leading nation of the free world. With an increasingly aggressive China, an unstable and unpredictable Russia, and a resurgence of authoritarian governments across the globe, the U.S. must reconsider how we use and project power at home and abroad. Yet, Puerto Rico, a historically critical asset to America’s defense, remains underdeveloped and underutilized because of its unequal and undemocratic status as a U.S. territory. Now is the time to end Puerto Rico’s weak territory status and extend an offer of statehood as a means to strengthen the island as well as America’s global strategic position. The best way to do that is to support and pass H.R. 1522, the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act, which is currently being considered in the House Natural Resources Committee.
Importance of Puerto Rico to America’s Defense
The U.S. acquired Puerto Rico in 1898 based mostly on the island’s geostrategic location in the center of the Caribbean, which was critical to the defense of America’s military and economic interests in the Atlantic when confronting threats from Europe, in the Panama Canal and in Latin America when confronting threats from communism. For over 70 years Puerto Rico served as one of America’s principal military outposts in the Western Hemisphere, and an important base for scientific research and manufacturing. Important bases and facilities were located there included Ramey Air Force Base, Roosevelt Roads Naval Base, Vieques Naval Training Facility, and the still operational Fort Buchanan, which served as the home of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) for several years. This was critical for America during WWI, WWII, and up to the Cold War.
Territorial Weakness and Federal Negligence Opened Space for Rival Influences
Yet as the post-Cold War global order has shaken out over the last 30 years the unequal territory status, which limits Puerto Rico’s economic growth potential, drained the island of its vitality, much of its talent pool, and its military capabilities. And while Congress has so far failed to act on multiple local votes against the territory status and for statehood for Puerto Rico, America’s great power rivals have recognized a vacuum of power in the Caribbean and Latin America and wasted no time to increase their state-led investments and military influence in the region.
Indeed SOUTHCOM is very concerned that China continues to increase its activities across all domains in the region: cyber, space, extractive and energy industries, transportation hubs, roads, infrastructure, telecommunications, legal and illegal fishing, agriculture, and military training. They warn that China is “seeking to establish global logistics and basing infrastructure in our hemisphere in order to project and sustain military power at greater distances.” Just a few months ago the Commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), warned that Beijing is looking to establish a large navy port capable of hosting submarines or aircraft carriers on the African continent’s western coast with the goal of projecting power into the Atlantic.
For their part Russia has made no secret of its support for Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro, whose failed narco-state has led to a massive refugee crisis which threatens to destabilize the region. Just a couple of years ago Russia even deployed two nuclear capable bombers to Venezuela as a provocative warning sign directed at the U.S.
America Cannot Afford to Keep Puerto Rico in Outdated Territory Status
As global threats to America continue to evolve closer to home, we cannot afford to keep Puerto Rico under an outdated and failed territory status. And while some members of Congress float the idea of Puerto Rican independence, the fact that the Chinese and Russian proxy states of Cuba and Venezuela are the most ardent supporters of independence for Puerto Rico should make it clear that is not in the best interest of either Puerto Rico or the U.S. as a whole. In fact, for decades the Cuban regime has actively trained and propped up the Puerto Rico independence movement as a way to undermine America’s standing on the world stage.
The inherent inequality of Puerto Rico’s current territory status limits economic development, creates a lower quality of life and has pushed hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico to relocate stateside weakening the territory further. Meanwhile lack of consistent federal attention and investment has led to some of Puerto Rico’s scientific assets to literally crumble while Chinese double down their investments seeking technological dominance in the coming decades. This has to stop.
Statehood will Strengthen Puerto Rico and America’s Defense
Statehood for Puerto Rico would strengthen the island, and America’s strategic presence in the Caribbean, Latin America and the Atlantic. The value proposition is clear.
- STEM Talent: Puerto Rico’s colleges and universities graduate more than 20,000 degrees in science, engineering and technology each year, with island talent feeding federal agencies from DOD, NASA, and NSA to leading defense contractors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman.
- Aerospace Capacity: Puerto Rico has quietly been growing its aerospace sector in significant ways that are of strategic value to the U.S. as the commercial space economy is projected to grow by billions per year in the coming decades.
- Regional Visibility: Puerto Rico is also home to parts of the nationwide “Over the Horizon” radar system, which helps the U.S. maintain control over vast aerial and marine areas of the Western Hemisphere. It also aids U.S. efforts to stop incoming drugs trafficked from South America.
- Made in Puerto Rico is Made in USA: As a U.S. jurisdiction, Puerto Rico complies with federal ITAR regulations which require that defense and military-related technologies may only be manufactured and accessed by U.S. citizens, eliminating outsourcing to foreign countries with low operating costs.
- Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul: Puerto Rico boasts multiple suitable runway and facilities for airplane maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), training and other services.
- Medical Supply Chain: Puerto Rico has 49 FDA-approved pharmaceutical plants in operation. Government contracts and other federal support of manufacturing could allow Puerto Rico, which is in a strong position to provide competitive products, to be included as an important part of strengthening the U.S. medical supply chain vis a vis China and other leading global exporters to the U.S.
- Puerto Rico can Become a Bridge to Latin America and the Caribbean: Unleashing Puerto Rico’s full economic potential under statehood can enable the island to serve as a more powerful bridge to increase commerce and trade with other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, a critical counterbalance to other great power influences in the region.
Puerto Ricans Have Already Earned the Right to Full Equality & Democracy
U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico have proudly served in all U.S. wars since World War I, and as part of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. Historically, Puerto Rico has ranked alongside the top states in terms of per capita military service. Over 1,900 U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico have been casualties of war paying the ultimate price in defense of America’s freedom, while lacking full voting rights and equality. Estimated contributions by conflict include:
- 18,000 during World War I
- 65,000 during World War II
- 61,000 during the Korean War
- 48,000 during the Vietnam War
- 10,000 during the Gulf War
- 25,000 during Operations Enduring Freedom & Iraqi Freedom
Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans serve on active-duty and reserves across all the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces today. Approximately 8,400 currently serve in the Puerto Rico Army and Air National Guard, and since 9/11 they have carried out over 16,500 deployments, more than 34 states in the Union.
According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs well over 90,000 American veterans call Puerto Rico home. Statehood would provide veterans in Puerto Rico with a permanent and dignified political status, equal representation in the U.S. Congress, the right to vote for President, and equal treatment under federal laws, validating the core principles and ideals—of freedom, equality, justice and government by the consent of the governed—that America was founded on, and for which they served and fought to defend.
Call to Action – Pass H.R. 1522 Now!
All Members of the House Natural Resources Committee that believe in the need to strengthen America’s national security and global standing as opposed to maintaining a failed territory governing structure that keeps Puerto Rico weak must support and vote to pass H.R. 1522. For the good of Puerto Rico and America as a whole!