The Goodies that Come with Statehood

“To get the goodies that come with statehood you also have to have the responsibilities of statehood, and that only comes with being a state.” These were the words of Congressman Raul Labrador at the recent hearing of the House Committee on Natural Resources called, “Exploring Energy Challenges and Opportunities Facing Puerto Rico”.

Rep. Labrador’s words were inspired by those of Jorge San Miguel of Ferraiuoli LLC, a San Juan law firm. “As a person who believes in our right to statehood,” San Miguel said, “we can’t as a jurisdiction ask for more stateside rights without the responsibilities.” He was talking about the current government of Puerto Rico, people who, he said, “do not wish Puerto Rico to become a state. They want the goodies of the state, but not the responsibilities.”

This has been a recurring theme in recent years as the opponents of statehood try to imagine a solution to the human rights issues Puerto Rico faces — the lack of a voice in the federal government which makes decisions for the Island, the inability to vote for the president who leads them, the inequality in federal funds — without committing to statehood.

The small percentage of Puerto Ricans who want independence are prepared to take responsibility. They are willing to give up U.S. citizenship and support and to accept the hardships of building a nation.

The majority who want statehood look forward to the responsibilities of statehood as well as the rights. The thousands who have already left Puerto Rico to live in a State have embraced both the goodies of statehood and the responsibilities. Labrador, who was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, lives in Idaho and has made a great commitment to his state by serving as Idaho’s representative in Congress.

Those who want to continue with the status quo hope to have the goodies of statehood. But they are not ready to make the commitment of statehood. Sometimes this is because they believe that they already have something better or something that could become better: a special deal with the United States that lets Puerto Rico be sort of like an independent country and sort of like a state.

The current debt crisis proves that there is no special deal for Puerto Rico. The Island’s government tried to make laws allowing bankrupty and those laws were blocked by the United States. They tried to get the same bankruptcy protection States have, and they were refused that protection.

Congress has committed to finding a solution for Puerto Rico by March 31, and there are now many representatives standing up for equal treatment for Puerto Rico. There is talk of Puerto Rico’s need to be responsible, as though a territory that takes on the responsibilities of a State will then have the goodies of a State.

But — just as chapter 9 bankruptcy protection was given by the Congress at one time and then taken away by a later Congress — nothing that Congress gives to Puerto Rico will be a right, no matter how many responsibilities Puerto Rico accepts. Any goodies provided by Congress can be taken away again. It is only through statehood that Puerto Rico will really have the goodies that come with statehood.

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