Puerto Rico has defaulted on debts, and will probably do so again. Does that mean that Puerto Rico will not be able to become a state? Howard Hills, author of Citizens Without a State, wrote a guest post for Pasquines entitled, “Status is still the elephant in the room” which argues otherwise.
The main point of the article is that Puerto Rico’s financial crisis cannot be separated from the Island’s dysfunctional territorial status. But Hills also addresses the important question: Does Puerto Rico need to be solvent before becoming a state?
“Regardless of what has come of federal measures to address the fiscal crisis,” says Hills, “what those in Washington who understand history know is that a federally recognized vote for statehood will instigate the same struggle between supporters and opponents of admission that took place in each of the thirty-two territories that became states. That history includes admission to the union for territories in political and economic circumstances that make Puerto Rico’s current fiscal crisis seem utterly benign.”
In other words, Puerto Rico is not the first territory to become a state while they still had problems.
“At a time when all the existing states were controlled by English speaking Protestants,” Hills points out, “Louisiana was inhabited by Spanish and French speaking Catholics. Yet, that new state was admitted to the union in the midst of the War of 1812. Imagine, as well, adding to the admission debate a question so vexatious as whether the new state would be free or slave, with a powerful militant opposition poised to strike either way.”
Louisiana didn’t have an easy time of it. Neither did most of the other territories the became states. Territories do have to meet a certain set of standards in order to be worthy of statehood, but Puerto Rico met all those requirements decades ago. Territories don’t have to be solvent, they don’t have to have 100% consensus on statehood, and they don’t have to have a good deal worked out with their creditors.
“Even those focused on short term fiscal fixes know that investment in Puerto Rico will break records when statehood becomes a realistic prospect,” Hills points out. “The pressure to hold a federally sponsored vote in 2017 will mount and make a referendum obligatory. Since any option on the ballot must be certified by the U.S. Attorney General, even if the current status is on the ballot a statehood majority is a realistic expectation.” The imaginary enhanced commonwealth options have already been rejected by the U.S. Government repeatedly, so Puerto Rico can only choose statehood, independence, or the current status — which has obviously not been working out that well for Puerto Rico.