As Puerto Rico plowed through the World Baseball Classic finals last month to clash with the United States, islanders flooded the streets of San Juan waving flags and chanting song in favor of their national team. One player taunted the U.S. team with a Facebook video stating that “we’re ready to make those little Americans eat hamburgers and hotdogs.” Another player whose mother is Puerto Rican was booed and trolled by fans for choosing to play on the U.S. team. It is at the height of sporting events like this that Puerto Rico’s intense pride is more apparent than ever.
Despite the contagious patriotism that explodes whenever winning a boxing world championship or gold medal in the Olympics, the Puerto Rican statehood movement still has high hopes. Though only a little less than half of the population supports making the island the 51st state, the option has earned a plural majority in the 1998 and 2012 referendum after excluding protest votes. The option is once again up for a vote in an upcoming June plebiscite, marking the fourth one in 25 years. This most recent attempt is not binding nor blessed by the U.S. Congress, but pro-statehood leaders insist on its necessity.
Advocates champion the billions in federal funds that would accompany admission into the union. One direct mail propaganda championed the billions that locals would receive in welfare dollars, inviting voters to “support statehood and assure your citizenship” in order to guarantee “equal rights and benefits” as other states. When the Government Accountability Office reported in a 2014 study a $5.2 billion price tag on admission, the then-president of the pro-statehood party, Pedro Pierluisi, discarded the figure, claiming to his followers that the amount could be almost double that.
Every once in a while, a pro-statehood politician is caught up in a struggling to answer exactly what the U.S. would get out of it all. But the U.S. already gets everything it would if the island was a state: unlimited access to its markets, high enlistment in the armed forces, military hegemony, jurisdiction over Puerto Rico’s waters, and geopolitical utility. Due to colonial-era laws, most imports and exports must also be transported via U.S.-flagged ships. With a new federal control board overseeing island finances, debt payment are guaranteed and American bondholders safe.
Congress has a lot to lose and little to gain. Although under statehood, Puerto Ricans would pay federal taxes, revenues would nowhere match expenditures. As pro-statehood ex-governor Carlos Romero Barceló champions, “Even though we would have to pay federal taxes, we could eliminate our own income tax since with federal dollars we’d have more money to operate.” Not to mention, currently the federal government spends less on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits despite locals paying full payroll taxes. At the end of the day, advocates still feel that Congress will concede statehood out of the kindness of their hearts.
Some go as far as say no that statehood is a right, with governor Ricardo Rosselló claiming that the U.S. has a moral obligation to accept a request for admission. Some leaders have gone as far as petitioning the United Nations and the Organization of American States, citing the discrimination of island citizens and violation of their rights by denying them statehood. Such clamors have been justified by citing Puerto Rico’s inalienable right to self-determination. But at the end of the day, there is an underlining that statehood advocates overlook: statehood for Puerto is just as much, if not more, only a matter of self-determination for the American people as well.