What Is Puerto Rico’s Political Future After Hurricane María? Take This Survey to Let Us Know

Jul 24, 2018
3:11 PM

Mural in Utuado, Puerto Rico

The island colony of Puerto Rico has been left unable to provide for many of the people who still reside there. Since the devastation of Hurricane María’s landfall in late 2017, many Puerto Ricans have been left without essential commodities. Moreover, people are faced with a major health crisis due to the island’s water infrastructure being ranked as having the highest violations in drinking water quality.

Among the various cracks in the island’s infrastructure that has been exacerbated by the hurricane, a conversation about Puerto Rico cannot really happen without the political and cultural climate concerning the island’s status. Simply stated, much of Puerto Rico’s dismay is a result of the island government’s inability to self-determination—a topic that is colonial in nature, from the days of the Spanish to 120 years ago, when the United States took ownership of the island through the spoils of war.

Puerto Rico’s colonial legacy has negatively impacted the island’s development. For example, as a result of the United States’ Jones Shaforth Act of 1917, though granting islanders’ American citizenship, the island has been economically dependent on the United States. Socially, the identity of Puerto Ricans has been caught in a dichotomy, as many feel that, as a proud Spanish-speaking Latino community, they are still second-class citizens.

After Hurricane Maria, a survey revealed that only 54% of 2,200 Americans knew that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. The current presidential administration has shown the United States’ general disinterest to care, build and rebuild the island. For example, despite Donald Trump’s 2017 tweet explaining that “10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job,” many Puerto Ricans continue to live without electricity, clean water, adequate access to medical services, as well as internet service and high internet speeds typical throughout the mainland.

Moreover, the 1920 Jones Act forces all cargo ships entering the territory of Puerto Rico to be American ships crewed by American sailors, which drastically increase the costs of goods and living, rather than opening up the island to global competition. Furthermore, the Puerto Rican government is unable to enter into bilateral/multilateral agreements with other countries and international organizations like the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and the United Nations due to its subordinate status to the United States.

Many Puerto Ricans on the island expressed that they value their American citizenship and the opportunities it offers. However, they have also expressed retaining their Latino heritage as well as unique Puerto Rican identity and culture. In a recent plebiscite, the Puerto Rican population living on the island voted overwhelmingly to be the 51st state of the United States, yet a record low number of people, at only 23% of eligible voters, participated in this non-binding vote.

In addition, across several barrios in Puerto Rico such as Utuado, Isabela, and San Juan, the blacked-out flag of Puerto Rico, a symbol of Puerto Rican autonomy and independence, continues to represent the sentiments of Puerto Ricans across the island. Some on the island have expressed voter fatigue from the lackluster assistance they have received from both the local and federal government. Furthermore, the debt crisis of the island has made Congress wary of making Puerto Rico a state, despite Puerto Ricans joining the U.S. military, paying payroll taxes and having a significant presence on the mainland of over five million people. As a result, the heated political debate on the island’s territorial status has sparked interest among both Puerto Rican citizens and politicians alike.

An apartment in San Juan.

There are currently four major political options seeking to define the political status of the island. The current governor, Ricardo Rosselló heads up the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP). Meanwhile, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) advocates for keeping the commonwealth status of the island, but in an enhanced form. However, within the PPD, there is a growing division between philosophies, as one sector advocates for more autonomy and the ability for Puerto Rico to gain a free association compact in a similar fashion to the political relationship between the Marshall Islands and the United States. Free association compacts are unique between each case but generally provide both citizens, in this case American and Puerto Rican citizens, several benefits, such as unrestricted access to travel, work and study. It also can offer federal healthcare and some social services. Lastly, there is the Puerto Rican Independence Party, which has supported outright independence for Puerto Rico as a sovereign nation-state, similar to the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Germany, and yes, the United States.

Though some people on the island have expressed greater economic autonomy for the island in order to develop, many are doubtful of the island’s success without assistance from the federal government. One factor that supports their doubt is the level of corruption of government officials on the island. Another doubt is that, though autonomy may seem better, Puerto Ricans on the island cherish their U.S. citizenship.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro, the 16th-century citadel overlooking San Juan Bay in Puerto Rico (Harvey Barrison/Flickr)

As a result, an important study is being carried out on the island to see how people view the status question in the aftermath of Hurricane María and the federal government’s slow relief response for the 3.5 million American citizens living there. The limbo of Puerto Rico not being a country and not being in a country has impeded on the island’s development. Therefore, it is important to gather information on people’s opinion and desires for the island nation of Puerto Rico.

If you would like, please complete this brief survey below concerning your opinion on the political status of Puerto Rico. Your information will be anonymous and we won’t share any personal information. Once the survey is completed, we will share the results here. If for some reason you can’t access the survey via mobile, CLICK HERE.

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