Is the United States ready for a 51st state in the Caribbean? Most Americans have been led to believe, falsely, that Puerto Ricans desire this outcome. But is it the will of the people? Would it actually benefit the U.S. to annex and absorb a Latin American country with a strong sense of nationalism? The corrupt, inept and servile colonial governing party in Puerto Rico thinks they can finally reach their dream and hold a sixth non-binding plebiscite asking Puerto Ricans if they want their island-nation to be the 51st state of the U.S. Before we get into the current landscape, let us examine how we got here.
For 122 years, Puerto Rico has been relegated to exist in a colonial limbo with a demonstrated detrimental impact on its political, cultural, and economic development. This colonial limbo and its consequences have greatly degraded Puerto Rico’s standard of living and potential under the watch and tutelage of the U.S. government and its antiquated territorial policies. What most don’t realize is that this arrangement is actually detrimental to the United States as well.
While other nations advance in democratization and freedom, Puerto Rico is still saddled with an imposed and archaic colonial government from 1900 and a colonial “constitution” from 1952 that has no real authority to protect Puerto Rican national interests. Puerto Rico’s many problems and issues are inextricably tied to the ever-present status dilemma. This dilemma currently impedes both Puerto Rican and American interests. The United States and Puerto Rico can finally resolve the colonial, political, and economic quagmire. Urgent decisions need to be made between the peoples of both countries for this to happen.
After Hurricanes Irma and María in 2017, the 2020 earthquakes, and now the COVID-19 crisis, many can see that colonial Puerto Rico is powerless to control its own borders, accept aid from foreign nations, and develop its economy and recovery. The U.S. government did not allow Puerto Rico to purchase telephone and electrical poles from other countries nor welcome international relief ships to dock, thus delaying recovery efforts. The U.S. government will not allow Puerto Rico to close its borders and airports to stop the continuous inflow of potential carriers of the COVID-19 virus. Puerto Rico, as a territory, does not control its economic variables nor has the political and economic powers to lift itself up from its bootstraps to develop its economy and forge its own future.
Those in Puerto Rico that advocate for the island to be incorporated as the 51st state of the U.S., or “statehood”, do so to increase dependency and have access to more food stamps and federal funds ($10 billion to be exact) while directly telling the people they will never have to assimilate and become Americans. Sadly, statehooders and colonialists in Puerto Rico are experts in perpetuating poverty, ignorance, and corruption, without having to deliver sound political and economic policies.
In fact, on May 16, 2020, Puerto Rico’s unelected and appointed pro-statehood governor signed a law authorizing another non-binding status plebiscite vote (Statehood: Yes or No) to be held concurrently with the November 3 general elections. Although the pro-statehood party has repeatedly lost such plebiscites in the past, many see this new plebiscite as a tactic to bring out the diehard, yet disillusioned, statehood voters to the polls who are ashamed of and not motivated to vote for their inept, corruption fueled, and failed political party. Statehood has failed to revive a majority of support by Puerto Rican voters every time it has been on the ballot in 1967, 1993, 1998, 2012 and in the 2017 plebiscite, they obtained their lowest voter turnout since 1967. As we speak, the majority of Puerto Ricans and various patriotic groups who oppose statehood are already organizing the massive “No” vote that will surely defeat statehood yet again. Americans need to understand that the statehood party has a long history of corruption, colonial collaboration, violent mobs (turbas), cronyism, and persecution of the political opposition, namely pro-independence and pro-sovereignty advocates.
Many pro-statehood supporters are already grumbling that this new plebiscite would be the third time their party uses their ideology for an exercise in futility, that could backfire. Given the non-binding nature of the vote, it would not be a stretch to believe voters who genuinely believe in statehood could stay home or even vote to reject the new bait and switch approach by their party leadership. Also, when the White House was asked about this new plebiscite, instead of support for statehood or the plebiscite, they reiterated that Puerto Rico should focus on “getting their financial house in order.”
This is official @WhiteHouse position about @wandavazquezg's claim that her administration was in contact with WH about the Nov. 3 statehood plebiscite vote. It is a statement I got on May 17 from a WH official. The same statement was later reported in @ElNuevoDia. #PuertoRico pic.twitter.com/CheegXGvoI
— Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77) May 17, 2020
In 2014, the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) published a report detailing how costly and adverse statehood would be for Puerto Rico and the United States. Statehood is a non-starter for the United States and has never been on the table regarding Puerto Rico’s future.
The Commonwealth and its “self-government” have now been recognized by the U.S. government as “non-sovereign.” The sinking ship of Commonwealth has been in an economic depression since the U.S. Congress eliminated tax incentives for American companies on the island, which ended in 2006. Today, the colonial debt and obligations exceed $125 billion and led to the U.S. Congress imposing an unelected, despised, unaccountable, and undemocratic fiscal control board, fancied as “oversight,” which sits above Puerto Rico’s elected officials. Its members are plagued with obvious conflicts of interests, put in place to protect the “titans” of Wall Street on the backs of Puerto Rico’s poor and powerless residents.
Puerto Rico’s corrupt statehood colonialist leadership keeps begging Congress for more federal funds as it is their only notion of economic development. Congress on one hand is reluctant to keep giving billions of dollars in aid to a corrupt and inept colonial government and on the other is afraid to do anything to change the status quo fearing the statehooder backlash. The last thing Americans want are corrupt Puerto Rican politicians siphoning off federal monies in order to fund their crony networks, political campaigns, and extravagant lifestyles while most Puerto Ricans barely survive in colonial poverty, hunger, and chronic food insecurity.
Sovereignty ends dependency on American federal funds and would usher in not only a new national and accountable Puerto Rican leadership, but also needed national economic development and opportunities. The U.S. Congress has the power to immediately resolve this dilemma by appointing a “Puerto Rico Sovereignty Negotiating Commission” comprised of Americans and Puerto Ricans to ensure the transition to sovereignty moves smoothly. The White House would appoint a Special Representative for Puerto Rico Decolonization as part of this effort.
As a sovereign nation, the new Republic of Puerto Rico would finally establish its own political and democratic institutions, properly protect and advance Puerto Rican culture and the Spanish language, reestablish the Puerto Rican Parliament, attract investments, accord treaties with foreign nations, and become a U.S. ally and strategic partner in Latin America. Sovereignty brings access to global markets, meaningful debt restructuring, and the freedom to allow Puerto Rico to establish itself as the economic hub of Latin America and an important pillar of a Trans-Atlantic Maritime Corridor. Sovereignty would also allow Puerto Ricans to decolonize themselves, politically, economically, culturally, and psychologically, helping to eradicate the “colonial mentality” that has kept many Puerto Ricans from believing that they too are worthy of freedom and can rule themselves and prosper.
A democratic and prosperous Puerto Rico is in sight. Puerto Ricans would be able to establish economic development initiatives, enforce strict anti-corruption controls, disempower the colonial crony-based political oligarchy, and establish a merit-based Civil Service and Diplomatic Corps. Now is the time for the U.S. Congress to act so Americans and Puerto Ricans will finally be joined together in a common cause for freedom in friendship, prosperity, and cooperation. Puerto Ricans aspire to freedom, democracy, and national emancipation. Puerto Rico is ready to join the world and you can help us make this a reality by becoming more aware of this issue and talking to your elected officials.
Javier A. Hernández is the author of “PREXIT: Forging Puerto Rico’s Path to Sovereignty.” He is a Puerto Rican writer, linguist, diaspora activist, small business owner, and former federal officer based in New Jersey. He specializes in international relations and security, decolonization issues, nation-building strategies, and diplomacy of small states. You can follow Javier on Twitter @PRexitBook, Facebook, and learn about his book at: PRexitBook.com.