Independence or Statehood for Puerto Rico?
Independence to Liberate the Economy
By Frank Worley-Lopez
Independence is the only real option for Puerto Rico. This is not to say that statehood isn’t a valid option, because within the American union statehood represents political equality. The majority of the people of Puerto Rico, however, do not consider themselves “Americans.”
Culture and language aside, the main reason that independence is the best option for Puerto Rico is economic. Under the US flag, as a commonwealth or a state, Puerto Rico is buried under a mountain of federal laws and regulations that inhibit economic growth and forbid the country from experimenting with new economic models and new trade agreements.
While the pro-statehood party will promote the increased money in federal programs Puerto Rico would receive under statehood — which is true — it fails to address the staggering debt burden that the people of Puerto Rico will eventually be required to pay. Today the island territory has its own US$73 billion debt and is not required to pay federal income taxes.
However, as a state the people of the island would be required to pay federal income taxes, and those taxes would increase as the United States’ staggering $18 trillion national debt and $61 trillion total debt starts to bite.
Puerto Rico is currently seeking a bailout from the federal government. If they succeed, other states and jurisdictions will follow suit, significantly increasing the burden in terms of both credit status and actual debt per citizen. Should the US dollar or the global economy collapse under this burden, which many analysts believe is coming, all of the short-term financial gains provided by statehood will evaporate.
Puerto Rico will be left without the promised financial aid of statehood while being stuck with a debt burden of biblical proportions.
The problem with statehood is that it is a short term economic fix that would only increase dependency on federal subsidies, instead of helping Puerto Rico become independently wealthy. Statehood would promote the continued poverty and cultural malaise that comes with a massive welfare state. Yes, it would provide equal representation in Congress, but what about equal representation in the world?
Moreover, independence will free Puerto Rico from the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (also referred to as the Jones Act; the previous Jones Act of 1917 granted US citizenship to Puerto Rico). These shipping regulations that require the use of US-flagged vessels and crews, which drive up the cost of shipping goods in and out of the island.
Once freed from this burden, Puerto Rico and its businesses could contract with foreign shipping companies or develop shipping companies of their own, which could then lower consumer prices and create more local jobs.
Independence also allows Puerto Rico to free itself from the suicide pact of the War on Drugs. It allows the rewriting of environmental regulations to actually protect the environment instead of focusing on destroying business, which is what most environmental regulations do today.
There is no question that independence brings great risk and responsibility. However, if done correctly, it could herald a new dawn for the people of Puerto Rico.
Frank Worley-Lopez is one of the two founders of the original Libertarian Party of Puerto Rico and its first state chairman. He is the author of Toy Farm Lemonade, a former radio and TV host, and a former aide to the Puerto Rican Senate. Follow @FrankWorleyPR.
Equality Is the Answer
By Kenneth D. McClintock
EspañolFor nearly 117 years, Puerto Ricans have been waiting for equality — equal rights under the United States Constitution, the right to vote for their national leader, equal representation in the national legislature, and equality in the judiciary.
Over 60 percent of Puerto Ricans, over 5 million of the 8.5 million Puerto Ricans on the planet, have chosen not to wait and now enjoy equality on the US mainland. The rest of us — 3.7 million four years ago, perhaps 3.4 million today — are still waiting for equality, but over 100,000 give up and ship out very year.
The current relationship is not an option for those who’ve left, nor for the 54 percent on the island who voted against it in a referendum two years ago. In that same referendum, over 60 percent of those who expressed a preference voted to become the 51st state.
While President Obama recognized that statehood had won, and Congress designated US$2.5 million for a ratification vote, our anti-statehood governor has done nothing to allow our quandary to be resolved.
Independence, rejected by an overwhelming majority, is less of an option, politically, economically, and socially. It is an option that could only be imposed on the few who would not exercise their right to flee. An option that would trigger the remaining millions to leave the island is not, whether we like it or not, an option.
The only option that would keep Puerto Ricans from abandoning Puerto Rico, that would attract stable domestic US investment, and that would increase foreign direct investment, is full equality through admission as the 51st state of the Union.
Puerto Ricans treasure their US citizenship, aspire to political stability, have won on the battlefield full access to all federal programs, and seek an economic regime that will create jobs as each of the 37 admitted states before them have experienced.
Puerto Rico’s political status is no longer a matter of if, but when and how, it will join the Union. In a nation born under the belief of the consent of the governed, equality for all, self-determination, and rule by the majority, a majority of Puerto Rico’s people demand no less.
Kenneth D. McClintock is a former lieutenant governor and secretary of state of Puerto Rico and a former president of the Puerto Rican Senate. He now works as the president of the Puerto Rico Equality Forum. Follow @PRKDMc.