Tomorrow, Puerto Ricans will be going to the polls to vote on the issue of whether or not the American-owned territory could become a state within the union, a process that has been ongoing for many years.
The plebiscite contains four possible steps that the territory can undergo: statehood (become a U.S. state), free association (become a protectorate), remain as it is, or independence. Supporters of statehood feel that the plebiscite will strengthen their resolve of turning Puerto Rico into the 51st state.
Those who support statehood claim that doing so will help Puerto Rico in many ways. Politically, it’ll give Puerto Rico more influence in the activities of the United States, and will allow citizens of the island to take part in national elections. Supporters also say that going through with the move will help the territory financially, which right now is in the throws of economic hardship thanks to many years of terrible economic decisions made by leaders both on the island and in Washington (no surprise considering past posts I’ve made concerning governmental decisions for the most part). However, what advocates don’t really explain are the possible downsides to the plan.
Not surprisingly, statehood advocates tend to put more emphasis on the political upsides than the economical or financial, since becoming a state doesn’t absolve the island of it’s problems. Not to mention that the actions of a state within the union are limited in manners of sovereignty as to how to manage it’s own activities. Critics feel that what statehood advocates really want is to just pass the buck to someone else regarding the territory’s financial and economic woes, which has led to Puerto Rico earning the nickname of “America’s Greece” in some circles. Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans have left the island over the last 10-15 years on account of the hardships there, and have set up shop elsewhere. Crime rates on the island have surged, with a homicide rate three times the rate in the United States. Almost half of citizens on the island live in poverty. Federal mandates like the minimum wage law, or regulations such as the Jones Act, have stifled the island’s economy. And thanks to all the mismanagement, the government has been left with little recourse than to basically declare bankruptcy. These and other problems won’t magically go away with completion of the process of statehood, and though benefits will still be secured, higher federal taxes and costs will more than balance out that advantage.
There is also a question of how representative such a plebiscite will be, as previous attempts have left question of how much citizens really want such a status change. The last time such a vote was undertaken in 2012, a good number of ballots were left blank on the question of statehood or otherwise, leaving the level of representation possibly being less than 50%. Therefore, there is a real chance that once again nothing much will come of this. However, though the concept of outright independence isn’t usually popular among the voters, the outcome there might be the best for the island in the long run. As a nation that supposedly prides itself on autonomy and expression, the fact that the United States still maintains territories like Puerto Rico that get some association but limited expression is problematic. It’s about time we let these societies stand on their own and chart a course that will be most beneficial to them, removed from the decisions of faraway bureaucrats in Washington, which the statehood movement will more than likely end up being. Indeed the road will be rough at first concerning how to manage their affairs, but the ability of setting up trade and financial agreements on their own terms could work ultimately in their favor on a political and financial matter. The pressure of independence will also push the island’s leaders to be more beholden to their populace, and therefore will have more impetus to get the island’s problems under control.
We’ve seen what happens when a nation gets admitted to a larger union looking to them to solve internal problems, so there is no reason to welcome a similar situation here. Of course I support however way Puerto Ricans ultimately choose to go. Like the Greeks, they will have the accolades of that choice…for better or worse.