Why the US Will not Grant Statehood to Puerto Rico
The pro-statehood people don't dare to ask
for it to Washington DC, because they know
that Congress will hit them on their heads
with the columns of the Capitol.
-Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos (1891-1965)
In light of events that have happened in Puerto Rico recently, specially with the 8 years of effort of making a plebiscitary process possible in Congress, with the civil disobedience in Vieques, and the continuing violence by the "lunatic fringe" of the pro-statehood people against any kind of demonstration in favor of Vieques, in favor of Puerto Rico's nationality and even in favor of Puerto Rico's independence, many people ask if it is possible to be closer or further away from becoming a state of the US. It is the thesis of the most radical of the pro-statehood advocates that the United States' Congress contemplates Puerto Rico with a great favor to be a state of the Union. In fact, for them, all we have to do is just ask, and immediately they will grant it.
This page is written with the purpose of clearing up many people the reason why I don't think Puerto Rico will be admitted now nor in the future as a state of the United States of America, and the reasons why it is against the best interests of the US to grant Puerto Rico statehood, even if 100% of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of it. For a concise analysis of this, let's expose all the reasons why Congress is unwilling to do so.
1. Puerto Rico is a different nation than the US
Reasons Why Nationality is and Obstacle for Statehood
According to the dictionary (at least the dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy), the word nation is defined in many ways. One way of defining it is this way:
"Conjunto de habitantes de un país regido por un mismo
gobierno." (A class of inhabitants that is ruled under one government).
In this case the word "nation" is equivalent to nation-state. However
there is another definition of nation:
"Conjunto de personas de un mismo origen y que generalmente hablan un mismo idioma y tienen una tradición común." (A group of people of the same origin and who generally they speak one language and has a common tradition) (Real Acad. Española 1562).
It is obvious that Puerto Rico is not the former, but definitely it is a nation in the latter sense of the word. Prof. Herman Finer in his work "The Major Governments of Europe" (1960) states what a "nation" is:
Nationalism is a compound spiritual condition, a mixture of will and desire in which the highest loyalty is vowed to the community - the so called ethnic group - which has found its place in the world as an independent nation-state that sets the standards of moral right and wrong for all in the territory occupied.
A nation is most usually made so by possessing all or most of these elements: a common territory, common language and literature, common ancestry, (sometimes erroneously called "race"), characteristic common customs, a shared history and tradition, shared cultural achievements (songs, dances, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, food, dress, etc.) and, finally, a public philosophy embodied in a political constitution. Nationalism is a general consensus on a way of life, a corporate inspiration and devotion. And men are not born free; they are born national (Serrano 2).
Why is it that Puerto Rican nationality is an obstacle for statehood in Puerto Rico. There are two main reasons:
A. Racist Reasons
This nationality has presented the best and also ill-intentions of the attitudes of the US Congress towards Puerto Rico. An example of ill-intentioned motives is evidently a racist one, and this one was the main obstacle for statehood since the beginning of the century. Puerto Ricans are the product of a fusion between three races: the Taíno natives, the black slaves and the Spaniards. Many people were white, but also there were mulatoes and criollos who were a mix-up of these races, and also black people. Also at the time, there was a significant presence of white people, who dominated the colonies of Spain and looked for refuge in Puerto Rico from the persecutions of the wars of independence in Latin America during the nineteenth century.
In Congress there were racist remarks towards Puerto Ricans. During a debate in the US Congress concerning the Foraker Act (1900), which established a civil government in Puerto Rico, one senator spoke against the idea of Puerto Rico being given statehood saying that Puerto Ricans were "a heterogeneous mass of mongrels" and "savages addicted to head-hunting and cannibalism" (Pérez 9). Also, much later, in 1913 there was another remark made by Judge Peter Hamilton when he wrote to President Woodrow Wilson:
The mixture of black and white in Porto Rico threatens to create a race of mongrels of no use to anyone: a race of Spanish-American talkers. A governor from the South, or with knowledge of Southern remedies for that trouble, could, if a wise man, do much . . . . (Pérez 9).
Maybe somebody will argue that those are not the present times, and that the US has changed for the better, that the US Congress is not as racist as before. This is true. However, there are still statements being made in recent times that sound as racist as the beginning of the 20th century. We just have to consider, for example, the article by Don Feder published in the Boston Herald which had a very eloquent title: "No Statehood for Caribbean Dogpatch". This same article ends up with the phrase: "It's hard to imagine a worse candidate for admission to the Union than this Caribbean Dogpatch" (Feder). As we say in Puerto Rico: "A buen entendedor, pocas palabras bastan" (For a person who understands well, only few words are enough).
B. Right and Left Wing Reasons for Puerto Rican Nationality for Being and Obstacle
However, it is right to say that much people (the majority) in Congress doesn't hold this racist point of view. We will see here the genuine concerns of the right and the left in US politics concerning Puerto Rico becoming a state of the Union. We can say that a good representative of the right-wing position is Pat Buchanan and his articles on this subject. He questions the wisdom of granting statehood for Puerto Rico taking into consideration that it has a secessionist movement in Puerto Rico which comprises now about 5% of Puerto Ricans, and the lessons other countries had to learn when a nation integrates to another nation. He recognizes the fact that the vast majority of Puerto Ricans don't know how to speak English (about 60 to 70%), that they have their own culture and their own language, in which an important sector doesn't want statehood at all. The only way Puerto Rico would become a state, is that they admit somehow a state that also recognizes Spanish as official language, making the US a bilingual nation. He makes the following statement:
As English-speaking people, we Americans would become a bilingual nation. For the English language could not be forced upon this island of Spanish heritage, where 60 percent do not even understand it.
[. . .] all that is needed for this historic change is for just half the island to vote "yes" on statehood. While Puerto Rico is entitled to decide its own future, is 50.1 percent enough of a plurality to effect the permanent transfer of sovereignty, to make Puerto Rico a permanent part of the union?
Thirteen decades ago, we fought a bloody Civil War to prevent the Confederate states from breaking free. Are we prepared to send troops, if the people of Puerto Rico would change their minds? Are we prepared to fight a guerrilla war, like the British in Belfast, if the Macheteros [i.e. violent independentista group] emulate the Irish Republican Army? Before entering a marriage, "till death do us part," ought not both the island and the mainland reflect longer upon how nasty a divorce would be?
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. [. . .]
From Serbia to Azerbaijan, from the West Bank to Soweto, from Scotland to Quebec, ethnic chauvinism is on the rise. Separatism is everywhere winning converts. People are demanding not what is their economic interest but what they deem vital to preserving the race, the tribe, the religion, the culture. While we may bemoan the trend, we cannot deny it; nor are we Americans immune to it (Buchanan 1990a, D3).
He further adds in another article:
In this era of nationalism, in which the provinces, "the republics" and "occupied territories" fight to free themselves and be reborn as nations - as in the cases of Quebec, Kashmir, Lithuania, Lithonia, Estonia, Slovenia, Croatia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Palestine - there comes the question: what is exactly a nation?
[. . .] the island of Puerto Rico is a strong nation, and to turn it into our state is an invitation to chaos [. . .]
If Puerto Rico becomes our state, tomorrow we would have the same problems that Canada has with Quebec. The Hispanic leaders of Texas, California and New Mexico would echo the same demands that Puerto Rico would make in relation to language. The Congressional Puerto Rican delegation would be the center of a new political militancy for Spanish speaking. And, as in Quebec, Puerto Rico would insist in its condition as "different society". Why not? It is about a different society, hence the actual Canadian crisis (Buchanan 1990b).
From the left wing, we hear similar concerns. Puerto Rico went through a process in Congress with the consensus of the three parties to create legislation there in order for Puerto Ricans to decide for which status (statehood, Commonwealth or independence) they wanted. There were two bills, one submitted by Sen. Bennett Johnston (Bill S. 712, of 101 Congress; and S. 244 on 102 Congress), and another submitted by Rep. Ron de Lugo (HR 4765 in 101 Congress). In both of these bills, the US Congress would execute immediately the decision made by Puerto Ricans. This idea was not welcomed by Congress, and Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat Senator at that time, stated one of the reasons why this was so:
However, despite the urging of President Bush that Congress provide for a referendum which will enable the citizens of Puerto Rico to make such a choice [for statehood], Congress has not been willing to do so. Congressional resistance arises largely from the question of whether the island should have the option to choose statehood whilst retaining Spanish as an official language. In two centuries, the United States Congress has admitted thirty-seven new states to the original union of thirteen. But always a stated or unstated condition was that English be the official language. Louisiana, for example, might and did retain the Code Napoléon, but trials were to be in English. This position may seem arbitrary, but it is defensible. E pluribus unum. But arbitrary or not, it can be predicted that Congress will remain seized on the issue, and the plebiscite delayed, for the simple reason that it suits the purposes of certain of the contending Puerto Rican parties [i.e. the pro-statehood party, New Progresist Party] not to have a plebiscite on the terms which they perceive they would lose (Moynihan 73-74).
In the liberal publication The New Republic we also see the same concerns, finding the favor of statehood practically indefensible before the US:
One [of the objections to statehood] is that Puerto Rico is a Spanish-speaking land with a distinct culture and history, not easily blended into the larger whole. This is not a trivial worry. The United States has an allegiance to, and a history of, dramatic assimilation. But the assimilation has been on individuals and groups of individuals, not policies. No state with a non-English speaking majority has ever been admitted to the Union and Puerto Rico has no intention of giving up either its Spanish or its Spanishness, which after all reflects 400 of the 500 years of its existence ("Altered States" 6).
Also, as in the case of Buchanan, they mention the cases of the Civil War in the US in the XIX century, Quebec, Lithuania and Kashmir as examples of what happens when a nation is integrated to another.
What Makes Puerto Rican Nationality Different from the US's?
Language is the most obvious difference between the US and Puerto Rico. That's the reason, perhaps, that both conservatives and liberals speak about the linguistic differences as the evident cultural difference between both societies. However, the problem is deeper than this. Some statehood advocates say that in a few decades, the Latin minority will dominate US society, requiring some states to have Spanish as an official language in some states. This would lead us closer to the United States.
I wish to express that this is not necessarily so. The cultural aspect goes far beyond the realm of language, it has to do more with heritage, customs and ways of life. The United States is predominantly a Protestant nation, and in which the language, literature, political situations are quite different from those of Puerto Rico, whose culture has revolved around Catholic customs. In a great part, it has been necessary for many Hispanics to assimilate to US society, learning English. In the most drastic of cases some of Hispanic ascendance don't know much Spanish, and in places where Spanish is spoken, they tend to be ghettos and isolated communities within the cities. In some of the states like California, New Mexico, Texas and New York, Hispanic minorities are fighting for having Spanish as a second language, but even if they accomplish it, still they have to assimilate to US way of life.
In the case of Puerto Rico there is no such assimilation. We live in our natural land as a nation, going through social processes that are very different from the Hispanic reality in the US. In our case, we have our own heritage and our own language and our own history, in their case, they will form part of another heritage and form part of another history. Even there are ethnical differences between Hispanic nations, and US Hispanic society will not be comprised only on Puerto Ricans.
Also, our XX century culture has resisted all kinds of assimilation to US society, being the most obvious the Americanization process of Puerto Rican children from 1900 to mid-XX century, which has been very well documented. The children and teachers were required to speak English as the way to carry out the class (see Negrón). The fact that 60 to 70% of Puerto Ricans still don't know how to speak English, speaks for itself concerning the failure of this process. And though the Puerto Rican flag was forbidden to be used by US colonial rule, even inside the homes, the Nationalist and Independentist movement in Puerto Rico accomplished for it to be used as the symbol for the island, and was officially adopted by the government in 1952.
What about our arts, and our literature? Our most renowned singers, poets and artists, dedicate their work to Puerto Rico, the fatherland that is everything to them. None is dedicated to the US. About that subject, nobody can say it better than Raúl Serrano Geyls:
Puerto Rican national culture should not be equalized to the folkloric expression of some ethnic groups in the United States. Because some Louisianans eat "cajun" food or speak French fluently does not make them a group with a national culture different from that of the United States. Their culture in the American national culture and not the French or the "creole" national culture [. . .]
Take, for example, the Puerto Rican intelligentsia. The immense majority of all poets, novelists, playwrights, composers, painters, sculptors, artisans, in sum, nearly all Puerto Ricans with a true artistic creative spirit are either "independentistas" (most of them) or "populares" that believe in free association. It is extremely hard to find a true Puerto Rican artist that believes in statehood. As someone has said: "No one in Puerto Rico has ever written a poem to statehood, or to the United States". But thousands of works of art have as their main themes independence for Puerto Rico or the Puerto Rican "patria" (fatherland) (Serrano 4-5).
Serrano also mentions a fact, in which expresses one of the reasons why many people in Puerto Rico find statehood as an attractive option:
It is my firm belief that the great majority of "estadistas" [statehood advocates] want a state in which the Spanish language and the Puerto Rican culture shall be constitutionally preserved, not only because that is the only way which they might win a plebiscite, but also because most of them truly feel that culturally they are not Americans, but Puerto Ricans. Very few "estadistas" really feel that they are first Americans and second, Puerto Ricans. Those few are, for the most part, persons that have lived many years, since their childhood, in the United States and are not culturally Puerto Ricans. This is the only group in Puerto Rico that culturally can be equated to the "creoles" of Louisiana or the "chicanos" of New Mexico, Texas, California and Arizona. They are culturally Americans, except that they also speak Spanish and have some superficial liking for the Puerto Rican folklore. [. . .]
[. . .] statehooders publicly accept that there is a Puerto Rican culture that it is "non-negotiable" with Congress, that is, the United States has to accept Puerto Rico as it is or reject its petition for statehood (Serrano 5, 8).
Also one of the characteristics of Puerto Ricans is that they favor their own autonomy to be represented in the Olympic games and also in international contests like Miss Universe, and many others. Serrano tells us about how deep down Puerto Ricans nationality is expressed in these kinds of events:
[. . .] it is in sports and events, when Puerto Ricans are competing against Americans, that Puerto Rican nationalism is most clearly displayed. Let me describe an incident which I witnessed in the Olympic Games of 1976 (Montreal). The Puerto Rican basket-ball team was playing against the United States and from the beginning the game was very close. [. . .] There was a group of about sixty Puerto Ricans mainly composed, as usual, of "populares" and "estadistas" (several former army officers among them). They got very excited as the game went on. When about ten minutes remained, the group literally exploded and all kinds of insults and obscene words in English and Spanish were hurled against the United States, the American people, the American players, and the American flag. I was sitting, together with my wife and daughter, besides an American lady and during a time-out, we had a short exchanged that went like this:
-Sir, are you a Puerto Rican?
-Are Puerto Ricans American citizens?
-Why then these insults and obscene words I have not here in any game played by the United States? I simply cannot understand the great hostility and even hatred shown by this group of American citizens towards all Americans and towards the American flag.
-Lady, I do not condone those acts, but you must understand that Puerto Rico is a nation, that it has remained as a colony of the United States for nearly 80 years, that nearly all Puerto Ricans deep down are deeply hurt because of that situation, that their true feelings come out in these circumstances, and that nearly all Puerto Rican citizens are first Puerto Ricans and second, American citizens.
-I am sorry sir, but I simply cannot understand what is happening here (Serrano 10-11).
Finally, Serrano mentions the fact that pro-statehood leaders have to promise to the Puerto Rican people that Puerto Rico will maintain its Olympic franchise if it ever becomes a state of the Union. This contradicts with legislation made in the US against that, called the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 in which the states are not allowed to compete against the US (Serrano 18-19).
Some people want also to establish the fact that nationality is not an obstacle because Hawaii and Alaska were accepted as states. However, if we pay close attention to history, it will show the fact that the natives of Hawaii and Alaska were displaced and reduced to minority by the ever-increasing number of Americans that arrived to those lands. Once there was a substantial amount of Americans, then they accepted them as states of the Union. This is clearly not the case of Puerto Rico.
In other words, Puerto Ricans have a nationality which is quite different from that of the US, and in fact it is incompatible with it. If Puerto Rico becomes a state, will the rest of the US consider Luis Muñoz Marín, José de Diego and Pedro Albizu Campos as having contributed to their history as a state of the Union? Will the average American sing "Verde Luz" with the same fervor as they sing the Star-Spangled Banner? Will they recite the poems of Julia de Burgos dedicated to the Great River of Loíza as the way they look as the River Mississippi? Will they read a novel by Enrique Laguerre as part of their literature? I don't think so. Puerto Ricans have their own heritage, their own culture, their own customs, their own history and their own language; a nationality which is quite different from the US.
2. There are Economic Obstacles to Statehood
Economic Background of Puerto Rico
In order to understand the problem of Puerto Rico's economy. During the first four decades, the majority of the Puerto Rican economy was characterized by agriculture, specially sugar cane, tobacco and coffee. Since 1898, after the invasion of the United States forces in Puerto Rico, US corporations bought enormous amounts of lands for this task. During these years Puerto Rico was deeply submerged in misery and extreme poverty. Puerto Rico was poorer than Haiti by then. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. who became governor of Puerto Rico in 1929, wrote:
I have seen mothers carrying babies who were little skeletons, I have watched in a class-room thin, pallid, little boys and girls trying to spur their brains to action when their little bodies were underfed. I have seen them trying to study on one scanty meal a day, a meal of a few beans and some rice. I have looked into kitchens of houses where a handful of beans and plantains were the fare for the entire family (Pérez 7).
It was during this time, that the US began implementing important Federal programs in order to help poor families to survive the great depression. This was done after President Roosevelt tried to carry out his New Deal, and the establishment of 1933 of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which had its counterpart in Puerto Rico in the Puerto Rican Emergency Relief Administration (PRERA). Afterwards, in 1935, President Roosevelt created the Puerto Rican Reconstruction Administration (PRRA) which had as its task the social and economic reconstruction of Puerto Rico. The PRRA accomplished the development of electrical lines in all the Island and increased the level of industrialization, made better health system, a re-forestation program, better education, and gave jobs to about 60,000 people . Afterwards the PRRA and the PRERA disappeared completely (Dietz 163-176). However, this was the beginning of the dependence of the Puerto Rican economy on Federal welfare, which became one of the most important components of the Puerto Rican economy.
After World War II, the economy of Puerto Rico changed dramatically. Under the leadership of Luis Muñoz Marín, and having Governor Rexford Guy Tugwell as sponsor, Puerto Rico carried out what was called Operation Bootstrap. This program consisted in providing US corporations certain benefits in order for them to invest in Puerto Rico, attract capital, and create jobs which came to be developed throughout the years, specially using first Puerto Rican tax exemption to these corporations, and later, under Section 936 of the US Internal Revenue Code, also Federal tax exemptions.
Evidently the infrastructure of the Island got significantly better, and Puerto Rico got industrialized. During this process, people abandoned gradually agriculture and went to the urban areas. Unfortunately there was limited amount of jobs available on the industry, and that's why the government wanted to establish a policy of emigration to the United States (Dietz 301-308).
Not only the policy of migration helped to hide the fact that the economy of Puerto Rico wasn't developing, just growing, but also the continuous concessions by the Federal government of welfare and Federal funds to the state increased dramatically. So much that by 1982 individuals received $2.9 billion (Dietz 317), and by 1989 these were about $6 billion (these don't take into consideration Social Security and other acquired rights). By that time in 1989 about 60% of the population fell under the official level poverty, and about 43% of the population depended solely on Federal welfare in order to live (Berríos 65;Weisman). The level of unemployment in Puerto Rico during the 80's was about 19.5%. However, taking into account that for this number only considers those who look for work, and not who those who can work but who are not looking for it, the real unemployment goes from 35 to 40%. To imagine how great is this number we have to consider the fact that the average unemployment rate in the United States during the Great Depression was 20% (Berríos 65-66).
The elimination of the benefits conceded to US corporations in 1995, has led them to leave Puerto Rico to establish themselves Singapore, Ireland and other places. The direct and indirect the unemployment lost has led to the significant increase of Federal welfare and Federal transfers to the government of Puerto Rico; by the year 1999, they total $9 billion (without considering Social Security, and other acquired rights) (Oliver 26). Also the migration policy was promoted much more considerably during 90's. All of this submerges Puerto Rico in a deep poverty and dependence in Federal funds, having not developed its economy significantly to produce enough capital for itself. Would statehood represent a solution to this problem? The answer of Congress: No.
Pro-Statehood Proposals to Congress during 1989-91
During the process that was carried out in Congress to legislate a plebiscite for Puerto Rico, in included important studies made by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the General Accounting Office (GAO) and others. Congress wanted to see the economic viability of the different political status options of Puerto Rico. For this task, Congress asked the three political parties for their economic proposals.
The New Progresist Party (the pro-statehood party) asked for several privileges that should be given to Puerto Rico if it became a state. These were:
Federal contributions would be imposed on US corporations
and individuals with a devolution of those to Puerto Rico during a transition
period of 25 years.
A transition of 25 years, to preserve the benefits of
Section 936 for 10 years and its gradual elimination during the rest of the 15
Protection of Puerto Rican industry from Federal tax,
through Federal tax exemptions to those who had state tax exemptions before
the date Puerto Rico becomes a state.
Preservation of the Federal tax exemptions of the bonds of
the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
The legislation of an "Omnibus Act" in the future which
The guarantee of the same economic and social
opportunities that all 50 states of the Union have.
Protection of native coffee.
Immediate extension of all Federal welfare programs to individuals.
Congress rejected the majority of these proposals like 3, 4, 5 because that would be granting Puerto Rico special rights that the states don't have. Under these conditions, statehood would mean the gradual loss of jobs due to the absence of the benefits of Federal tax exemption, a loss of jobs due to the lack of protection of Puerto Rican industry, Puerto Rico's public debt would increase significantly because the applications of Federal taxes would apply immediately. Also, Puerto Rico would lose jobs in the area of agriculture and no guarantee is offered to establish the same economic and social opportunities that all of 50 states of the Union. With respect to #1 and 2, Congress granted only a 5 years transition for the elimination of the benefits of Section 936, which would mean the loss of jobs in that area also (Alegría 47-49).
[Note: After this fact, we could ask ourselves, if this is the way that the US Congress tells us that it wants us to be a state of the Union with open arms, as many in the pro-statehood people seem to suggest.]
Apparently the only positive thing Congress conceded to the statehood option is the gradual extension the rest of the Federal Programs to Puerto Rico.
For those, however, who still insist that Congress, even a Democrat Congress, would accept Puerto Rico as a state, I want you to consider the following incident that occurred in 1993, under a Democrat presidency with a Democrat dominated US Congress:
That evening, April 27 [of 1993], the Clintons invited Pat Moynihan and his wife Elisabeth to the White House for a private dinner. Moynihan was not happy with the overall economic plan, and felt he had not been consulted enough about it. In effect, the White House had just handed it to the House and Senate, saying, here, pass this.
Moynihan wanted to introduce Clinton to sensitive real-world politics. For example, there was one item in the economic plan that would have to be dropped, a proposal to eliminate the tax subsidy for U.S. corporations doing business in Puerto Rico. Known by its title, section 936, the subsidy was, Moynihan granted, of course, indefensible. One company received a tax break of about $500,000 per worker. Some pharmaceutical firms got $150,000 per worker.
But that wasn't the point. Moynihan painted a doomsday scenario of what would happen if the tax credit were to be dropped. First, American firms would pull out of Puerto Rico, causing the unemployment rate to double to about 30 percent and creating economic crisis. A political crisis would follow. Puerto Rico faced an upcoming plebiscite on statehood, and if the tax break were eliminated, the politicians could argue that it never would have happened if the territory had two US senators. Statehood would then pass the plebiscite, Puerto Rico would apply for statehood, and Congress would of course reject the application. In all, it would be a political nightmare. How would the United States look in the world? So the tax, which would save some $5 billion over four years, just couldn't be done, Moynihan said. He could never let such a proposal out of the Finance Committee - for reasons, he noted, that couldn't be explained publicly (Woodward 198-99, my italics and bold).
"A buen entendedor, pocas palabras bastan."
Other Economic Obstacles
The position of statehood got worse when in 1990, the CBO submitted a report about the economic effects on the change of Puerto Rican status, and revealed that statehood would be completely adverse to Puerto Rican economy if implemented. It implicitly declared that the pro-statehood document (Puerto Rican Statehood: A Precondition to Sound Economic Growth) submitted to GAO was false. It revealed that the loss of the benefits of Section 936 would slow down the economy. Furthermore, the measures that would be taken to tax individuals and corporations would imply an increase of the cost of life, and an increase of unemployment rate (Alegría 12)
Obviously, the question comes up: Wouldn't Federal welfare provide a remedy for this situation? Well, at face value this seemed so. By 1990, Puerto Rico received close to $6 billion, and under statehood it would seem to receive $3 billion more than that, leading us to receive about $9 billion under statehood in Federal welfare (Weisman). Of course, this may sound like a big triumph for statehood for Puerto Ricans, but for Congress it was a big problems. Puerto Rico received $6 billion without paying Federal taxes, which creates much resentment in Congress, because the US gives Puerto Rico more Federal Welfare than many of the states of the union with nothing in return. They would grant statehood and pay $9 billion with only 30% of contributors paying Federal taxes, which would create a greater problem.
This has been presented by the pro-statehood leaders to the Puerto Ricans as something positive and as an incentive to vote for statehood. However, it surprises many people in the United States how could the pro-statehood party would want to reduce Puerto Rico to a condition of beggar. David Martin tells us:
Also baffling to many is how one can proudly make of ones society a sort of beggardom based on the concept of pride and dignity, a beggardom which, as promised in Romero's Statehood is for the Poor, would likely be made greater, that is to say, made worse by the advent of statehood. As noted previously, the continuing argument of the statehooders for being treated like a state for any federal program is that as U.S. citizens, it is nothing more than their due. Their pride, as it were, demands that they demand U.S. taxpayers' money. To their eternal discredit, the commonwealthers, too, have found it politically expedient, after initial resistance on ideological grounds, to join in this refrain. Free money is a hard thing to resist, especially when ones political opponent is trying to hog the credit for it (Martin).
To grant statehood, under these conditions of heavy dependence would represent a very high cost for the United States budget, so much that during the first two months of 1991, US senators suggested to concede the rest of Federal welfare but with less funds, in order to put Puerto Rico in the same conditions of the rest of the 50 states which don't require so much Federal welfare (Alegría iv).
During these Congressional discussions one thing was clear, the US and Puerto Rico didn't benefit at all with the option of Statehood. If this was so then, when the situation in the Puerto Rican economy was not so serious, imagine what would Congress think of granting statehood to a Puerto Rican economy under deplorable conditions like today!
3. Congressmen of at Least 25 States Would Vote Against Statehood for Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico may be a small territory of 100 x 30 miles squared. However, this small territory holds a large amount of population of 3.8 million people. This would grant Puerto Rico the right to have two senators (just like every other state), but from 6 to 7 representatives. Puerto Rico would have more representation in the House of Representatives than 25 to 26 states of the Union. This would represent a very serious problem in those state's access to the money that those Congressmen use to invest in their state. Since Puerto Rico's acceptance in the Union is contrary to those states' interest, they will vote in Congress against Puerto Rican statehood.
4. The Department of State Would Oppose Statehood for Puerto Rico
It is not a healthy decision for Congress also to accept Puerto Rico as a state, because it would not be regarded well in Latin America. This is due to two reasons: the first is that Puerto Rico is part of Latin America, and the Latin American continent wants its independence. The second reason has to do with the relations between the US with Latin America. Puerto Rico is located in an economic and military strategic point in the Caribbean. To accept Puerto Rico as a state would be interpreted by Latin American as an United States "Trojan Horse", in other words, a permanent intrusion and extension of the United States of domination of the entire Caribbean region from which the US could enforce its decisions to Latin America militarily "forever", in a way similar that has happened in the past.
5. The "Lunatic Fringe" of the Pro-Statehood Movement as One Obstacle to Statehood for Puerto Rico
This is one of the ironies of life. The pro-statehood movement has been the main obstacle to statehood in Puerto Rico. For example, from 1993 to 2000, the pro-statehood government was characterized as extremely corrupt. A great deal of those functionaries of government are now in Federal jail for stealing Federal money. It got to the extent that Congress, in 2000, withheld millions of dollars directed to housing until the pro-statehood government created mechanisms so that the Federal money is not stolen.
In other situations, like their reaction to the civil disobedience in Vieques, and other measures taken by them reacting to the pro-Commonwealth party as a terrorist government (which is a gross exaggeration) and a pro-separatist and anti-US government (which is not true); though what they intend is that Congressmen get concerned against "independentistas", the outcome works to the contrary to what they want. Would a Congressman vote in favor of integrating a nation that has an anti-US sector in a majority party? Would they invite terrorism to the US by turning Puerto Rico into a state? Obviously no.
Also, it makes absolutely no sense that the majority of this pro-statehood lunatic fringe see themselves as part of the Republican Party of the US, and fight for statehood from there. Everyone knows that if Puerto Rico ever became a state, it would be predominantly Democrat. Those who most opposed to Puerto Rican being a state, and represented the significant force that has voted continually against any Congressional sponsored plebiscite in Puerto Rico have been Republicans. They are unwilling to approve a bill that includes statehood as a plebiscite option submitted to Puerto Ricans.
They are all fighting their battles the wrong way.
Like Rubén Berríos said at one time: "Congress is going to grant us statehood in the week of the three Thursdays." In other words, never. Congress has everything to lose and nothing to gain from turning Puerto Rico into a state. We have a different culture and different language, which is a poor country that doesn't meet the economic minimum standard to become a state, a threat to the access of funds of 25 to 26 states of the Union, and a threat to the relations between the US and Latin America. Nothing more, nothing less.
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Pedro Rosario Barbosa.
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