Puerto Rico is not a “commonwealth.” It is a colony.
The US governs its economy, currency, international trade relations, import/export quotas, shipping, consumer prices, judicial code, military, postal system, FCC licensing, and the US congress has plenary jurisdiction (veto power) over any law or regulation passed by the insular legislature.
Even José Trías Monge – who was the principal draftsman of the Puerto Rican “Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico,” and also served as Attorney General of Puerto Rico, Chief Justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, and personal legal advisor to Gov. Luis Muñoz Marín – published a book titled Puerto Rico: Trials of the Oldest Colony in the World (Yale University Press, 1997).
Trías Monge himself admitted that the “commonwealth” was actually a colony.
The island’s chaotic economy, and its crushing $73 billion public debt, are clear evidence that this relationship is dysfunctional and harmful to Puerto Rico.
The two current options are statehood or independence. This article will discuss statehood.
It will never happen…statehood is virtually impossible for Puerto Rico.
Here is why:
American Public Opinion
When the US first occupied the island in 1898, this is some of what the best and brightest had to say about Puerto Ricans:
“They’re a heterogeneous mass of mongrels…savages addicted to head-hunting and cannibalism.” (Senator William B. Bate )
“God made us adept at government so that we may administer amongst savages and senile people.” (Senator Albert J. Beveridge)
“Puerto Ricans are uneducated, simple-minded and harmless people who are only interested in wine, women, music and dancing.” (New York Times, 2/22/1899)
Now in 2015, when someone won a Powerball ticket in Puerto Rico, the racist insults lit up the internet.
A few weeks later Ann Coulter published Adios, America, which portrays Latinos as rapists, murderers and welfare cheats – and the book is a New York Times Best Seller.
A few weeks after that Donald Trump announced his candidacy for US president, trashed Latinos, recited portions of Coulter’s book – and is now the leading GOP candidate.
After 117 years, on the most basic levels, the US has not come very far. Significant numbers of “patriotic Americans” still view Puerto Ricans as foreigners, and somehow inferior. They won’t come out and say it: they’ll just read Ann Coulter, vote for Trump, and quietly resent us. When the issue of statehood for Puerto Rico comes up, that resentment will express itself with two words: Hell, No!
Puerto Rican debt instruments have been popular on Wall Street because they are “triple tax exempt.” Bondholders and investors don’t have to pay any federal, state or local taxes on them. This tax benefit would disappear if the island were to become a state: so Wall Street has no interest in Puerto Rican statehood. Thanks to Citizens United v. FEC, it will hire lobbyists and give unlimited sums of money – over and under the table – to congress persons who will oppose it.
Controlled Foreign Corporations (CFCs) who use Puerto Rico as a tax shelter – allowing them to pay a 2 percent tax rate, rather than the US corporate rate of 35 percent – will also hire lobbyists and pay congress persons to oppose Puerto Rican statehood.
The unions in Jacksonville, the four Jones Act carrier companies (Horizon, Crowley, Sea Star, Trailer Bridge) and the American Maritime Partnership will also hire lobbyists and buy congress persons to oppose Puerto Rican statehood, since that could eventually lead to Jones Act reform and an end to the Cabotage Law in Puerto Rico.
With a population of 3.6 million, Puerto Rico would send two US senators and four or five congresspersons to Washington, D.C. All of them would be Democrats.
Do you think the Republican Party will allow that?
So the only time a “Statehood for Puerto Rico” bill would pass is during a perfect alignment of all the following:
Even then – with opposition from Wall Street, Jones Act carrier companies, the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, the American Maritime Partnership, and the Teamster and Longshoreman’s unions – this “perfect political alignment” would still not guarantee a congressional consensus for statehood.
In addition to all this fierce lobbying (and money exchanging hands) there will be no “congressional consensus” because congressional seats are a zero-sum game. There are always a fixed number of congressional seats: 435. If five new congressional seats are created for Puerto Rico, five seats will be taken away from five other states. This would be accomplished through congressional re-districting after the next decennial US Census.
If you were a member of the US Congress, would you risk losing your own seat – losing your political career – in order to make room for Puerto Rico?
No, I don’t think so.
The Early Words of Ruben Berríos
Thirty-five years ago Rubén Berríos, the president of the Independence Party of Puerto Rico (PIP) did something alarming: he told the world that the two major parties in Puerto Rico (PPD and PNP) were a complete fraud…because all their campaigns, and all their candidates, were based on whether or not Puerto Rico should be the 51st state of the United States.
But since the leadership of both parties knew that this was a practical impossibility (for all the reasons discussed in this article), then both the PPD and PNP were lying to the Puerto Rican people, with a fake issue, in order to get elected.
In the words of La Lupe, it was all “Puro Teatro.”
Rubén Berríos was right. The “statehood question” is often used by people with no qualifications, political program or personal ethics, in order to get elected and put their entire family on the government payroll. This is part of the reason that Puerto Rico has 78 mayors, and a $73 billion public debt.
Here is that original speech from Rubén Berríos, as given in 1980: