Juan Negrón Ocasio

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Por Juan Negrón Ocasio
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Puerto Rico statehood: a risky business

Is it possible to incorporate to the US a territory that is drowning in debt? The last two states that joined the union were Hawaii and Alaska (1959). However, both territories manage federal funds and resources properly to be financially independent. Hawaii’s major revenues are from agricultural products and tourism, and Alaska a producer of oil, natural gas, and seafood. All the states contribute to US economy. In regards to Puerto Rico becoming a state, it may certainly be a risky business. The voting results indicate that Puerto Ricans are not interested in statehood. Puerto Ricans have been consulted four times to find out if interested in becoming a state (1967, 1993, 1998, and 2012). In all referendums statehood was rejected.

Puerto Rico became an unincorporated territory thru the Treaty of Paris after the Spanish American War (1898). In 1900, the Foraker Act mandated an “English Only System” aiming to Americanized the population. The system failed. Since 1948 English is used as a second language. In 1917 Puerto Ricans were granted citizenship. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth. According to the United Nations a colony. It wasn’t until 1948 that President Truman appointed Jesús T. Piñeiro as the first Puerto Rican Governor. All others were Americans. In 1948, Puerto Ricans elected the first governor. A Constitution was drafted, amended and ratified by US Congress, then approved by the President. Since 1952, twelve governors have been elected: 7 Democratic Popular Party (commonwealth), and 5 New Progressive Party (statehood). They all have contributed to drown the island financially.

Although there has been 119 years of Americanism and 5 elected statehood governors, Puerto Ricans have not lose their eccentricity. The costumes and traditions are still unbroken, and most of the population speak only Spanish. The Puerto Rican diaspora in the US don’t do away with their language or their cultural values, which makes it more difficult in becoming an “all American state”. The island has been a US colony for too long. Puerto Ricans are proud of their heritage and are unwilling to be Americanized.

Puerto Rico had enormous capital potential in the agricultural industry. But was neglected. The seafood business was never developed, and tourism has been managed improperly. In 65 years governors elected did not create productive capital gains. The present economic crisis has affected the population, 45% live in poverty, 15% unemployment, 500,000 immigrated, junk-bond status, legislators are incapable to access capital markets, and most social services are in jeopardy. Presently, islanders live a nerve-wracking life. All the elected governors are responsible for creating a $70,000 million debt. Incredibly, on top of the unbearable economic crisis, the statehood governor and legislature, agreed to pay yearly salaries to Secretary of Education ($250,000), Secretary-Security Department ($248,500), and Executive Director ($625,000) Oversight Financial Board, and have allocated more than $25 million dollars in contracts for political “consultations and legal services”. The present colonial status grants serious reflection. It is time for Congress to consider Puerto Rico to be independent, or a free-association territory. A new political status can bring creative politicians to expand international trades and freedom to revive the island’s economy, and release US from sending funds at present inadequately used.

Finally, for 80 years the US granted tax incentives through Section 936, but statehood governors Carlos Romero Barceló (1978-1984), and Pedro Roselló (1992-2000) pushed to eradicate it. All economists, federal government and private sector, agreed that abolishing S936 was a major cause of PR present financial slump. No statehood governor have demonstrated trustworthiness on how to govern a state. On the contrary, they have created an economic quandary to the US. Least to say, that it was the present statehood governor that filed for bankruptcy. The biggest economic failure in US history. What do statehooders have to substantiate that the US will profit, culturally, politically, or economically, if Puerto Rico becomes a state?

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