Puerto Rico and poverty: how joining the U.S. could help

in Editorial/Opinion by

A lot of much-needed publicity has come to Puerto Rico following President Trump’s trip there. Needless to say, there was quite a bit of mockery with the President blaming Puerto Rico for “blowing up” the U.S. budget, shooting paper towels to citizens like they were basketballs, and not seeming to believe that water purification tablets actually worked. At the Chronicle, we pride ourselves in going under just the surface layer, and while I am definitely no fan of Trump’s, I’d rather contribute something to a legitimate conversation than repeatedly blast our Orange-In-Chief and be a part of the noise. 

You see, Dear Reader, there are differences between U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and U.S. territories. Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands are commonwealths, but Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands are territories. These places are indirectly represented by Congress by having a Delegate in the House which may speak, but not vote. Unless they are federal employees, they do not pay federal income tax and do not have a vote for President or not. 

The current system doesn’t allow for our non-states to have an autonomous budgeting process, being overseen by both the Department of the Interior and the United States Congress. Due to this difficulty, it’s common for bankers, investors, and corporations to buy up their debt and demand certain changes in their local ordinances. We have had a political relationship with all of them since World War II, if not earlier, Puerto Rico is almost 140 years, yet they are not states. I do not think that is right. 

Most of these places are very poor, American Samoa in particular. To the best of my understanding, they don’t receive welfare money due to this unique status. Why not be independent countries? Fair question. First, the United States would have to recognize them as independent nations, something that’s as likely to happen as Canada conquering Mexico. Second, they would have to be willing to be independent countries, something that is nearly as improbable. Beyond that, it doesn’t make sense. If they were to become independent countries, they would have to set up their own military, their own form of government, and their best trading partner would be the United States because of our decades of relationship.  

I know that this is a very low priority on everyone’s radar, but the point is that these places would recover much more quickly from natural disasters as states. FiveThirtyEight ran a superb article on this. Their economies, logically, would be much healthier and our nation as a whole would be more diverse. Integration would be much more just than the current situation. 

Of course, this wouldn’t happen under an unified Republican government. All of these non-states lean more liberal. It would seem to be that these non-states, if they become fully integrated, would give the Democrats a substantial boost in the Electoral College.