Independence for Puerto Rico


Puerto Rico is deeply in debt and desperately needs a massive bailout to avoid bankruptcy. It borrows too much and produces too little. It is corrupt, perhaps as much as Illinois, which is intolerable. So why not get rid of it? The U.S. acquired the island by winning the Spanish American war in 1898. We also won Cuba and the Philippines but gave those island nations their independence. Cuba became a major headache, but the Philippines has succeeded as an independent nation. The justification for granting Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship was very controversial. It occurred by an act of Congress in 1917, primarily so Puerto Rican men could be drafted into World War I. Most Puerto Ricans opposed citizenship at the time.

What has Puerto Rico done for the U.S. as a territory? The question answers itself. It’s a fiscal drag with very high rates of welfare dependency, alcoholism, unemployment and other pathologies. Its major industry is tourism. If it became an independent country, its currency would likely be weak against the U.S. dollar in currency markets. So Americans would still travel there for cheap vacations. There is no real threat an independent Puerto Rico could ally itself with communist Cuba. Communism is essentially dead. Cuba is more integrated with the U.S. as the trade embargo was lifted.

Most Puerto Ricans are dissatisfied with their current Commonwealth status, according to recent referenda. Most seem to want statehood. They have a fairly accurate instinct that as a state, Puerto Rico will receive more entitlements and bailouts that it currently receives. This is certainly true. But why is it good for the nation?

What about the revocation of U.S. citizenship? It was granted in 1917 in order to commandeer draft-age young men. Yes, after a century, Puerto Ricans have grown used to being U.S. citizens. I’m not suggesting Congress strip it from those that have it. But Congress can easily end Puerto Rico’s territorial status and decree that no Puerto Rican born after that date will be a U.S. citizen. We have, as I noted, granted independence to former territories: the Philippines, Micronesia, and Marshall Islands.

It’s been a huge disappointment that no member of Congress has proposed independence for Puerto Rico and as of this writing, is on the verge of enacting a bailout which will cost U.S. taxpayers billions. Why should Puerto Rico, rather than the nation as a whole, get to decide if it remains a U.S. territory? Why not put the question to Congress? In this current season of economic nervousness, resentment of elites and growing aversion to more immigration among Republicans, the majority in both Houses, Congress might prefer to listen to what most of their constituents think on this issue.