Puerto Rican statehood?

Photo Courtesy | Mint Press News

By Christian Aleman, Acacia Muñoz, and Evangelina Morales | Managing Editor, Feature Editor, and Senior Reporter

The territory of Puerto Rico has recently taken the national spotlight as two powerful hurricanes ravaged the island and left its residents with severe damage and a power grid that has yet to be made fully operational. These natural disasters have raised questions concerning the status of the territory in relation to the United States like: Is Puerto Rico a state? Are Puerto Ricans citizens? How did the U.S. acquire Puerto Rico? How can the American people help?

Originally acquired by the U.S. through the Spanish-American War in 1898 along with other current U.S. territories, Puerto Rico is currently neither a state of the U.S. nor an independent nation, but somewhere in between.

However, this citizenship is not like the citizenship that Americans that live on the mainland have. Citizens that reside on the island cannot vote in congressional or presidential elections besides the Democratic and Republican primaries, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s website and a report by NPR. Puerto Ricans do have representation in the House of Representatives in the form of a non-voting Resident Commissioner, who is currently Jenniffer Gonzalez of the National Republican Party of Puerto Rico, stated by the website govtrack.com.

On top of the recent destruction brought about by the two hurricanes, the island was already facing a financial crisis where it was not able to pay back its debt of $123 billion in bonds and unfunded pension liabilities, according to Forbes.

Photo Courtesy | Casa Pueblo Facebook

“When Trump refused to give Puerto Rico more help because of debt, I was very confused,” Sebastian, (not actual name, source asked to remain anonymous). “How are we going to be able to work to repay our debt when we can’t even get real help?”

These separate events, the hurricanes and the financial burden, have brought up the question: What is Puerto Rico’s standing with the United States? The island has voted on the issue of statehood, independence, or staying with the commonwealth option several times since the 1960s, but none of them have prompted action as the results have been mixed.

The latest vote, which took place in June of this year, had 97 percent of voters vote in favor of statehood, the New York Times reported. The same source reports that only 23 percent of the registered voter population voted.

Ultimately, the decision to progress towards statehood, independence, or any other kind of change lies with Congress. The vote could simply be seen as island residents expressing their preference on the topic, but the island’s governor, Ricardo Rossello with the New Progressive Party (pro-statehood), said the vote was something that could no longer be ignored by the federal government in a report by the New York Times.

Photo Courtesy | Casa Pueblo Facebook

Ben Berris, a current Puerto Rican resident affected by Hurricane Maria, believes that the island should officially become a state of the United States.

“The island would progress and improve its economy,” Berris said. “Some of the benefits of Puerto Rico as a state would be a better administration, improvements in the economy, more investment for the island, and less political fraud.”

On the other hand, Dr. Johanna Delgado-Acevedo, an Assistant Professor at A&M Commerce and Puerto Rico native, is against the island pursuing statehood. She claims the current relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico is unfair and outrageous.

“I want my nation to become independent and self-reliant,” Dr. Delgado said. “I believe in a sustainable development of Puerto Rico where our economy flourish is based on our economic, natural, and human capital.”

Sebastian also disagrees with the possibility of Puerto Rico’s official declaration as a state.

“As a native of Puerto Rico, I can see all the right reasons for the island to become part of the United States, but I don’t think it is the right time in history,” he said. “I don’t want to see my family suffer with President Trump.”

Delgado’s family was affected by the hurricanes in Puerto Rico and immediately took action to help them along with other victim by starting a campaign on campus. She collected batteries, flashlights, clothing, first-aid kits, awnings, blankets, insect repellent, diapers, wipes, etc. Delgado sent the first shipment six weeks ago and will send the second one this week. The university covered all of the shipment costs.

“I made efforts also to send to Puerto Rico solar lanterns, solar chargers, portable solar energy lamps, to light up remote areas on the Island,” she said. “With the help of many people, I was able to send over 300 solar lamps. I will go for three weeks in December and January to help with the recovery efforts. I will be working with a community organization known as Casa Pueblo in my hometown.”