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This House believes that Puerto Rico should seek American statehood
This House believes that Puerto Rico should seek American statehood
Puerto Rico, officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, is a self-governing unincorporated territory of the United States located in the north-eastern Caribbean. The United States conquered Puerto Rico from the Spanish in 1898 when Puerto Rico became an unincorporated U.S. territory meaning it is controlled by the United States but only selected parts of the constitution apply. Many believe that Puerto Rico should move beyond its status as a territory to become a state within the United States of America. While a majority of Puerto Ricans have voted for continued status as a territory, there are rising calls for statehood. The main questions include whether it is important for Puerto Ricans to gain full rights as citizens, and whether statehood is a superior means to achieving this than independence. Others include whether Puerto Rico will gain economically from statehood (verses the status quo and independence). Socially and culturally, is Puerto Rico consistent with the characteristics that have defined other states entering the United States, such as Alaska or Hawaii? Will English be the primary language, or a co-official language along with Spanish? And this raises the question, is English the only possible official language possible in a US state - as English-only advocates would have it - or is it possible to have another language as an official language as well? Are there cultural concerns for Puerto Ricans who have a strong national identity? Finally, will Democrats or Republicans benefit more politically from Puerto Rican statehood? Is there a self-motivated bias coming from American politicians pushing for Puerto Rican statehood?
Although Puerto Rico voted in November 2012 to become a state this does not end the debate. President Obama has promised to respect the will of the islanders on the issue so removing one possible obstacle but there is still the US Congress to negotiate. Congress only needs a simple majority in both Houses but that may not be simple as Republicans assume the new state would be Democrat and currently control the House. The referendum is also less clear than it might be as although 54% voted for change on a first question the option of statehood got less than 50% of all voters if those who voted on the first question but not on the second are counted.
|Points For||Points Against|
|Puerto Ricans deserve full political rights and citizenship||The language barrier and Puerto Rican identity|
|Puerto Rico would benefit economically from statehood||Puerto Rican statehood is not economical for the US|
|English is not a problem for Puerto Rican statehood||Statehood would prevent Puerto Rican independence|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
Puerto Ricans deserve full political rights and citizenship
Currently, Puerto Ricans do not receive full political rights and equal representation, despite their American citizenship. Although it has its own Governor and legislature which handles some domestic matters, inhabitants of Puerto Rico receive no say in US federal matters or foreign policy, despite being heavily affected by them (more so than most current American states, as Puerto Rico sits in the Caribbean surrounded by other island nation-states). If Puerto Rico became a US state, Puerto Ricans would then share as everyone else in full benefits from the US government, while paying taxes like everyone else.
The status quo perpetuates a semi-colonial situation in Puerto Rico, where American citizenship, which they have held since 1917, carries fewer rights than in the US proper. This has been the situation since the US captured Puerto Rico in 1898, and no other US territory has been held in limbo like this for so long. During this time Puerto Ricans have supported the US by serving in large numbers, both voluntarily and through conscription, in the US military in every major war since the Spanish-American War.
However the island's current status still prompts United Nations to still debate whether Puerto Rico is a colony. US congressional inquest into Puerto Rico's political situation has found that, despite the divergent views that Puerto Ricans have with respect to their preferred political status, “all factions agree on the need to end the present undemocratic arrangement whereby Puerto Rico is subject to the laws of Congress but cannot vote in it.”
The former chief justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, Jose Trias Monge, has written a book on the political status of Puerto Rico entitled “Puerto Rico: The Trials of the Oldest Colony in the World.” Therein he argued that just prior to the U.S. invasion, the Island enjoyed greater freedom and rights in certain areas than it does now, including an insular parliament that could legislate in matters of monetary policy, banking, import/export duties, and public credit; the ability of Puerto Rico to negotiate its own commercial treaties; Puerto Ricans were Spanish citizens, equal in all respects to mainland Spanish citizens; the Spanish Constitution applied in Puerto Rico in the same manner as it applied in Spain proper; the Autonomic Charter of 1897, which governed Puerto Rico's relation with Spain, could not be changed except with Puerto Rico's consent. The political rights currently enjoyed by Puerto Ricans, such as their right to elect their own Governor, are not even guaranteed to them in the status quo. In 1993, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit stated that Congress may unilaterally repeal the Puerto Rican Constitution or the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act and replace them with any rules or regulations of its choice. To perpetuate this current second-class status is morally unacceptable in a nation which pledges itself to “liberty and justice for all”.
 Monge, Jose Trias. “Puerto Rico: The Trials of the Oldest Colony in the World”. Yale University Press. 1997.
Regardless of what Puerto Ricans may or may not “deserve”, the fact is that Puerto Ricans have rejected statehood many times now, making their voices heard on this issue many times since the late 1960's. The island has repeatedly voted to remain a commonwealth when votes were taken in 1967, 1993, and 1998. If Puerto Ricans actually like their current status enough to vote for it when presented with the alternatives of statehood or independence, where is the injustice in that status continuing?Improve this
Puerto Rico would benefit economically from statehood
American statehood would lead to significant economic growth for Puerto Rico. Statehood would mean that the island would shed its ineffective and costly reliance on preferential tax credits and more fully integrate into the national economy. In a study by Hexner, Jenkins, Lad and Lame, "Puerto Rican Statehood: A Precondition to Sound Economic Growth," the case is persuasively made that statehood is necessary for the island's economic growth. As an American state, the standard of living in Puerto Rico would profoundly improve for the average person. With average income going up, families would be able to pay their fair share of taxes while still improving their net income and standard of living. For those with low incomes, the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico would have the same access to tax relief and federal support programs as any other citizen of the country, unlike under the present status where significant disparities exist. This is particularly significant as approximately 50% of Puerto Ricans live under the federal poverty line.
Many areas of US Federal funding to Puerto Rico would actually improve. For example, the current 50 states can receive up to 90% reimbursement through Medicaid for critical health information technologies; Puerto Rico is not eligible for these supplements. According to 2005 Congressional testimony by Governor Anibal Acevedo-Vila, had Puerto Rico been treated like the other states, it would have received $1.7 billion dollars in federal Medicaid support instead of the $219 million received. Translated to monthly amounts, federal Medicaid support in the states approximated $330 per month per participant; the amount in Puerto Rico was about $20 per month. The US is one of the richest countries on earth, and being a full part of it would give Puerto Ricans a lot of practical advantages that the independent countries of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean lack. The right to move to the US-proper and work there legally, for example, is extremely valuable. Overall, therefore, there is a compelling economic case for Puerto Rico to seek American statehood.
As an American state, Puerto Ricans would pay federal income taxes, which most currently do not. Some businesses would also lose tax breaks they currently enjoy. This would harm not only the wealth of individual Puerto Ricans but also harm the country's economic standing, as it would become less appealing as an investment destination without these tax breaks and with the presence of federal income taxes. There is no guarantee that the extremely high rates of economic growth the pro-statehood optimists forecast will actually come about to balance out these increased costs for all Puerto Ricans. Historically statehood could have been disastrous for Puerto Rico's economy: the post-World War Two economic growth in Puerto Rico was the result of special treatment via exemption from Federal corporate taxes resulting from Puerto Rico' special non-state status.
 Leibowitz, Arnold H. “Defining Status: A Comprehensive Analysis of United States Territorial Relations”. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. 1989.
English is not a problem for Puerto Rican statehood
Some have made the argument that Puerto Rico should not be a state because Puerto Ricans do not speak English, and that the US should not have a non-English speaking state. This argument does not hold up for the following reasons: English is already an official language on the island with the same status as Spanish. Puerto Ricans are already citizens of the U.S., and have been since1917. There was no language requirement with the granting of citizenship then, so it makes no sense to ask this question now. In fact, there has never been a language requirement of territories entering the union in American history. English is a required subject in public schools through high school. English is the only language of the Federal Court system and all U.S. government agencies in Puerto Rico and is the common language in banking, commerce, real estate and the tourism industry. Learning English as well as Spanish just makes good sense. English is the international language of business, science, and increasingly, diplomacy. Puerto Rico should do all it can to increase English language capability. But, making it a requirement of statehood would ignore the precedents of Enabling Acts of Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arizona, all of which similarly had issues of large non-English speaking populations and gave or give these other languages some official status in law.
The foreignness of English in Puerto Rico is greater in magnitude than it was in any state at any time in our national experience, including the examples listed. Census data show that just 20 percent of the island’s residents speak English fluently. By comparison, California has the lowest proficiency rate among the 50 states, but its 80 percent proficiency rate dwarfs Puerto Rico’s. The deeply rooted preference for Spanish makes Puerto Rico’s 1993 elevation of English to “co-official” status practically irrelevant. Authentic “official English” policies increase English learning, but they will not work when English is merely an add-on to a pre-existing official language that is spoken in 95 percent of homes.Improve this
The language barrier and Puerto Rican identity
Puerto Rico should not become an American state because linguistic and cultural differences continue to divide the other 50 states and Puerto Rico. This would mean that Puerto Rico would either fit incongruously into the union, or it would lose its distinct cultural identity. Historically the US administrations of Puerto Rico have pursued 'Americanization' campaigns there, focusing especially around imposing the use of the English language and casting aside 'old values'. This policy was deeply resented and strongly resisted by most Puerto Ricans, and it failed. Thus, after 91 years of intimate association, Puerto Rico remains a separate cultural nationality.
Furthermore in terms of national identity, Puerto Rico joining the US would result in it losing the semi-independent (or at least distinct) identity which it currently has in the eyes of much of the world. To name but two examples, Puerto would no longer have its own representative in the Miss Universe Pageant (which Puerto Rico has actually won on three occasions) and they would not be recognized as an individual nation in the Olympic games, as it currently is. These international representations would be curbed under statehood, as Puerto Rico would be required to participate in the same manner as the other 50 states, and to compete to represent the United States collectively, and not Puerto Rico individually, in these international events.
Changing language policies would also undermine Puerto Rican culture: the territories that became Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma (who all had large and historically rooted non-English-speaking populations) were all admitted to the union by congressional enabling acts that required that “schools shall always be conducted in English” in order to ensure assimilation. This would likely also be the case with Puerto Rico, and could undermine the access of future generations of Puerto Ricans to their Hispanic heritage and culture, subsuming it within the overpowering tide of English-speaking American culture. Thus the Puerto Rican people are highly independent and have immense pride in their district and rich Latin culture and Spanish language, and they should not be deprived of that culture, which statehood would arguably contribute towards.
The arguments regarding the loss of Puerto Rican culture under statehood do not stand up because Puerto Rican identity is strong and will continue to be so. Puerto Rico has been exposed to U.S. mainland cultures for over 100 years, and Puerto Rican culture and heritage has thrived and grown. Puerto Ricans and mainland citizens have moved freely between the island and the mainland with no resulting cultural dilution or weakening of Puerto Rican's strong identity, even with the large migrations of the 1930's, the 1950's and since then. There is no reason to believe this would change under statehood. Puerto Rico has adopted and adapted aspects of U.S. culture, just as we have incorporated much of Puerto Rican culture when exposed to it. Puerto Ricans, while citizens, in much the same way as Texans and others view themselves, are still Puerto Ricans despite the more than 100 years of the deep and strong relationship with the mainland United States.Improve this
Puerto Rican statehood is not economical for the US
If Puerto Rico were to enter the US in such a way as to harm the US economy or if it were to become a burden to the US, this could lead to resentment of Puerto Rico by the rest of the US and hamper integration. The unemployed in Puerto Rico will at least have higher welfare benefits to fall back on if statehood is granted, meaning more money lost to the U.S. treasury. Puerto Rico's per capita income of $8,509 is less than one third of the US average, and about one half that of Mississippi, the poorest state. The government sector in Puerto Rico generates approximately 380,000 jobs, or 33% of total employment can be unfavourably compared to the percentage of the economy of Puerto Rico from tourism: About 6%. The average monthly per capita income in Puerto Rico $709 per month. Social Security Disability payments are at least $790 per month. Rank of a state of Puerto Rico as a state among states based on population: 25th. Rank of Puerto Rico currently if included among states based on persons receiving disability income: 16th. Even with the gain to the U.S. Treasury of taxes now not being paid by Section 936 companies, the CBO put the cost of Puerto Rican statehood as $9.4 billion in the first four years. These costs do not include matters like government and court translation expenses should Puerto Rico declare itself to be a solely Spanish-speaking land. Nor does it include the costs to the U.S. Treasury of as many as seven representatives and two Senators whose continuance in office will depend on their pleasing an impoverished constituency. Legislation to increase federal spending on social programs of all sorts need not fail narrowly in either house of the U.S. Congress, as it does at the moment, if Puerto Rico's delegation (twice the size of West Virginia's) enters the equation. Clearly neither the United States nor Puerto Rico can afford Puerto Rican statehood, and it makes no sense for Puerto Rico to enter into such an unstable relationship where resentment against Puerto Rico (and Puerto Ricans living in the US) will breed fast.
Much of this argumentation assumes that the Puerto Rican economy will not expand with statehood, which there are many good reasons to believe would occur. Look at what happened to the last two states admitted to the Union, Hawaii and Alaska. Both economies grew substantially after being admitted to the Union and became net contributors to the U.S. Treasury. Puerto Rico would receive equal treatment in both taxes and benefits, the same as the other states. Benefits to the island under the current system are limited by Congress. Those limitations would be removed. At the same time, payments of federal taxes would be phased in, as provided by the enabling legislation. It has been estimated Puerto Rico as a state will contribute nearly $2 billion to the U.S. Treasury each year. How is that possible? Through economic growth. With economic growth there are more jobs, fewer unemployed, and less of a public assistance burden.Improve this
Statehood would prevent Puerto Rican independence
The US has treated Puerto Rico as little more than a colony for 100 years, and this has seeped into the Puerto Rican mentality in harmful ways. According to educational scientists Francesco Cordasco and Eugene Bucchioni, in their 1973 work The Puerto Rican Experience: a Sociological Sourcebook, the belief that Puerto Rico cannot survive on its own results from teachings since grade school. “Puerto Ricans here and in Puerto Rico are taught three things: Puerto Rico is small and the US is big, Puerto Rico is poor and the US is rich, Puerto Rico is weak and the US is strong.” Popular author and Puerto Rican culture enthusiast Jesús Omar Rivera similarly argues that “in Puerto Rico, ever since you are a child, you are told that you live on a tiny island that has no natural resources, nothing. This is what they teach you in school, on TV, the media, and it’s always negative.” He argues says this perception is a by-product of the island’s political dependence on the U.S.. “There is this colonized mentality that everything from abroad is better.”
None of this would change under statehood, and arguably would get even worse as Puerto Rican culture, still perceived as 'inferior' to all things American, would decline even further. Puerto Rican nationalist Juan Mari Brás has argued “Only through a great unified movement looking beyond political and ideological differences, can the prevalent fears of hunger and persecution be overcome for the eventual liberation of Puerto Rico, breaking through domination by the greatest imperialist power of our age”. Attaining Puerto Rican independence us the only great cause which can unite all Puerto Rican people and allow them to break out of this colonized mentality and reclaim their dignity as a people and as a nation. To enter into US statehood would simply be to accept this colonized mentality and the denigration of all things Puerto Rican, to the advantage of the all-consuming American culture.
 Cordasco, Francesco and Bucchioni, Eugene. “The Puerto Rican Experience: a Sociological Sourcebook”. 1973. Littlefield, Adams, & Co..
Firstly, Puerto Ricans have repeatedly rejected independence in referendums in 1967, 1993, and 1998, with the votes for independence always being fewer than those for statehood. But secondly, the reasons against Puerto Rican independence are myriad. If Puerto Rico were to vote for independence, it would be hugely costly. It is inconceivable that the U.S. would set Puerto Rico adrift without a large "transition package" and continued foreign aid of a large magnitude. This would be necessitated by the fact that Puerto Ricans are currently U.S. citizens, who would demand favourable treatment and help. Puerto Rico, as an island with 3.8 million people and no other significant natural resources, is not economically viable as a separate nation without significant external aid and free access to large markets like the US enjoys. With statehood, Puerto Rico can be economically viable and a contributor to the United States' wealth, but with independence it would be impoverished and isolated. Moreover, the American 'melting pot' has always been about the fusion of different cultures together, not their disappearance, and this will be the same for Puerto Rican identity.Improve this
AP, ‘Puerto Ricans favour statehood, poll shows’, guardian.co.uk, 8 November 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/08/puerto-ricans-favour-statehood
Constitutional Rights Foundation. “BRIA 17 4 c Puerto Rico: Commonwealth, Statehood, or Independence?”. Constitutional Rights Foundation. Fall 2001 (17:4). http://www.crf-usa.org/bill-of-rights-in-action/bria-17-4-c-puerto-rico-commonwealth-statehood-or-independence
Cordasco, Francesco and Bucchioni, Eugene. “The Puerto Rican Experience: a Sociological Sourcebook”. 1973. Littlefield, Adams, & Co..
Department of the Interior, ‘Definitions of insular area political organizations’, Office of Insular Affairs, http://www.doi.gov/oia/Islandpages/political_types.htm
Essortment. “Puerto Rican Statehood, the An overview of the pros and cons”. Essortment.com. http://www.essortment.com/puerto-rican-statehood-56408.html
Fund, John. “Puerto Rico, the 51st State?”. The Wall Street Journal. 13 May 2010. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703339304575240531420991708.html
Frisse, Dr. Mark. “Puerto Rico”. Wellshpere. 7 September 2008. http://www.wellsphere.com/healthcare-industry-policy-article/puerto-rico/267827
Hill, Fay and Edmondson, "United States v. Sanchez, 992 F.2D 1143 (1993) United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (Paragraphs 44 – 46)" http://ftp.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F2/992/992.F2d.1143.90-5749.html
Keating, Joshua, ‘Should we be making room for a new star on the flag?’, Foreign Policy, 7 November 2012, http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/11/07/should_we_be_making_room_for_a_new_star_on_the_flag
Leibowitz, Arnold H. “Defining Status: A Comprehensive Analysis of United States Territorial Relations”. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. 1989.
Martorell, Carlos Rodríguez. “Have a Puerto Rican question? Ask El Boricuazo”. NYDailyNews. 3 June 2008. http://www.nydailynews.com/latino/a-puerto-rican-question-el-boricuazo-article-1.291777
Monge, Jose Trias. “Puerto Rico: The Trials of the Oldest Colony in the World”. Yale University Press. 1997.
NoPuertoRicoStatehood. “Puerto Rico Statehood”. 29 May 2011. http://www.nopuertoricostatehood.com/
Peacehost.net. “Juan Mari Brás”. Peacehost.net http://www.peacehost.net/WhiteStar/Voices/eng-maribras.html
Puerto Rico Statehood Students Association. “Statehood”. Puerto Rico Statehood Students Association. http://statehoodpr.org/statehood/
Schultz, Tim. “A Spanish 51st State?” National Review Online. 8 March 2010. http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/229250/spanish-51st-state/tim-schultzUnited
States Council for Puerto Rico Statehood. “Statehood Issues”. United States Council for Puerto Rico Statehood. 2004, http://www.prstatehood.com/issues/index.asp
U.S House of Representatives. ‘Puerto Rico Democracy Act’, 110th Congress. Second Session. Report #597. 2007, Washington, D.C. http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/?&sid=cp1103tENV&r_n=hr597.110&dbname=cp110&&sel=TOC_0&
Yglesias, Matthew. “What is the Case for Puerto Rican Independence?”. Think Progress. 1 May 2010. http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2010/05/01/197068/what-is-the-case-for-puerto-rican-independence/
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