By Eddy Montilla.
You cannot solve a problem if you cannot define it or know its origin. A Puerto Rican can easily say, in Spanish or English, what Puerto Rico is in terms of jurisdiction: A Free Associated State to US (the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico). But I wonder if you can find a person in the streets of that island who can explain the meaning of these words that they say to you. Is Puerto Rico a country? No, it is not. Is Puerto Rico a state of USA? No, and that is why it cannot file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection as Detroit did in the past, for example. As you can see, Puerto Rico has a murky political status that cannot be defined, which is, in my opinion, the real reason of the island’s economic woes and the origin of Puerto Ricans’ problems: The island cannot even make interest payments on its huge $72 billion public debt and has begun to default on its bond payments for the first time since it became an island under United States’ jurisdiction 117 years ago.
For many years, they have seen their political status and ties with USA as a safety belt or cushion, especially when they think about many Latin Americans in the region who cannot even reach a level to make a bare-bones living. The story has been the same for a long time: If something goes wrong, they lend money (in part, the reason for the island’s public debt) or go to the United States. But this apparently privileged position turned out to be over the years as illusory as a beautiful woman who had her body cut off in a magic trick because benefits from its political status and links to the United States are minimal compared to all problems it has caused. Let’s see: First, people’s initiative and inventiveness have been truncated. Second, if American companies go to China and other countries to avoid high taxes, how can they expect rich people to invest in Puerto Rico? The island’s social and political situation keep investors away since it’s not clear who is going to stand up for a company, for the island if financial problems arise. And third, people are lacking in identity. Can Puerto Ricans consider themselves American citizens? No, and they will never be seen in that way, the same as Latin American emigrants inside American territory. If you don’t even know who you are, how can you know where to go or how to move on?
Until now, Puerto Ricans have only seen one side of the coin: The fear of not being able to be a self-sufficient country. Many products in Puerto Rico are more expensive than in USA despite having a per capita income lower than the poorest state in America. So the stagnant economy will continue for years and the island will never reach the level of other states in America. Then, why don’t Puerto Ricans try to be an independent country? Uncertainty always brings fear to our heart, but Puerto Ricans should also know that with hard work, it could bring a better future, especially when the side of the coin they are facing today is not good at all.
This article was originally published in the digital newspaper World And Opinion with Eddy Montilla.
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