In spite of the complexity of the Puerto Rican political structure, it is clear that it all revolves around one enduring and present issue: status. The question of what Puerto Rico should be in relation to the US, and to itself, is one that defines all politics in the island. Inside this great debate there are seemingly three options: Statehood, Commonwealth relation to the US, and Independence. Of the three “options,” only two are a definite conclusion to the issue: statehood and independence. However, of these two options, only one grants true independence for the people of Puerto Rico, statehood.
For years, the pro-independence movement of Puerto Rico has used rhetoric to bolster their cause, arguing that for the sake of national identity, pride, and determination, that we should be free from all federal or American sovereignty. They make good use of the island’s cultural achievements in boxing, beauty pageants, and the entertainment business. This is all well and good, but a country does not survive on folklore – and beyond this, the separatist movement has failed to present a cohesive economic platform that would secure our current living standards without the US. Just recently, the independentist movement attempted to showcase in the UN that the will of the people of Puerto Rico was on independence – obviously obviating the fact that they represent less than 3% of the population. In short, the independentist movement refuses to work, think, or even feel, reality.
True independence is not measured by the amount of cultural uniqueness a country may have, it is measured by the amount of self-determination a country’s people have in deciding their own fate, and future. It is evident that in the hypothetical situation that Puerto Rico would become independent from the US, it would suffer more domination from the federal government than it does now. After more than a hundred years of American presence, an independent Puerto Rico would still be forced to rely on the benefits of American enterprise and commerce, not to mention its military might. Outside the Union, the people of Puerto Rico would have no part on the decision making process that determines what kind of commerce or enterprise the US would have with the island nation. This means that Puerto Rico’s social and economic well being would be at the mercy of the American people and their elected representatives. No doubt, ties between Puerto Rico and the US would be strong, but still subject to the will and ambition of the dominant partner in the relationship: the US. This can hardly be called independence.
On the other hand, once Puerto Rico becomes a state, we will find that the powers and rights constitutionally invested on us amount to so much that, for the first time, we may enjoy true self-determination. In ascending to the position of a state, not only would we be able to benefit from the same home rule we have now (just like any other state in the union), we would also have additions to our powers. These come in different forms, the first, and most obvious is political representation. With a population roughly amounting to 4 million citizens, Puerto Rico would be entitled to 6 or 7 US congressmen, which is more representation than 35 other states, including Connecticut and Oregon, but on parity with states like Louisiana and Colorado. Beyond the US House of Representatives, we would also have the right of 2 US senators – like every other state. Our Congressional representation would secure us a say on issues that pertain to commerce, trade, foreign policy, and social securities. In essence, our Congressional delegation would be strong enough to protect the interests of the island where it matters the most. Beyond our legislative representation, we would also mount a formidable force in electing the nation’s president, forcing candidates to focus on Puerto Rico. Upon union, Puerto Rico would be granted 8 to 9 delegates that would go on to elect the president – our apportionment of delegates would be higher than 28 states. This fact forces all presidential candidates to have a comprehensive platform that benefits the people of Puerto Rico, something that certainly would not happen if we were independent.
Political power, however, is not the only benefit of annexation. There are many powers that exist behind the obvious strength of political representation. These shadow powers come in the form of economic might, socio-cultural wealth, and comparative advantages. In having the same rights as any other state, Puerto Rico would have an equal basis to exert many different comparative advantages. It goes without saying that the island’s geographic location could challenge Miami’s commercial status. Also, the island’s rich cultural heritage will automatically create it a standard for all other Hispanic communities to follow. These are but a few examples of powers that are not easily quantifiable, but are clearly valuable and attainable. However, they may only be attained through absolute parity and equality with the rest of the Union for the simple reason that in that parity we have the most essential requirement: a seat on the table.
Independence is about self determination, when a country fails to control its own future, it cannot, in good conscious, be considered independent. Statehood would effectively bring the power of self-determination to the people of Puerto Rico – it would grant Constitutional powers that will go beyond any advantages that separation from the US could bring, because it secures Puerto Rico a place in the political process. These facts should be well remembered – just saying that one wants independence is not enough to draft the future of a whole nation, substance must be attached for that nation’s security. Statehood is the substance of our independence.
Raúl R. Vidal is the President of the Puerto Rico Statehood Student Association, a non-profit organization that seeks statehood for Puerto Rico.