In the middle of the worst economic crisis in our history, the newly elected governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, and the new resident commissioner in Congress, Jennifer González, have decided that making Puerto Rico the 51st state is their number one priority.  A statehood bill has already been filed, H.R. 260, and there is talk in Puerto Rico about fast tracking a new version of the XVIII Century Tennessee Plan to compel the admission of the island as a state of the union.

First, the facts. The people of Puerto Rico have never voted for statehood. That was amply demonstrated in the 2012 plebiscite when statehood only received 44% of all the votes cast in the polls. That is the reason why newly elected governor Rosselló said last November during the campaign that a vote for him was a vote for statehood. He was seeking a mandate. Well, he won the governorship, but with only 42% of the votes. That, clearly, is no mandate. On the contrary, every time Puerto Ricans have expressed themselves in the polls, the majority has voted against statehood.


Listening to statehood supporters in Puerto Rico, vociferously defending in Spanish an idealized version of admission to the union that seems firmly rooted in fantasy, whereby they purport to sell a type of socialist-redistributionist-of-wealth economic system. It sounds like for them statehood means that we will get a part of the revenues of oil production in Texas, part of the proceeds from the entertainment industry in Hollywood, the economic bonanza from Wall Street, as well as dollars from Orlando's tourism sector. They describe statehood in a series of numbers: the billions of dollars that we will allegedly get from uncle Sam.

Statehood is not a model for economic development, it is simply a way to organize a federation. What statehood does in fiscal and economic terms is apply uniform rules of the game to all states. Regarding Puerto Rico, all the recent and serious economic studies, including the latest from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), conclude that statehood will impose a greater economic burden and a massive loss of jobs to the island. Tax rates, already exceedingly high, would become unsustainable. The island’s manufacturing sector, which still represents 46% of the GDP and more that 80,000 good paying jobs, would be decimated. Asking for statehood during this time of economic crisis and without a real mandate is an insane proposition.

Statehood is also an issue of self-determination for the United States. We are talking about the transformation from what the U.S. has been throughout its history, a nation-state, into a multi-national state. Although the U.S. is a nation of immigrants and different minorities reside within its borders, its objective since its foundation has been that they all amalgamate into one nation, in what is known colloquially as the famous ‘melting pot.’ Since its inception, the American nation has had on its official seal the following motto: “e pluribus unum”, which in Latin means, “from the many, one”. That would change dramatically if Puerto Rico were to become a state. 

Nobody can doubt Puerto Rico, sociologically, linguistically, culturally, and historically, is a nation. We have our own rich culture, thousand years of history, unique territory, and almost everyone’s first language is Spanish, not English. Unless we somehow undergo a rapid racial, linguistic and cultural assimilation that destroys our identity -something that hasn’t happened in more than 118 years of our relationship with the US- statehood for Puerto Rico would mean the United States would integrate into their federation a distinct nation. It would mean going from “e pluribus unum” to “e pluribus duo.” That decision equates to an act of self-determination for the American people.

The rejection of H.R. 260 and statehood is not a call for inaction. Congress and the U.S. government must address the political and economic crisis in Puerto Rico. Congress is now treating Puerto Rico as its colony, bluntly exercising plenary powers upon our people, especially with the imposition of a fiscal control board and its supreme power over our national budget. That mistreatment must end, and it must do so with a solution that respects our national identity, grants Puerto Rico new economic development tools, and protects the historical and citizenship links between both nations in a relationship of dignified association with the United States. Towards that end, HR 260 is step in the wrong direction.

Acevedo-Vilá was governor of Puerto Rico (2005-08) and Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico in Congress (2001-04).

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.