'Free association' is a way out of the Puerto Rican crisis

'Free association' is a way out of the Puerto Rican crisis
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Recent events in Puerto Rico, in which the people rose up to challenge the political establishment, demonstrate the territorial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States has been one of missed opportunities in the name of untenable illusions. The territorial model is a serious threat to the survival of the Caribbean nation and its economy. The Puerto Rican political and socioeconomic model has collapsed, and the moral and economic bankruptcy of the territory has been finalized.

The American dream in Puerto Rico expired, died and has been reduced to an absurdity. The so-called Isla del encanto, or “Island of Enchantment,” was branded an “economic miracle” and a “showcase of democracy” but has become a bad cartoon of what it pretended to be. For more than half a century, Puerto Rico was full of optimism and confidence, but today Puerto Ricans are unable to face current and future challenges. 

Puerto Ricans still suffer the consequences of the Spanish-American War. Since the signing of the Treaty of Paris of 1898, the United States has been the owner of Puerto Rico’s sovereignty — later declared by the Supreme Court a “non-incorporated territory” and, since 1952, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

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The creation of this commonwealth by Congress cosmetically modified the territorial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. After 60 years, this is a relationship that was born in a different era, one that fulfilled the American geopolitical interests of that time. After failing to adapt to economic globalization, it’s evident that political and economic changes are urgently needed to allow Puerto Ricans to respond to 21st century challenges by their own bootstraps. 

Fortunately, the existence of the Puerto Rican nation is not up for debate. For Puerto Ricans, every day is an opportunity to defend the island’s Caribbean and Latin-American nationhood and to construct a viable future. 

The annexation of Puerto Rico to the United States has never had sufficient support in either San Juan or Washington. Moreover, this electoral force has been steadily declining since 2012. The idea of statehood has been employed by some Puerto Rican politicians to organize themselves politically, with slogans such as “statehood is for the poor,” in order to be elected and profit from federal funding. It is today, more than ever, a far-fetched reality.

In other words, Puerto Rico is stuck in a colonial quagmire since annexation never will be considered a real option by U.S. citizens; they would not be willing to pay the economic and political cost of annexing Puerto Rico.

Annexation would further weaken the Puerto Rican nation within the United States, thus plunging Puerto Ricans in the U.S. into a lower socioeconomic standing. Many economists and U.S. entities have clearly expressed how harmful annexation would be to the Puerto Rican economy, doomed forever to become the poorest and most marginalized state. 

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Recently, Congress has shown signs that it does not support statehood, by excluding Puerto Rico from the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and ObamaCare. Crises in the territory make  decolonization urgent, yet the federal government has not found a way to articulate the desired outcome. The reasonable solution is for Puerto Ricans to exert its sovereignty, push for a road map and take control of its own destiny through the viable solution: free association

In order to transcend the territorial status, it is essential to integrate Puerto Rico into the world. It is the only way to bring the peace Puerto Rico needs through social justice, democracy and economic growth and development. To end Puerto Rico’s territorial isolation, it will be essential to reform Puerto Rican governmental institutions to achieve competitiveness, transparency, agility and simplicity in the process of political and economic decision-making. 

Free association is a model of sovereign relations recognized by international law, and the U.S. has one of the most successful examples to date. Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands are free associated republics to the U.S., the result of negotiation and dialogue that outlived several Congresses and three presidents. Distinguished and patriotic Americans and Puerto Ricans, from all political affiliations, could jumpstart a similar process to discuss the terms of the trespassing of fiscal, economic and political powers to transcend this restrictive territorial condition.  

Today, facing a discriminatory and territorial relationship, Puerto Ricans and Americans must put an end to this shameful situation. We must build a new non-territorial and sovereign relationship that gives birth to the United States’s strongest ally in the Caribbean and Latin America. 

Efraín Vázquez Vera, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Puerto Rico, Humacao Campus. Julio Ortiz-Luquis, Ph.D., is an adjunct assistant professor at Montclair State University.