Hurricane hammers home need for Puerto Rican statehood

Hurricane hammers home need for Puerto Rican statehood
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For the last decade, Puerto Rico has been experiencing a severe economic, financial and demographic crisis. Among other things, this crisis is related to our current shameful territorial (colonial) status.

Because of this undignified status, we lack full representation in Congress except for a resident commissioner who has voice but cannot vote on the floor. This is primarily responsible for the unequal treatment the U.S. citizens of the island receive under federal laws.

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As U. S. citizens since 1917, we have proudly served in all major and minor conflicts of our nation, and thousands of Puerto Ricans have perished defending our democratic way of life. As stated in the 2011 Report by the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status: "Resolving the island’s political (colonial) status is essential to restoring the health of Puerto Rico’s economy and to improving our security."

 

On top of this financial crisis, recent hurricanes Irma and María have unmercifully and severely hit Puerto Rico. Maria, a category 5 hurricane  — the worst in history — smashed all of Puerto Rico for 12 hours with winds over 200 mph.

This catastrophic hurricane has devastated the island to the extreme that less than 20 percent of the electric system has been restored and roughly one-third of the 3.5 million population is still without reliable drinking water.

In most of the island rural areas, the picture is that of a bomb-blasted area. The estimated damage to the island runs higher than $60 billion.

After recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma, federal assistance for Texas and Florida immediately flowed. However, for Puerto Rico, it was somewhat delayed. I would like to believe that it was because we are an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and not because of our present colonial status.

This delay produced additional chaos. Finally, after a few days of mayhem and uncertainty, federal funds started to flow to the island. President Trump, Vice President Pence, House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate MORE (R-Wis.) and several congressmen visited the island and promised to grant the much-needed federal assistance until the island has fully recovered.

This catastrophic situation and the lack of certainty over whether it will be normalized in a reasonable period has acutely intensified the migration process of our population to the mainland, particularly to Florida. A substantial number of these U.S. citizens will require social assistance, creating a financial problem for the different states to which they move.

At the same time, if this situation is not promptly and reasonably restored, Puerto Rico will become a ghetto of poor elderly people and, for all practical purposes, an unviable and shameful U.S. colony. 

In the short run, the present federal assistance will undoubtedly help, but reconstructing Puerto Rico to the dignified condition 3.5 million U.S. citizens deserve, will require a federal, Marshall Plan-like effort. Given Puerto Rico’s current territorial (colonial) political status, Congress holds the ultimate power to make such a decision.

It is up to congress to help Puerto Rico out of this catastrophic situation and to provide the conditions for the island to become a state with the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities as all the American citizens who reside in the other 50 States.

We want statehood or incorporated territory status now. Five centuries as a colony is enough. Puerto Rico does not deserve this unfair and morally reprehensible treatment.

José M. Saldaña is the former president of the University of Puerto Rico. He is the vice president of Igualdad, Futuro Seguro, a pro-statehood organization.