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BREXIT and Puerto Rico

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, there was rejoicing in some areas, sadness in others, and consternation all over the world.

A Facebook commenter wonders whether the same thing could happen to Puerto Rico.

Greetings from Florida! I have been following your reports, and they’re always very interesting. What I am noticing however is that a very loud minority on the island, with the backing of Cuba and other non-democratic members of the UN, are making a lot of noise about PR’s status and demanding independence. More of that today on the island with the PROMESA project. In this global mood of isolationism, toxic nationalism, ignorant populations, I wonder if the independence message is getting traction on the island due to the lack of a clear, concise and effective message to the people of Puerto Rico. Look at the Brits. They never expected for Brexit to take place, and now they’re stunned and worried. I fear that something similar could happen on the island, again, because no one has really explained the impossibilities of a prosperous independent nation of Puerto Rico with no resources, a bankrupt economy, and an inept government. Why would any of that change under independence? Is Puerto Rico Report getting its message across where it has to? I hope so.

Independence has not historically been a popular option, but the current situation has inspired the Independence Party in Puerto Rico to enhance their efforts.

Reactions in Puerto Rico to the “junta” — the fiscal oversight board to be established by PROMESA — range from relief that the territory’s government will be held accountable more than they have in the past to anger that the U.S. is taking away some of Puerto Rico’s current autonomy. For those who have been hanging onto the idea of “enhanced commonwealth” in spite of the federal government’s repeated rejection of it, PROMESA may feel like a slap in the face.

The letter sent by Governor Garcia Padilla to each member of the U.S. Senate expresses this feeling even as it asks Senators to vote for PROMESA:


Click on the letter to enlarge the image.

Resentment at the colonial feeling of the relationship even after Puerto Rico voted for statehood, anger that the federal government will not consider direct financial assistance to Puerto Rico, and a sense of loss for those who believed that Puerto Rico had sovereignty — all of these emotions could influence the next referendum. What would happen if Puerto Rico chose independence?

Loss of citizenship

People born in Puerto Rico are citizens of the United States by birth. If Puerto Rico became an independent nation, that would not continue to be the case. Just like the Philippines and Cuba, both former U.S. territories, Puerto Rico would have its own citizenship.  After all, Cubans are not U.S. citizens.  There are a host of Constitutional, legal and practical problems with granting U.S. citizenship to people in foreign countries.

This means that the people of Puerto Rico — many of whom have family members living on the U.S. mainland — would not be able to to travel freely in the U.S. without a passport. They would not be able to go to the States and work freely. They would not receive the benefits of U.S. citizenship, whether they lived on the Island or went to the U.S. mainland, without going through the naturalization process.

Puerto Ricans have been active in the U.S. military since the Civil War. This is patriotic service. It’s also a career option for people living in a territory where there is a very high level of unemployment. That option would be lost.

U.S. currency

Puerto Rico uses the American dollar. Right now, that can be a strong selling point for remote workers in Puerto Rico — being able to pay workers directly in dollars is a convenience for U.S. employers.

While several nations use the U.S. dollar for currency, either officially as Ecuador does or in a widespread yet casual way as in Cambodia, Puerto Rico would have to add sorting out currency to its list of financial issues.

Federal laws

Puerto Rico is currently bound by U.S. federal laws and court decisions. While that has recently created some controversy, it also makes it easy for U.S. companies to do business in Puerto Rico. Just like a shared currency, this has been a plus in negotiations with mainland U.S. companies. Now, according to some Puerto Rico business experts, “[U.S. investors are] coming into the meeting and thinking, ‘Yeah, it’s Puerto Rico. There could be a coup d’état and the whole country goes up in flames and we lose the investment.’ And it’s just not true.”

If the prospect of independence is already affecting the business climate in Puerto Rico, the reality of independence could have brutal consequences.

U.S. support

The U.S. has historically provided limited support for former colonies which have left the fold, but it depends entirely on the whims of Congress. The current Congress has been unwilling to provide any federal funding for Puerto Rico – the U.S. territory must even pay the $370 million to cover the costs of its own control board.  The level of assistance from the U.S. to Puerto Rico would certainly not increase by creating more distance between the two nations and doing away with the one non-voting delegate Puerto Rico has in Congress.

If Puerto Rico chooses independence, the primary motivation for Congress to help — there are 3.5 million U.S. citizens living on the Island — will be gone. It is to be expected that Congress will be less willing to provide funds for Puerto Rico, not more willing to do so.

The U.S. supports Puerto Rico not only with financial aid, but also with military defense, protection from terrorism, and federal expertise. Any and all of this support should be expected to be go away if Puerto Rico chooses independence.

If the people of Puerto Rico were to be determined to gain independence, the difficulties of starting over as an independent nation and weathering the hard years of establishing the new infrastructure of a country would be daunting. As planeloads of Puerto Ricans head for the States every month, the BREXIT example is worth thinking about.

1 thought on “BREXIT and Puerto Rico”

  1. I think the simple answer is to really hold the federally sponsored referendum. Use the $2,000,000 dollars set aside for the referendum, and let the people actually decide. Either direction would mean a better Puerto Rico. And independent Puerto Rico would get aid from many nations all vying to stick it to the US, and the USA would try to compete. It could actually be funny. And if Statehood won, Puerto Rico would gain all the rights and privileges of a State. Puerto Rico would become the new premier destination of Americans seeking the sun in their later years, or younger people seeking an island paradise, no longer afraid of losing their right to vote. I think either status would be better for Puerto Rico. But neither can happen until the Governor schedules the referendum.

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