The author describes Puerto Rico as “a colony where 3.5 million American citizens without federal representation languish while local politicians prefer to debate the island’s political status – whether we should be a commonwealth, a state or an independent country – rather than address a starker reality: the island is poor, its population is aging and its young people are leaving.”
Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States, is roughly $73 billions dollars in debt, and Varela doesn’t believe that the main reason for this problem is U.S. economic policy.
Instead he first takes issue with hedge fund managers who have purchased Puerto Rico bonds, noting that their objective is not to help Puerto Rico grow economically. Rather, he notes, they’ve bought Puerto Rico’s junk bonds and are hanging on in hopes of a big payday. He supports this claim in part by noting that Wall Street firms have already taken in at least $1.4 billion in fees during the ongoing fiscal crisis.
“The island’s political leaders have been selling its future to Wall Street for decades. They can’t now blame a crisis on US policy and expect us to believe it,” he writes.
The editorial looks back much further than the current crisis, however. Varela claims that Puerto Rico’s leaders have “never had a real vision for Puerto Ricans or Puerto Rico, even from the outset of Muñoz Marín’s failed ‘commonwealth’ experiment.”
Varela explains that “Puerto Rico’s political history is all about assuming that we Puerto Ricans are gullible and foolish. Take, for example, what governor Luis Muñoz Marín (mythologized as the Patron Saint of Modern Puerto Rico) wrote in in 1954, three years after his island voted for a commonwealth system formulated in the halls of the US Congress without their input.
In a 1954 essay in Foreign Affairs called “Puerto Rico and the United States: Their Future Together,” Varela says that “Muñoz Marín bizarrely argued that “Puerto Rico [was] developing a new pattern of political freedom,” though it was “not asking for statehood” and “not demanding independence.” Puerto Rico, Muñoz Marín wrote, was “deadset against colonialism,” even though the US had invaded the former Spanish colony in 1898 and only bestowed American citizenship to Puerto Ricans in 1917.
The author concludes that “one cannot achieve ‘political freedom’ and be ‘deadset against colonialism’ when one is not ‘demanding independence’ or ‘asking for statehood,'” and that this “failed experiment has led to this current economic catastrophe.”