The discussion of Puerto Rico’s status sometimes focuses on economic viability. What, people ask, could Puerto Rico bring to the U.S. as a State, or what could Puerto Rico rely on as a nation?
Generally, Puerto Rico is characterized as an island with limited natural resources (although it is actually a group of three populated islands). It is natural for tropical islands to rely primarily on tourism for their economic strength. The natural beauty of Puerto Rico may not be a tangible resource in the way that gems or oil are, but it certainly has economic potential when it brings visitors to enjoy the islands and their goods and services.
However, Puerto Rico is not devoid of other natural resources.
Here are some of the natural resources that enrich Puerto Rico:
- Puerto Rico has a variety of habitats, including forests, coral reefs, wetlands, lagoons, caves, and marshes. The range of natural formations encourages tourism, but is also of value for research.
- There are substantial deposits of oil and natural gas off the coast of Puerto Rico, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey finding. It is unclear whether the energy resources can be extracted on a cost-effective basis now but new technology may make it very worthwhile in the future.
- While the oil and gas may not be practical to harvest now, Puerto Rico has great potential for renewable energy including solar, wind, hydroelectric power.
- Copper and nickel as well as rocks and minerals used in construction are available in Puerto Rico.
- Puerto Rico is home to many species of plants and animals, some of which have inherent or potential economic value. For example, Grist reported that an invasive species of iguanas is being exported to the mainland U.S. for sale as meat in communities where it is considered a delicacy.
- The people of Puerto Rico are often called the greatest natural resource of the territory. An educated workforce of largely bilingual U.S. citizens has enormous potential to compete in the global employment marketplace. This advantage would be less significant if Puerto Rico chose independence, but as a State or a territory, Puerto Rico’s workforce could be extremely competitive for employment by U.S. companies.
- In the past, Puerto Rico was a major sugar producer.
- Puerto Rico’s coffee production has also been significant. While Hurricane Maria affected this crop negatively, progress is being made to rebuild it.
- Puerto Rico’s bee population has some special characteristics. In addition, Puerto Rico is an island, allowing the production of honey from specific flowers, which is impossible on the continental U.S. Like New Zealand’s famous Manuka honey, Puerto Rico’s honey could be developed into a profitable export.
- As the largest U.S. pharmaceuticals exporter, Puerto Rico is in a strong position to expand U.S. production of pharmaceuticals now being imported, and thus to strengthen the pharmaceutical supply chain. While tax regulations previously kept Puerto Rico’s pharmaceutical production from enriching the Island, future production could benefit Puerto Rico and the States.
Puerto Rico’s natural resources have not provided a solution in the current financial crisis, but they could provide starting points for economic repair once status is resolved.