It has become commonplace for news outlets to talk about Greece and Puerto Rico together. Sometimes they compare Greece and Puerto Rico as examples of places that have a lot of debt. Sometimes they talk about whether Puerto Rico or Greece will cause more trouble to the U.S. economy if they become insolvent.
But Puerto Rico is not Greece.
Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi explained in The New York Times:
The analogy to Greece is inapt. Puerto Rico is not a sovereign country in a monetary union with the United States. From a constitutional perspective, Puerto Rico belongs to the United States. The federal government has almost absolute power over Puerto Rico, but has delegated to Puerto Rico about the same authority over local matters that the states possess.
Perhaps in an effort to be polite, certain commentators refer to Puerto Rico as a “commonwealth,” implying that Puerto Rico has a special status. But this word has no practical meaning, as demonstrated by the fact that several states call themselves “commonwealths.”
Pierluisi, the U.S. territory’s sole representative in the U.S. Congress and who has no voting rights outside of committees, went on to point out that Puerto Rico’s financial position is different from the positions of the States largely because of Puerto Rico’s status. “The main cause,” he said, “is inequality.” He pointed out that Puerto Rico doesn’t fully participate in the democratic process in the U.S., receives less federal support, and is responding with an unprecedented migration to the mainland U.S. Greece is not comparable in any of these areas.
“In the near term, Puerto Rico can manage its crisis with smarter policy making, but the only enduring solution is statehood,” Pierluisi insisted. “For Puerto Rico to prosper, it should be treated equally. And to be treated equally, it must become a state.”