In a Huffington Post blog post today, Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi makes the case that equality for Puerto Rico is required to achieve prosperity.
“If you genuinely want to understand why Puerto Rico is mired in a crisis, but you disregard or downplay the lack of political and civil rights in the territory, then you are missing a core point,” wrote Pierluisi.
Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, as are the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. In his blog post, Pierluisi emphasized that, contrary to recent press coverage, Puerto Rico is not an “island nation” or “Caribbean country.” Nor is it a “commonwealth,” which he describes as a title without a meaning.
Pierluisi’s emphasizes in his blog post that Puerto Rico “lacks the most fundamental feature of American political life: democracy.” Puerto Rican residents cannot vote for President, have no U.S. Senators and have one delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives, himself, who cannot vote on legislation on the floor of the House of Representatives. Puerto Rico is often treated worse that states under federal programs, depriving the local economy of resources.
Turning to the current fiscal problems plaguing the most populous U.S. territory, Pierluisi cites both the lack of equal treatment at the federal level and lack of discipline at the local level as problems that must be solved.
In the federal arena, Pierluisi believes that, ultimately, statehood for Puerto Rico is the “only way to guarantee full equality” for Puerto Ricans. In the meantime, Pierluisi provides Congress with a road map for action, noting the importance of expanding programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit in Puerto Rico to encourage work and enacting his legislation to expand federal bankruptcy laws that apply in states to also cover Puerto Rico.
As he concludes, “proposals designed to narrow the gap between Puerto Rico and the states should be embraced, while proposals that seek ‘special’ treatment for Puerto Rico should be viewed with skepticism. Too often, efforts to provide Puerto Rico with different treatment, even if well-intentioned, ultimately harm rather than help the territory. The American citizens of Puerto Rico seek and deserve equality, nothing less and nothing more.”