In a recent article published in The Hill, José Enrique Meléndez-Ortiz, a representative in Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, argues that “[i]t is no coincidence that Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, which have facilitated Russia’s and China’s expanding presence in Latin America, have been promoting Puerto Rico’s separation from the United States.”
“One can only expect that an independent Puerto Rico would join the chorus of Latin American countries that are friendly to our adversaries,” he concludes.
Russia and China
China has attempted to make significant investments in Puerto Rico. Meléndez-Ortiz reports that China planned to buy the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station. As a state, Puerto Rico would have not only the rights and benefits of a state but also the responsibility of aligning with the U.S. diplomatically. As an independent nation, Puerto Rico would be free to align itself with China as other Caribbean nations have done.
Beyond geopolitics, Puerto Rico is also important to national security, says Meléndez-Ortiz, because of its importance in producing medical supplies.
The COVID-19 pandemic showed how dependent the United States has become on China and India for medical devices and pharmaceuticals. As home to 52 FDA-approved pharmaceutical manufacturing plants and pharmaceutical exports greater than those of any state, Puerto Rico is in a perfect position to help the United States overcome this precarious dependence.
Even before the pandemic, Puerto Rico’s critical role in the production of medical supplies was evident in the saline shortages which followed Hurricane Maria. As a territory, Puerto Rico’s infrastructure is more fragile than that of any state.
A local issue?
“The federal government should reconsider its position that the debate of Puerto Rico’s status is a local issue, because it is not,” says Meléndez-Ortiz “It is time for the federal government to finally recognize the assessment that with the issue of Puerto Rico there is more than meets the eye.”
Congress has the power to resolve the issue of Puerto Rico’s political status, and the responsibility to do so. As long as Congress continues to think of Puerto Rico’s political status as a local issue, though, the question may continue to be put off.
Image courtesy of Caleb Oquend