Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. You don’t need a passport to fly to Puerto Rico from anywhere within the United States. The island is considered within U.S. borders and uses U.S. currency. Puerto Ricans have among the highest level of U.S. military service in the country.
Yet many people believe that Puerto Rico is a foreign country. It’s not. Last week, Mr. Stephen Moore, a Senior Economic Contributor at FreedomWorks and distinguished visiting fellow with the Project for Economic Growth at the Heritage Foundation, had this to say about Puerto Rico when testifying before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee:
“[L]ook at what’s happened in Greece. You know, look at what Greece has to — the rates of interest they have to — they have to pay to borrow. You know, they’re in the double digits. And another country, look at Puerto Rico for goodness sakes. I mean, they’ve racked up so much debt that that country is coming running to Washington to get a bailout.”
The country of Puerto Rico?
According to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Moore received his BA from the University of Illinois and a MA in Economics from George Mason University. He has covered Washington policy debates and state issues as a Senior Economics Correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and served on its Editorial Board. He is the Founder of the Club for Growth and the Free Enterprise Fund and the author of five books, most recently, The Wealth of States.
Less credentialed Americans can be cut some slack if they don’t know that Puerto Rico is not a country but a U.S. territory. With 3.4 million U.S. citizens living there, Puerto Rico is the most populated of the five U.S. territories, which also include Guam, American Samoa, the United States Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands. U.S. citizens residing in these territories cannot vote for President, have no U.S. Senate representation, and are represented by a single member in the House of Representatives with no formal voting power.
Puerto Rico is sometimes referred to as a possession of the United States. It is also called a colony. People frequently consider Puerto Rico to be a “Commonwealth,” implying that Puerto Rico has a special status, but this word has no practical meaning. Several U.S. states also call themselves “commonwealths.”
Perhaps the confusion over Puerto Rico’s political status stems from the fact that Puerto Rico has sent athletes to the Olympics — sometimes playing for the U.S. and other times representing only Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has also sent contestants to the Miss Universe pageant. Yet special recognition by Olympic and pageant committees does not make Puerto Rico an independent country. The U.S. Justice Department has been clear on that point as recently as January when it argued before the Supreme Court that Puerto Rico is, indeed, a U.S. territory.