UN Report on Extreme Poverty Blames Puerto Rico’s Political Status

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty Philip Alston has presented a sharply critical report on the USA to the UN Human Right Council in which he singles out Puerto Rico for its unique political problems.

“Political rights and poverty are inextricably linked in Puerto Rico,” Alston continued. “If it were a state, Puerto Rico would be the poorest state in the Union. But Puerto Rico is not a state, it is a mere ‘territory.’ Puerto Ricans have no representative with full voting rights in Congress and, unless living stateside, cannot vote for the President of the United States. In a country that likes to see itself as the oldest democracy in the world and a staunch defender of political rights on the international stage, more than 3 million people who live on the island have no power in their own capital.”

Puerto Rico’s status comes up in the U.N.’s decolonization committee every year.

“It is not for me to suggest any resolution to the hotly contested issue of Puerto Rico’s constitutional status,” Alston said in the report. “But what is clear is that many, probably most, Puerto Ricans believe deeply that they are presently colonized and that the US Congress is happy to leave them in the no-man’s land of no meaningful Congressional representation and no ability to really move to govern themselves. In light of recent Supreme Court jurisprudence and Congress’s adoption of PROMESA there would seem to be good reason for the UN Decolonization Committee to conclude that the island is no longer a self-governing territory.”

The question of Puerto Rico’s political status arose in the report on poverty because the territorial status affects Puerto Rico’s financial status.

“Puerto Rico has a fiscal deficit and a deficit of political rights, and the two are not easy to untangle,” said Alston.

Puerto Rico newspaper El Nuevo Día interviewed Alston and heard concerns that the PROMESA fiscal oversight board’s austerity measures would “sink the poor into a situation of greater poverty.”

The report makes a number of general suggestions for the United States which apply to poverty across the nation. For Puerto Rico, however, the emphasis in the report is on the territory’s political status.

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