Memorial Day, a day honoring those who died in active military service, is naturally important in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has sent more men and women into military service than most states:
- 18,000 in World War I
- 65,000 in World War II
- 61,000 in the Korean War
- 48,000 in the Vietnam War
- 10,000 in the Gulf War
- 38,000 deployments in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom
More than 25,000 Puerto Ricans are currently in active service, and more than 8,400 are currently in the National Guard.
Puerto Rico’s proud tradition of military service also includes 70 years of U.S. military bases and more than a century of strategically significant placement for the defense of the United States.
Memorial Day is also a time when people also think about veterans. More than 90,000 veterans live in Puerto Rico. More than 30 veterans’ service organizations are active in the territory. Over half of the residents of Puerto Rico have served for their country, or have family members who have done so.
And yet the veterans and service families of Puerto Rico cannot vote for their commander in chief.
As a territory, Puerto Rico cannot vote in presidential elections as states do. Puerto Rico has no senators — even though 21 states with fewer U.S. citizens that Puerto Rico have the two senators allowed for every state. Puerto Rico has just one representative in the House, and that representative has no vote.
Puerto Rico is treated differently from the states, often in ways that affect veterans. Health care, for example, is not federally supported in Puerto Rico at the same level that it is in the states. The U.S. territory lacks the resources afforded to states, which have two Senators and proportional representation in the House of Representatives to fight for state-based needs.
Over the last decade, Puerto Rico has lost 600,000 people to migration to states. Continued population loss could force Puerto Rico into even more severe financial crisis if it is allowed to continue.
Many veterans see Puerto Rico statehood as the solution to this inequality.
As a state, Puerto Rico would have equal representation in Congress. Veterans with the dignity of a permanent political status would have equal rights under federal laws and better access to veteran services. Puerto Rico would also have the resources to work on areas of need such as drug trafficking, making both Puerto Rico and the states safer and more secure.
The 51st state of Puerto Rico would also be in a position to reform its government and update its economic model. When Puerto Rico can grow its economy and carry its fair share of federal costs, veterans in Puerto Rico will have the quality of life and security enjoyed by their fellow citizens in the states.
Puerto Rico’s veterans and active service members, like their fellow military service men and women living in the states, fought to defend the core American values of democracy, justice, and equality. Yet as long as Puerto Rico remains a non-voting U.S. territory, these principles of democracy are not being honored at home.