Should Puer­to Ri­co be a US state?

Le sta­tut de l’île en ques­tion.

Vocable (Anglais) - - Édito Sommaire -

Dé­vas­tée par l’ou­ra­gan Irma fin sep­tembre, Por­to Ri­co peine à se re­le­ver. Ses ha­bi­tants, pri­vés d’élec­tri­ci­té et d’eau cou­rante sur une grande par­tie de l’île, s’in­quiètent pour leur ave­nir. Au­jourd’hui, ce pe­tit ter­ri­toire des Ca­raïbes à un sta­tut d’ « État libre as­so­cié aux Etats-Unis ». Mais la ca­tas­trophe a fait re­sur­gir un vieux dé­bat : Por­to Ri­co doit-elle de­ve­nir le 51e État d'Amé­rique ?

Puer­to Ri­cans have long felt like se­cond-class U.S. ci­ti­zens. The is­land lacks vo­ting re­pre­sen­ta­tion in Congress or any po­wer in pre­si­den­tial elections. Near­ly eve­ry­thing costs more, in­clu­ding health care. And now, amid the de­vas­ta­tion of Hur­ri­cane Ma­ria, Puer­to Ri­co has ano­ther re­min­der of its sta­tus as a non-state: the slow ar­ri­val of fe­de­ral as­sis­tance. President Do­nald Trump’s ex­pla­na­tion for the dif­fi­cul­ty of pro­vi­ding aid on­ly rein­for­ced its sense of iso­la­tion. “This is an is­land, sur­roun­ded by wa­ter,” he said. “Big wa­ter. Ocean wa­ter.” 2.The res­ponse to the di­sas­ter has re­vi­ved a long-stan­ding de­bate over the ter­ri­to­ry’s re­la­tion­ship to the rest of the Uni­ted States and what could be done to ad­dress the in­equa­li­ties.“It is cer­tain­ly the res­pon­si­bi­li­ty of all U.S. ci­ti­zens to ask them­selves if we be­lieve in de­mo­cra­cy, if we be­lieve in rights and equa­li­ty which are the pillars of our so­cie­ty, how can we still have a co­lo­nial ter­ri­to­ry with more than 3 mil­lion ci­ti­zens that don’t have ac­cess to the same rights and the same po­li­ti­cal po­wer?” Puer­to Ri­co Gov. Ri­car­do Ros­sel­lo told re­por­ters.


3.Ros­sel­lo and his New Pro­gres­sive Par­ty argue that the first step to righ­ting the wrongs is to make the is­land a state. A si­gni­fi­cant num­ber of Puer­to Ri­cans ap­pear to agree with him, ba­sed on five re­fe­ren­dums held on the is­sue since 1967. The most recent, in June, of­fe­red vo­ters th­ree op­tions: the current ter­ri­to­rial sta­tus, statehood or in­de­pen­dence in free as­so­cia­tion with the U.S. Statehood won with 97 percent of the vote. But tur­nout was his­to­ri­cal­ly low at 23 percent, in part be­cause of a boy­cott by the Po­pu­lar De­mo­cra­tic Par­ty, which fa­vors the sta­tus quo.

4.Ul­ti­ma­te­ly, Puer­to Ri­co has lit­tle say in whe­ther it be­comes a state. That po­wer res­ts with Congress — both the House and Se­nate would have to ap­prove it — and the president, who would have to si­gn off on it.

5.The U.S. sei­zed Puer­to Ri­co in the Spa­ni­shA­me­ri­can War in 1898 and gran­ted its peo-

ple ci­ti­zen­ship in 1917. They pay fe­de­ral taxes, but the re­sident com­mis­sio­ner who re­pre­sents them in Congress has no vote, and their votes in pre­si­den­tial elections are lar­ge­ly sym­bo­lic, since the is­land has no elec­to­ral votes.

6.The is­land’s deep eco­no­mic cri­sis was al­rea­dy fue­ling new calls for statehood when Hur­ri­cane Ma­ria hit on 20 Sep­tem­ber. Its de­vas­ta­tion has gi­ven new life to the cam­pai­gn. Jose Fuentes, chair­man of the Wa­shing­ton-ba­sed Puer­to Ri­co Statehood Coun­cil, said now is the time for Congress to put Puer­to Ri­co “on the road to statehood” by brin­ging its tax, education and health care reim­bur­se­ments in line with the main­land. “The des­truc­tion in Puer­to Ri­co gave the U.S. a chance to do the right thing and re­build the ter­ri­to­ry as a state,” he said.


7.The push for statehood has mixed sup­port among mem­bers of Congress with Puer­to Ri­can roots, ad­vo­cates and po­li­ti­cal lea­ders on the is­land. Two of the is­land’s main po­li­ti­cal par­ties sup­port ei­ther in­de­pen­dence or a ver­sion of the current com­mon­wealth sta­tus.

8.San Juan Mayor Car­men Yu­lin Cruz, who has tra­ded barbs with Trump in recent days over de­layed fe­de­ral hur­ri­cane aid, said that statehood won’t turn Puer­to Ri­co in­to “Dis­ney­land.” She no­ted that deep dis­pa­ri­ties in wealth, education and other eco­no­mic-so­cial in­di­ca­tors exist bet­ween U.S. states.

9.“I’m an ad­vo­cate of a dif­ferent re­la­tion­ship with the U.S. that al­lows us more po­wer, more so­ve­rei­gn­ty, and that re­co­gnizes Puer­to Ri­co as a Ca­rib­bean na­tion,” she said. “In the next few months we have to talk about what that re­la­tion­ship should be.”

10.Loo­ming over the ques­tion of Puer­to Ri­co’s sta­tus is the exo­dus of Puer­to Ri­cans to the U.S. main­land, a pro­cess that was al­rea­dy

being dri­ven by eco­no­mic hard­ship but seems poi­sed to ac­ce­le­rate in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Ma­ria.

11.“We don’t know if these folks are overw­hel­min­gly pro-statehood, or pro-com­mon­wealth. We have no idea who’s lea­ving the is­land,” said Amil­car Bar­re­to, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of po­li­ti­cal science, in­ter­na­tio­nal af­fairs and pu­blic po­li­cy at Nor­theas­tern Uni­ver­si­ty.

12.For ma­ny Puer­to Ri­cans, he said, “The sta­tus is­sue is about your iden­ti­ty: Do you iden­ti­fy as Ame­ri­can? More Puer­to Ri­can than Ame­ri­can?”As Ros­sel­lo poin­ted out, any Puer­to Ri­can can sim­ply move to the U.S. main­land and be gua­ran­teed the full rights of all ci­ti­zens.


13.On the streets of San Juan, it isn’t hard to find sup­port for statehood. “I was born in New York. Now I live in Puer­to Ri­co. I don’t have the same rights I had there?” said Pe­ter Ca­ras­quillo, 50, a film wri­ter and di­rec­tor who vo­ted for statehood in the last re­fe­ren­dum. “They should have ta­ken up this is­sue a long time ago.” He had lost his home in the hur­ri­cane and was wai­ting in a line for help from the Fe­de­ral Emer­gen­cy Ma­na­ge­ment Agen­cy. He ho­ped to stay on the is­land and re­build. 14.Sit­ting near­by, Oda­lys Baez agreed. “We are Ame­ri­can,” said Baez, 34. “I li­ved in Mia­mi for six months and there’s so much more help there: more me­di­cal help, education for chil­dren, op­por­tu­ni­ties to bet­ter your­self, to set up bu­si­nesses.” She and her fa­ther, a Pen­te­cos­tal pas­tor 20 miles south in Na­ran­ji­to, had come for help re­pai­ring their church, which lost its roof in the hur­ri­cane.

15.“We should be­come the 51st state,” said the Rev. Car­los Baez Ri­ve­ra, 56. “I know the U.S. has its own pro­blems, but we should be uni­fied. We are part of the Uni­ted States. We have pro­blems the U.S. can help us with, like the eco­no­my, but most­ly it’s the fee­ling in­side, that we are Ame­ri­can.”

(Ge­rald Her­bert/AP/SIPA)

People line up with gas cans in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Ma­ria, in San Juan, Puer­to Ri­co.

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