The Case Against Puerto Rican Statehood

What does Puerto Rico mean to the United States? Strategically, this largest and most populous of a cluster of five Caribbean islands located between the Dominican Republic and the Virgin Islands commands the Mona Passage, a key shipping lane to the Panama Canal, and its capital, San Juan, includes the finest natural harbor in the area.1 Economically, U.S. corporate giants such as General Electric, Johnson and Johnson, Abbott Laboratories, and numerous textile firms have benefited materially from investment credits and federal tax exemptions for locating factories there. That industrial investment, in turn, has brought to the island’s nearly four million inhabitants one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean, and indeed, all of Latin America. However, in August 1996, President Clinton and the Congress ended the special tax breaks, in part at the urging of Puerto Rican governor Pedro Rossello´, an advocate of statehood, who found that the issue of tax breaks had become “a political football in the vote on the island in 1993 on its status, a plebiscite narrowly won by the procommonwealth advocates.”2 Demographically, a high birth rate and the prospect of better economic opportunities have prompted the migration of almost three million Puerto Ricans to the mainland—primarily to New York, California, Florida, Texas, and Connecticut. As American citizens since 1917, Puerto Ricans have political and civic advantages not available to foreign immigrants. Nonetheless, they have been slower to assimilate into American society than any other Spanish-speaking immigrant group, and their ambivalence toward full “Americanization” sets Puerto Rico apart as a unique…

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