Hurricanes bolster arguments for Puerto Rican statehood


Jacob Halterman, Crier Staff

The Southeast United States has been in the news a lot recently due to the imminent threat of hurricanes that wreak havoc on coastal areas this time every year.

Hurricane Irma left 6.2 million Floridians without power, including many people who lost much more than that – homes, possessions, and their livelihoods.

Hurricane Harvey also took its toll when it made landfall in Texas and Louisiana; record levels of rainfall meant that over 100,000 homes were destroyed and 82 Houstonians lost their lives.

News outlets predict that Hurricane Maria, the most recent storm to pose a threat to North America, will make landfall in the US next week in the Carolinas.

The problem with that last sentence is that Maria has already made landfall in the US. It has devastated Puerto Rico, leaving the entire island, and its population of 3.4 million Americans without power, shelter, and with nowhere to go. Maria has created a disaster area in one of the poorest places under an American flag.

But this storm and the destruction it has caused only reveal larger problems with the island and its political status. Puerto Rico will need millions, if not billions, of dollars get the island’s economy back up and running.

In a territory where manufacturing and tourism drive the economy, the road to recovery will be a long and difficult one.

The hurricane notwithstanding, Puerto Rico has struggled fiscally in recent years because it cannot respond to economic downturns in the same way that states can. Austerity measures imposed on US territories by the federal government have not this any easier.

The Puerto Rican government gets little say in these matters because the inhabitants of the island do not have Congressional representation, nor are they allowed to vote in presidential elections. All of this, despite having more citizens than twenty-one US states and having a population comparable to Connecticut.

Instead of having the seven Electoral votes that Connecticut has, Puerto Rico has none. These Americans deserve to be represented.

When we take into account the fact that Vermont and Wyoming both have three electoral votes for about half a million people each, the difference is even more staggering.

We do not need to conduct vast amounts of research to understand the position of Los puertorriqueños; they have told us. In 2012, the island voted 54% in favor of a change from the current territorial status, and a 2017 referendum voted overwhelmingly in favor of statehood. The current Governor, Ricardo Rosselló, is a strong proponent of statehood, and won his election on a statehood platform.

Rosselló believes that statehood is the best and most effective way to revive the economy and settle the debt crisis. As he said in a 2017 interview with the Miami Herald, “it’s a civil rights issue…3.5 million people seeking an absolute democracy.” He also noted that the “United States is always demanding democracy in other parts of the world…[but] won’t extend it to 3.5 million of its own citizens.”

The ball is in Congress’ court. The highest legislative branch in our country is the sole power that can provide Puerto Rico the status it deserves and desires.  

It is obvious that many Puerto Ricans wish to be granted statehood and all the benefits associated with it. Doing so will open up numerous economic benefits that will allow them to recover from Hurricane Maria and the debt crisis that has crippled the island’s economy.