Puerto Rico should reject statehood. Here is why


By Betsaida Rosario and

Since 1898, Puerto Rico has been under the thumb of a giant Goliath – the U.S. – that doesn’t respect our constitution or protect the rights of its people. The obligation of a superpower to its territories is one of stewardship, protection and support for the benefit of both. The current relationship between the U.S. government and Puerto Rico is far from that. The locals have been treated more akin to subjects: pawns to be manipulated, lied to and mistreated. 

That could soon change. In December, the U.S. House passed a bill that would allow Puerto Rico to hold a binding referendum to change the political status of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico residents will be able to vote whether they want Puerto Rico to be independent, join the U.S. as its 51st state, or be a commonwealth with some links to the U.S. However, most locals have consistently rejected statehood, with good reason.

Under the stewardship of the U.S., the island’s resources were sold to the highest bidder. Abbott Laboratories, manufacturer of infant formula, was one of multiple companies that allowed chlorinated hydrocarbon chemicals linked to cancer and immunosuppression to spill out of underground tanks, according to reports. The island’s universal health care system has been replaced with a U.S. profit-based model, leaving thousands of the most vulnerable without health care and long lines at emergency rooms.

Our national monuments – such as El Morro, a Spanish Fortress built in 1539, that had always been free to visit – are now under control of the U.S. federal government that charges unaffordable fees. With unemployment reportedly at 40% for many years, the cost of visiting these monuments may be out of reach for most families. Places that were once admired and often visited by locals are now filled with thousands of tourists that overrun San Juan most of the year. The island has become a playground for the wealthy who purchase tax-free properties. However, these tax incentives are denied to locals. 

The U.S. Military has built three bases on the most desirable coastal lands. On Vieques, a small island belonging to Puerto Rico, the locals were physically removed from their homes in the middle of the night in 1941.The Navy took over the two coastal areas pushing the locals to the center, thus cutting off their ability to make a living by fishing. The Navy was forced to leave in 2003, after many civilians died from the effects of toxic bomb fumes. Today the beaches are littered with rusty tanks and weapon-testing debris. 

The U.S.’s influence has forever changed the health, education, financial, and transit systems in Puerto Rico. Big-box stores have changed the design of our coronal cities and towns. Corporations have built shopping malls, replacing the central plazas that were once the life of the community. Where families gathered for daily evening strolls. Other corporations, like Monsanto, are now developing GMOs on fertile soil that has been rendered poisonous. The privatization of the electric system has coincided with unprecedented blackouts and hardship. At the same time, the price of electricity has gone up seven times in one year.

Puerto Rico now has a chance to become a sovereign nation and get out from the colonial yoke of the U.S. government. By rejecting statehood and choosing commonwealth or independence, the people of  Puerto Rico can return to being a free self-sustaining society.