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June 10, 2009 12:43 PM   Subscribe

With all the dust that's been* riled up by Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor (previously), everyone is suddenly taking an interest in Puerto Rico. A basic question that may come up is why we're there in the first place. Understanding that, we can see how the complicated relationship has played out between Puerto Rico, the US, and, most recently, the United Nations. Although the UN has urged the US to take steps towards establishing Puerto Rico's sovereignty, referendums held on the island have overwhelmingly preferred the status quo and the US has been indifferent at best. But independence activists, after a twenty-year decline, may be on the rise. The island's current governor, Luis Fortuño, is pro-statehood. But the whole issue has taken a back seat since plans have been made to fire 30,000 government workers, privatize some public services, and sell some the the government's US$3.2 billion debt.

Still recovering from the 2006 economic crisis that some say never ended and struggling with a 15% unemployment rate, Puerto Rico's future is cloudy.

* Warning: Youtube link with butchered Spanish.
posted by krikkit261 (26 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
My understanding is that a big reason for support of the status quo in Puerto Rico is the lack of a federal income tax there. Meanwhile, the District of Columbia is subject to federal taxation without representation.
posted by exogenous at 12:49 PM on June 10, 2009


A basic question that may come up is why we're there in the first place.

you know, I have always wondered this. One of the perils of mefi-ing at work is not having the time today to read the linked article.

oh well. ignorance it is!
posted by shmegegge at 12:55 PM on June 10, 2009


How come no one in D.C. is advocating getting rid of federal income tax in the city? Presumably, the city itself could levy a city tax to prevent people from moving their to avoid income taxes, and then the city would have a TON of money to spend on services, on top of federal services like social security and medicare that go to all Americans.
posted by delmoi at 12:56 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


delmoi, there definitely people advocating such a position. Part of the issue is that, along with lack of voting rep in Congress, DC has limited home-rule, so that citizens in the District do not have full control over their local government, nor do they have voting representation in the body that makes such decisions. I think removing the federal income tax for DC is simply politically impossible.

Meanwhile, I support DC Vote.
posted by exogenous at 1:07 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


For another perspective, see MST3K's Progress Island, USA, touting the Caribbean's one-stop-shop for cheap, legal labor in splendid 1970s grandeur.
posted by crapmatic at 1:23 PM on June 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


My understanding is that a big reason for support of the status quo in Puerto Rico is the lack of a federal income tax there.

When I was there, most people told me it was related to property taxes. If you have a piece of land that's been in your family for a hundred years on which you do subsistence farming, the thought that you could lose it for unpaid property taxes would be frightening.
posted by JaredSeth at 1:31 PM on June 10, 2009


But property taxes are state and local, not federal, unless I'm missing something.
posted by kmz at 1:50 PM on June 10, 2009


so, having finally had a chance to read the salon article, I still don't know what we're doing there.
posted by shmegegge at 1:52 PM on June 10, 2009


Give them independence and then let us invade, set up a prison for suspected terrorists, and tell them that is the way we do things. If they don;'t like it, let them pay ask to be taken into the union so China can make new flags for us, and let us tax the crap out of them for putting us through all this work. If they become a state, they can have two senators if they tell us they will support the Democrats. Otherwise, no representation for them.
posted by Postroad at 1:52 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love the Spanish American war. "We've freed you from the Spanish! Now we own you!"
posted by Artw at 1:59 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


What are we doing there? It's one of the most beautiful places on earth, and the food is amazing. We should give everyone there a tax rebate, just to stimulate tastiness.
posted by Ella Fynoe at 2:21 PM on June 10, 2009


I think Puerto Rico should be a state. It would have the 27th-largest population and the 49th-largest area (Delaware and Rhode Island and Providence Plantations are smaller).

Most of DC should be retroceded to Maryland, following the historical precedent of Arlington County, Virginia.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:35 PM on June 10, 2009


"It's one of the most beautiful places on earth, and the food is amazing."

Both true, but the former is not as beautiful as Cuba, and the latter is not as great as Cuban.
posted by oddman at 2:57 PM on June 10, 2009


Puerto Rico is classified by the U.S. government as an independent taxation authority by mutual agreement with the U.S. Congress. Contrary to common misconception, residents of Puerto Rico pay some U.S. federal taxes: import/export taxes, federal commodity taxes, social security taxes, etc. Most residents do not pay federal income tax but pay federal payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare), and Puerto Rico income taxes. But federal employees, or those who do business with the federal government, Puerto Rico-based corporations that intend to send funds to the U.S. and others also pay federal income taxes. Because the cutoff point for income taxation is lower than that of the U.S. IRS code, and because the per-capita income in Puerto Rico is much lower than the average per-capita income on the mainland, more Puerto Rico residents pay less income tax (or fewer income taxes) to the local taxation authority than if the IRS code were applied to the island. Residents are eligible for Social Security benefits upon retirement. But Puerto Rico is excluded from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and receives less than 15% of the Medicaid funding it would be allotted as a state, while Medicare providers receive only partial state-like reimbursements for services rendered to beneficiaries in Puerto Rico (even though the latter paid fully into the system).

Puerto Ricans may enlist in the U.S. military. Since becoming statutory United States citizens in 1917, Puerto Ricans have been included in the compulsory draft whenever it has been in effect. Puerto Ricans have participated in all U.S. wars since 1898, most notably World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, as well as the current Middle Eastern conflicts.

I know you guys hate wikipedia links but....
posted by octomato at 3:02 PM on June 10, 2009


I find the UN resolution nothing more than political BS

Introduction of Draft Resolution

RODRIGO MALMIERCA DÍAZ (Cuba), introducing the text, of which his country and Venezuela are co-sponsors, said the number of petitioners demonstrated the great level of interest in the question of Puerto Rico, whose people continued to lack the possibility of exercising their right to self-determination.

I'm sure Venezuela and Cuba have nothing but PR's interest at heart. The island gets to decide this question every 8 years in a referendum. I doubt PR will become a state, even if they vote for statehood, I doubt enough Red State Congressman will approve of a island full of Spanish-speaking brown people raising Old Glory.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 3:12 PM on June 10, 2009


Man, remember when Lou Dobbs tried complained about the Puerto Rico day parade because he didn't like "foreign" flags?
posted by delmoi at 3:13 PM on June 10, 2009


I think Puerto Rico should be a state. . . . Most of DC should be retroceded to Maryland

Why? Most in Puero Rico do not want statehood, but I bet most Washingtonians would love to have the District become a state. Furthermore, while Puerto Rico has a similar population size to DC, but DC is actually connected to the states. If you're open to the idea of adding a state, DC should be the first choice.

Regarding retrocession of DC into MD, no offense to Marylanders, but if I wanted to live in Maryland I would move there. Maryland doesn't want us, either. Also, where would you draw the line regarding "most" exactly?
posted by exogenous at 3:41 PM on June 10, 2009


Puerto Rico has a similar population size to DC

591,833 in DC vs. 3,994,259 in Puerto Rico? That's the difference between one representative in Congress and six.

I have nothing else constructive to add, except the Puerto Rican question does concern a significantly larger number of disenfranchised people.
posted by Muffpub at 4:32 PM on June 10, 2009


With all the dust that's been * riled up by Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor (previously), everyone is suddenly taking an interest in Puerto Rico.

Everyone? Really?

Maybe -- many or, more likely, some.
posted by ericb at 5:49 PM on June 10, 2009


Being a Puerto Rican for the last nine years, let me add a few things. We do pay federal taxes - just not federal income tax (unless we also earn some money from the states, then we pay both). We pay Social Security taxes and have no vote in Congress (or for president beyond primaries).
Puerto Rico is very much into party patronage and is more socialized than most states with free health care for residents (although not many like the system). The turn out for the elections is over 80%.
Puerto Rico has an independence party. It gets a single digit percentage in elections. This underestimates how many Puerto Ricans want independence. Most independistas side with the commonwealth (status quo) of neither independence nor being a part of the US.
Why doesn't Puerto Rico vote for statehood? About half of them do. When the issue comes up on ballot periodically it is usually about 52% against and 48% for. Someday it will probably switch and 52% will decide for statehood. As of now we are a colony.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:33 PM on June 10, 2009


I think Puerto Rico should be a state because it's a part of the United States, the residents are US citizens, and the geographic size and population are similar to states. I don't like the colonialist nature of Puerto Rico's status.

Most in Puero Rico do not want statehood

After the 2008 elections the New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico, which supports statehood, "holds supermajorities in the Commonwealth's House of Representatives and Senate, Puerto Rico's sole non-voting delegate to Congress, 48 of Puerto Rico's 78 mayoral seats, and the seat of Governor."

Article One of the Constitution says that the federal district shouldn't be part of a state, so that would have to be amended to make DC a state. Second, we already have a precedent for having part of DC that's not needed by the federal government be retroceded to the state that originally ceded the land. Where would I draw the line? Around the downtown federal buildings and museums.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:00 PM on June 10, 2009


awwwww! someone wrote about my country on my birthday. sweet!

with that said, the Slate article was rather craptastic in a "History of Puerto Rico 101" sort of way.

the US is in Puerto Rico thanks to it's geopolitical location, thanks to the absentee landowners that still control most of the land in the country, thanks to the tens of thousands of cannon fodder we supply to its military, thanks to the tens of thousands of cheap professional labor we supply industries and governments across the growing Spanish-speaking US and thanks to the complete and utter lack of interest from the US Congress to really do anything about our colonial status --after all, Puerto Rico helps fund both political parties and was even crucial in providing the GOPers that gave Michael Steele his winning votes.

there's many more reasons but it's my birthday and i want to keep it short :)

the bottom line? i'd like to see Puerto Rico get its sovereignty and independence ratified (btw, technically it is NOT seceding). statehood wouldn't be as devastating to our culture as it would be to our environment and economy.

BTW: i not only grew up in the same town Sotomayor's family comes from, we actually have common friends. who knew!
posted by liza at 7:17 PM on June 10, 2009


btw, y'all may want to read this post i wrote in reference to the "immigrant" status of Puerto Ricans : Why does Sonia Sotomayor call her parents "Puerto Rican immigrants" and other thoughts
posted by liza at 7:19 PM on June 10, 2009


I think Puerto Rico should be a state because it's a part of the United States, the residents are US citizens, and the geographic size and population are similar to states. I don't like the colonialist nature of Puerto Rico's status.

Fair enough. If the people of Puerto Rico want statehood, I'm all for it, though the factors you cite apply in part to DC as well, which has a larger GDP than does Puerto Rico.

Article One of the Constitution says that the federal district shouldn't be part of a state, so that would have to be amended to make DC a state. Second, we already have a precedent for having part of DC that's not needed by the federal government be retroceded to the state that originally ceded the land.

I concede that retrocession would conveniently correct the disenfranchisement of Washington residents, but I'm not sure how it could be forced upon Maryland. And personally I am uncomfortable with the cultural aspects of forced merger with Maryland.
posted by exogenous at 6:06 AM on June 11, 2009


As an American growing up in Puerto Rico, I was always deeply aware of how Puerto Ricans, for the most part, do not see themselves as Americans; Americans are gringos, Puerto Ricans are boricuas. I find it difficult to even picture Puerto Ricans referring to themselves as Americans... They have a strong national identity.

That being said, as others have pointed out, Puerto Rico's economy is in a terrible state, and their politicians are horribly corrupted. The reality of trying to make it on their own without US financial aid is rather terrifying.

Thus, they've stayed in this odd in between space for a long time, even though they have the ability to become a state.
posted by ananda gale at 2:30 PM on June 11, 2009


DC: We have rules and we should follow them or change them, which I believe means amending the Constitution. Since we have a precedent, I favor following it, but I wouldn't oppose DC statehood. I don't support the disenfranchisement or taxation without representation of DC residents. West Germany was reluctant to merge with East Germany because the East's economy was crap, but it's worked out OK in the long run.

Puerto Rico: I'd also favor sovereignty and independence if that's what most Puerto Ricans want. It just seems from the results of the 2008 election that the majority favors statehood.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:21 PM on June 11, 2009


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