By Franklin D. López, former United Press International & The Associated Press, News-writer
Dear Mr. President, Senator Schummer and Senator Booker:
The writer a former journalist, former State Democratic Chair, first Hispanic to be appointed National Field coordinator for the Carter-Mondale 1976 Presidential campaign and Deputy Campaign Manage for Ethnic Affairs in the 1980 presidential campaign and promoter of Puerto Rico’s Presidential Primary Law.
The pre-summer rainy season began early in Puerto Rico this year. Mother Nature has the ability to determine when it’s hot enough to open the gates of rains to lower the temperature for the population below. But despite the rains, the eco system has not been able to contain the devastating effect of Puerto Rico’s public debt, economic crisis and the disaster of being affected by two category five hurricanes and the benign neglect of FEMA , HUD and the Federal Government.
Every month, during the past three years, more than 6,000 American citizens from the territory are taking the hard decision of leaving their family and friends in search of a better future in the continental United States. According to the International Tribunal, dismembering a colonial territory by political status or economic policies constitutes a crime against humanity. The effect of the massive exodus, 2.3 millions since 1952, has been noticed by political and Wall Street analysts because Puerto Ricans from the archipelago are choosing to reside in states of the union that play a very important role in the election of the President of the United States, for example Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, among others. Today, of the 8.3 millions citizens of Puerto Rican origin, 2/3 live in the lower 48.
The Center for Puerto Rican Studies published recently the results of a study that revealed the following: From 2001-2011 283,045 Puerto Ricans moved to Florida; to New York, 107,601; to Pennsylvania, 106,562; to Texas, 71,692 and 71,198 to New Jersey. A total of 640,098, or an average of 58,270 per year. Other states selected by Puerto Ricans were North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio and Maryland. What is fascinating is that in the majority of battleground states they represent 3% percent or more of the voting population. The last 6 presidential elections have been decided by 2% or less of the votes.
All of these states are “battleground states” in a presidential contest. The U.S. Census forecast of the population of Puerto Rico for the year 2050 is that the Island will have the same number of people, 2.3 million, it had when it adopted Law 600 that granted the adoption of a territorial constitution labeled with the emblematic name “free associated state!” The cost of providing services and governmental programs in their new adopted states is calculated in the tens of billions of U.S. tax payers moneys. Twice what it costs to provide the same in Puerto Rico. The new Democratic administration must review resolving the status of Puerto Rico using Hawaii’s experience since its inception in the union of states since January 1, 1959. At that time Hawaii was losing population, like Puerto Rico, and after becoming a state Hawaii’s population increased from 444,000 to 1,500,000 in 2015. Think about it!
The massive population exodus will continue to grow, fueled by the imposition of 89 new taxes by the local government, shrinking the economy. Less population results in diminishing tax revenues for the territorial government and municipalities, making Puerto Rico the jurisdiction with the highest cost of living in all of the Americas. The Island suffers from a real estate deflation where property values have plummeted between 40 to 70%. Without an economic development strategy together with the second highest cost of energy in the states of the Union, .27 cents/kwh, the Puerto Rican government continues to waste the scarce financial resources in useless projects, like a skating rink, and contracts to lobbyists, law firms, friends and relatives costing hundreds of millions of dollars. The bottom line effect of the massive exodus is a bankrupt government, a heavily contracted economy (see what a consumer tax did to Japan’s economy) and a territory left with a demographic profile of the poor and old. A total collapse of the government, its economy and the social structure is forthcoming.
Puerto Ricans in the territory treasure their relationship with the United States. Several polls done by local universities and the Gallup organization revealed that 96.7% categorized the holding of the American citizenship their top priority. At the same time, these polls also revealed that if Puerto Rico is granted independence or free association ( an associated republic) 92% of the consulted population expressed that they will move to the United States. What is the solution for the present PuertoRican quagmire?
Since the adoption of the so called “commonwealth” status Puerto Rico has been an economic freezer and has not be able to eradicate poverty levels that has been at more than 50% during the last 60 years under the present political status condition and force at least 2.6 million to seek the “American Dream” in the states of the Union.
With the present economic crisis, a public debt of $104 billion dollars (this includes 75 billion of government agencies public debt and $39 billion in the Public Employees Retirement Fund) threatening the stability of the $3.7 TRILLION municipal bond market, a real estate deflation and a shrinking economy the so-called commonwealth status is simply dead and not feasible. The fall of tax revenues fueled by the exodus and less consumption has already taken its toll in the banking industry, from 14 banks in 2006 to 5 in 2014. Their non-performing assets are growing by failing businesses; abandoned home mortgages and an increase in bankruptcies. Under this scenario territorial banks have cut their lending affecting further the deteriorating and comatose economic environment.
Senator Schummer and Booker denying political equality to the American citizens residing in the territory and supporting the present American apartheid is like throwing in the garbage the struggles and teachings for civil rights of Dr. Martin Luther King. It is like denying the horror of the holocaust for political expediency. The founding Fathers in the declaration of Indepdnece state unequivocally the following: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”– Senator Schummer defend your intellectual integrity don’t project like the disgraced and insurrectionist Donald Trump. Remember the teachings of Hilel who said,” “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14
What are the spolicies for the United States regarding the future of the 3.6 millions American citizens living in the archipelago?
President Joe Biden made a categorical statement expressing that it was up to the people of Puerto Rico to make a democratic expression in favor of statehood and the federal government would respond to it. If the policy makers at The White House analyze the historical inroads that the Republican Party has made gaining the support of the Latino vote since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, it will conclude that the Latino Votes are not automatically democratic. You must earn it with actions to persuade them and get their support and not with political posturing. Besides that, Loretta Scott King addressing the Puerto Rican Senate in 1997 said, “my fellow American citizens in the territory deserve the right to political equality.”
First: The United States government, Congress and the White House should consider creating an Inter-agency Task Force to deal with Puerto Rico and establish a clear policy based on the six plebiscites votes in favor of political equality and the great growth of support for statehood. You must bear in mind that according to the Gallup polls organization 93% of the American citizens living in Puerto Rico have expressed that they will move to the United States if Puerto Rico becomes an independent country or a free- Associated Republic (example The Marshall Islands). It costs the Federal government almost three times more to assist an American citizen in the states of the union than in Puerto Rico.
Second: The suggestion of U.S Trade Negotiator Peter Navarro, subsequently followed by the introduction of a bill by Senator Marco Rubio and Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner to implant Dr. Navarro’s plan to make Puerto Rico the platform of manufacturing of medical supplies and pharmaceutical products and reducing the dependence on China constitutes a matter of National Security. A recent study done by the U.S. Department of Commerce revealed that 93% of antibiotics used in the United States are manufactured in China, with questionable manufacturing controls. Puerto Rico’s pharmaceutical products have an excellent reputation globally because of their strict quality control protocols. The principal pharmaceutical companies, have plants in the Puerto Rican archipelago. By combining the pharmaceutical objectives of producing the Nation’s medical supplies and pharma products in the new state of Puerto Rico, it will make it more palatable to conservatives to accept putting and end to segregation and discrimination in Puerto Rico. If you don’t get it …..you don’t get it!>
Third: Granting political equality to Puerto Rico will trigger the return of hundreds of thousands of PuertoRicans back to the Island, that according to the 2010 U.S. Census have left 260,000 houses vacant. This influx of returning citizens will increase consumer spending, tax revenues and it will boost small, medium businesses that will generate jobs creation and stability. The reverse exodus will also save the states of the union, county and municipal governments as well as the Federal government billions of dollars in public services and programs.
Colonialism is an archaic institution and a bad example for the lighthouse of freedom and democracy. The present territorial condition is an American style apartheid, a segregationist and discriminatory status condemned by the United Nations and the European Community. If the President really wants to repair the damaged reputation caused by the previous administration it should begin by ending the present status of Puerto Rico.
Finally, Puerto Rico as a state of the union will serve as a catalytic agent for Latin American investors, manufacturers and businesses to promote economic development not only in the new state, but also in the 50 states of the Union. The Hawaiian experience when it entered the union should be revisited. Accepting a Hispanic state sends a very strong message to Latin America, a region aggressively being pursued by China’s Open Wallet initiatives. That will neutralize “the open checkbook” policy of China in the region with an annual market of more than $7 trillion dollars. Inaction and passivity are not options. The time to act on the right policy to solve Puerto Rico’s status is NOW!
The only path to end the present crisis and quagmire of Puerto Rico is to grant political equality to its 3.6 million remaining American citizens. Mr. President, it’s time to act, to be bold, and solve, once and for all, the future of Puerto Rico. There is no Freedom without equality!
Franklin Delano Lopez, A second class American citizen.
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