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Puerto Rico is still looking for its identity between the United States and Latin America

Puerto Rico is still looking for its identity between the United States and Latin America

Posted by PanamericanWorld on March 06, 2017

Under its current commonwealth status, Puerto Rico has some degree of self-governance but not like the 50 states; it is ineligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the island receives half the rate of federal healthcare funding even while island residents pay the same Medicare tax as residents of the 50 states. 

Puerto Rico was home to a number of U.S. military bases, including until 2004, one of the largest U.S. naval bases in the world. The independence movement was discouraged and dismissed as radical or socialist or communist; because of that it has not gained significant footing, particularly compared to political parties pushing for statehood or the current U.S. commonwealth status. 

Statehood supporters say these are examples of the blatant unfairness that U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico endure, to say nothing of the thousands who have served - and died - defending the United States in the U.S. Armed Forces. 

For their part, commonwealth supporters say the way to tackle these issues is to push for parity without radically changing the island's relationship with the U.S. Under commonwealth, they argue, Puerto Rico has been able to maintain a certain national identity - including fielding its own Olympic team - that would disappear if it became a state. 

Which option gains traction depends almost entirely on the party in power at any one particular time. 

When Puerto Rico's new governor was sworn into office two months ago, he promised he would immediately start pushing for statehood for the island and make it a top priority in his administration, just as other pro-statehood leaders had done in the past. 

What is different this time, they say, is that the 100th anniversary of U.S. citizenship should be an impetus for change. 

"The United States cannot pretend to be a model of democracy for the world while it discriminates against 3.5 million of its citizens in Puerto Rico, depriving them of their right to political, social, and economic equality under the U.S. flag," Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said. "There is no way to overcome Puerto Rico's crisis given its colonial condition." 


 Puerto Rico's Debt: Why Bankruptcy Isn't an Option 2:03

It's a sentiment echoed by Carlos Mercader, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, the Rosselló administration's representative in Washington. 

"Puerto Ricans on the island are American citizens without the responsibilities and rights that other American citizens who live in the 50 states enjoy," Mercader told NBC Latino, adding that the island's economic woes - high unemployment and a crushing $72 billion debt -- have been exacerbated by its current relationship. 

"If anything, the economic crisis brought to the forefront that Congress dictates what happens to Puerto Rico, and the fiscal control board is an example of that," referring to the seven-member board appointed by the U.S. Congress to oversee the restructuring of the island's debt. 

As a a U.S. territory, it is not allowed to restructure any of its debt under Chapter 9 the way cities such as Detroit did. The island's hands are tied, says Mercader, because of its current political status. 

"We can't continue with this colonial status. Former territories that become states are empowered and are put in a position to develop their economy, their resources, and to be an equal partner and be on equal footing with the rest of the states in the nation," said Mercader.

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