The United States has a moral obligation to grant Puerto Rico, within the next five years, full admission into the union as our nation’s 51st state. Enough is enough. The United Sates has been in possession of Puerto Rico since the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898. That’s nearly 119 years of colonial rule, which makes us the world’s oldest colony. It’s ironic that a nation that defends freedom around the world and has even gone to war to promote it still “owns” colonial rights over more than 3 million American citizens.
For those in the U.S. who still hold inaccurate beliefs regarding statehood, I want to make sure they fully understand the situation. Our current fiscal problem, including a massive government debt of $70 billion, is mainly the fault of Congress and the White House, which have not given us equality in federal programs and allocations of funds. There’s no other area in which this discrepancy is felt more than in healthcare. Puerto Rico receives annually up to 55 percent of all disbursements related to Medicaid. By contrast, states are allocated a base rate of 83 percent to cover the medical expenses of people living below the poverty line.
Puerto Rico will not be a burden to the union — quite the opposite. Several studies have shown that the island can become fully functional by year 10 of admission. The parity in federal funds alone will produce, as it has done in the other 37 territories that have joined the union after the original 13 colonies, an economic boom, which will be based on job creation and an improvement in quality of life. This will result in a dramatic reduction in people receiving government assistance and, in time, tilt the balance in favor of the island, not the federal government.The admission of Puerto Rico will also signal that the American dream is still burning brightly. The first Latino state will send a powerful message of inclusion to the rest of the world, which any superpower needs in order to withstand the passing of time. Just ask Great Britain, which failed to comprehend this universal truth, leading them to lose their once vaunted empire.
But the most overwhelming reason for granting us statehood is the will of our people.
The time for excuses has ended. For a century, the U.S. has delayed taking action in the matter of the political status of the island. We have seen many congressmen, even a few presidents, make promises about solving the matter according to the “American tradition” of fairness in the democratic processes and resolve in implementing the will of the people.
The most recent example was former President Barack Obama. In 2008, then-candidate Obama promised the U.S. citizens living on the island that he would deal with the statehood matter within his first term in office. Obama was in office two terms and he never delivered on his promise. Enough is enough.
A promise to the people, to American citizens, must be respected and, above all, fulfilled.
On Nov. 6, 2012, the U.S. citizens who live in Puerto Rico voted to end more than a century of political limbo by discarding the territorial status in favor of statehood. The vote was clear: 54 percent of voters rejected the current state of affairs, while a majority, 61 percent, chose to join the union as its newest state. Neither Congress nor the White House acted on this request.
On June 11, the people of Puerto Rico will hold another statehood referendum. We are adamant that Washington act on the results. We are confident that the people will reaffirm their desire to join the union as a state. In that scenario, Congress should and must move to enact legislation that will pave the way for statehood within a reasonable time frame, along the lines of the Puerto Rico Admission Act, filed by our resident commissioner, Jenniffer González, which calls for completing the admission process no later than 2025.
In accordance with this, the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, which I’m honored to preside over, as well as the Senate, have begun work on legislation that will enable us to act swiftly, if Washington once again does not act following the results of June’s referendum. We have a bill that will pave the way for the selection of two senators and five representatives to serve as our first members of Congress, following the example used by the then-territory of Tennessee in 1796.
The United States has an obligation to fulfill to the American citizens of Puerto Rico.
Méndez Núñez is Speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.