June 14, 2017

Horse 2286 - The Other Election 2017:Puerto Rico Statehood - Yeah But No.

Amidst the noise and confusion of the British General Election which has produced a hung parliament, there was another election taking place which has produced a decisive result but which will most likely be ignored. The people of Puerto Rico have voted 97.18% in favour of statehood but this along with the very government of the island faces some very real struggles.

One of the biggest problems that the island of Puerto Rico has is that it lives in the ambiguous part of US constitutional law which makes it an organised unincorporated territory. It is organised in the sense that it has a degree of self government but unincorporated in the sense that not all of the US Constitution applies. It is a US territory and has been since 1898 after the US went to war and won it off of Spain, but thanks to the passing of the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act of 1917 which has basically left the island in a weird constitutional holding pen for a century, it still hasn't become a state.

Puerto Rico's​ government is currently​ going through something of a budgetary crisis. Play, crisis isn't exactly the word; on the verge of bankruptcy is closer to the mark. It if was a sovereign state, then it could implement some kind of policy, to do with bonds issues or perhaps revaluation of its currency to try and resolve this but because it is a territory of the United States, many of the options which are available to sovereign nations just aren't open to Puerto Rico. In applying for statehood it is hoped that a lot of the rights and privileges which flow as a result of that, would become available but this process faces one massive obstacle - the United States Congress.

The process for admitting new states into the union is fairly straightforward. All that the US Constitution has to say on the matter is contained within Article 3, Section 4, and like any other piece of legislation it requires the approval and consent of Congress. Although the process for admitting new states into the union is straightforward, the politics of doing so is not.
As a state of the union, Puerto Rico would be entitled to a number of House members in keeping with the size of its population as well as being entitled to two Senators because it would be a state. I figure that it would be entitled to roughly 5 House members on admission and it would instantly be more powerful on the floor of the House than 21 other states. Once you also factor in Puerto Rico's tendency to favour Democrats over Republicans, this also comes very much into play.

The bottom line is that unlike Alaska who had virtually nobody living in it and was (and still is) a mostly Republican state at the time of admission to a mostly Republican Congress, and Hawaii which also has a very small population, they were admitted into the union has states because they wouldn't dilute the power of the existing sitting members all that much. Admitting Puerto Rico into the union has the effect of diluting the power of every currently sitting member of the Congress and it would take someone very special indeed to consider the wishes of a few millions of people over their own political benefit. This represents a definite conflict of interest, with the same people who stand to lose the most being the ones who hold the power to make the decision.

What I suspect will happen is exactly what has always happened for one hundred years: precisely nothing. The United States' manifest destiny has only extended as far as acquiring territory; it has never really been concerned with the people who were there first. That goes for the Native Americans, the First Nations of Alaska, the Kingdom Of Hawaii which was annexed, and continues to other jurisdictions such as Puerto Rico, Guam, the Marshall Islands and American Samoa. I think that it is something of a betrayal of justice that the United States which prides itself as being a beacon of democracy, vehemently refuses to resolve issues of sovereignty within its borders.
The people of Puerto Rico don't even have the legal right to put it to the Congress for its decision. Although Puerto Rico sends one member to the House Of Representatives, that member may speak but has neither voting rights nor the power to introduce legislation. Depending on your point of view, that is either the best job in the world because it is a position with zero actual responsibility or the worst job in the world but it is a position with zero actual responsibility and power.
As such, I am doubtful that any bill which raises the question of the proposed statehood for Puerto Rico will be put forward at all.

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