The people of Scotland are staring down a great moment in their history. They’re debating their political future, and the people of Puerto Rico should be listening..
Living in one of the strongest economies in Latin America but with few natural resources, at least 90 percent of Puerto Ricans believe their island’s economy benefits from its colonial status. Puerto Rico looks to its island neighbors in the Greater Antilles — of which Puerto Rico is the smallest — as evidence of what it might become should it cast off its dependence on the United States. “If being independent means being like Haiti or the Dominican Republic,” goes one popular refrain, “it’s better to be a colony.” Never mind that the D.R. has a larger economy than Puerto Rico, less debt, and fewer of its people live in poverty. And while Puerto Ricans boast one of the highest GDPs in Latin America, it’s still twice as poor as Mississippi, the poorest U.S. state.
That’s due in large part to Puerto Rico’s colonial status, which, among other things, prohibits Puerto Rico from entering into its own trade agreements with other countries — like China, Mexico, Venezuela or Brazil, to name a few potential partners. Thus, the island is forced to do business with the United States under Washington’s terms. As is, Puerto Rico is merely a place for the United States to make its products cheaply, which it then sells back to the island’s captive consumer market. Puerto Rico’s internal issues – like its 15 percent unemployment rate, its exploding debt, and the 41 percent of its population living under poverty – are left to the Puerto Ricans to solve, even though they’re denied the tools to solve them.