Every election cycle politicians from both parties seem to ignore Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory that is home to more than 3.5 million U.S. citizens. Puerto Rico has a larger population than 21 states in the union. The island is also in crisis, Puerto Rico’s debt is huge, at a toppling $72 billion, the cause of this debt can be traced back to when Puerto Rico was first colonized. The United States has quite the history with mistreating the small Caribbean island.
Puerto Rico was colonized back in 1898 by means of raiding and invasion. Then the U.S. forced the people who lived there to become U.S. citizens. That’s not all, then Law 53 of 1948 aka the “Gag Law” was enacted which made it a crime to display the Puerto Rican flag. The law was repealed in 1957 on the basis that it was unconstitutional. In the 50’s the United States also bombed Puerto Rico which wasn’t so great but one of the main reasons Puerto Rico has such a staggering debt? The Jones Act. In 1917 the Jones Act was enacted. The Jones Act requires everyone in Puerto Rico to buy goods from an American ship. Although this may sound good on paper this deeply effected Puerto Rico’s trading system by having jacked up prices and limiting business owners. This led to the fall of the economy and staggering unemployment rates.
Oh, and it only gets worse. The island has a 45% poverty rate, that’s right 45%. That poverty rate is nearly double that of Mississippi, the poorest state. Puerto Rico’s debt crisis could be compared to the city of Detroit’s only that there is one major difference. Puerto Rico is unable to declare Chapter 9 because of a 1984 provision in the bill that exempts the island from declaring bankruptcy. As a solution Puerto Rico’s government started to cut funding for hospitals and schools and raised sales tax to a whopping 11.5%. Puerto Rico also installed programs that provide corporate tax breaks to spur economic growth, but that expired in 2006 and since then the island has been at a standstill. Even pharmaceuticals, which at one point was one of Puerto Rico’s largest exports has left for the mainland since the recession.
So what can be done to assist Puerto Rico during this economic crisis? Well during the 2016 campaigning season businessman turned ” so-called President” told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer “I wouldn’t bail them out” when asked about how he’d deal with the fact the Puerto Rico is unable to pay back its debt. There is one major false thing about that: this isn’t necessarily a bailout Puerto Rico is simply asking for the same economic relief a U.S. state or city would receive from Congress. Luckily since that interview congress has passed a bipartisan bill regarding Puerto Rico’s debt but that is not enough, Puerto Rico has to be allowed the same debt relief a state would. More recently Donald Trump has released a statement directed at Puerto Ricans, but it wasn’t about fixing the debt crisis it more so directed towards the statehood/independence debate which isn’t the most important issue right now.
So until politicians focus on the real problems regarding Puerto Rico millions of U.S. citizens are being left in the dark.
Everyday that goes by without another bill being proposed on the Congress floor is another hospital running out of supplies, another unemployed citizen finding themselves with no options. Over 3 million people feel as if they don’t have a voice. There are many simple bipartisan solutions that can be implemented to help relieve Puerto Rico. It is time for people across the U.S. to be aware of this crisis and show support for Puerto Rico because everyday that goes by is another day that Puerto Rico goes deeper into it’s financial woes.