Tags: Puerto | Rico | statehood | crisis

Puerto Rico's Economic Crisis Returns Statehood to Spotlight

Monday, 02 Dec 2013 04:11 PM

By Lisa Barron

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Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans have moved to the U.S. mainland in recent years in an effort to escape the economic crisis at home, and the influx is raising questions about the island's political status as well.

Both in Florida, home to nearly 1 million Americans of Puerto Rican descent, and back home, civic leaders and activists are pressing the issue of Puerto Rico's statehood and the right of its citizens to vote, The Associated Press reports.

Although Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birth, the island is just a territory, and they cannot vote for president unless they live in one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia.

"It's like when women weren't able to vote, when African-American's weren't able to vote," lawyer Iara Rodriguez told the AP, adding, "One of the reasons that my husband and I moved here to Florida was to not feel like a second-class citizen."

In a nonbinding referendum last November,  more than half of Puerto Rico's voters for the first time rejected the island's status as a territory, and more than 60 percent said they favored statehood over partial or full independence.

But statehood would require congressional approval, which has advocates trying to drum up support at the state and national levels.

In Orlando, Fl., former Republican state representative and lawyer Tony Suarez is launching a grassroots GOP group to work on behalf of equality for Puerto Ricans, the AP reports, and a group founded by the former president of the University of Puerto Rico held a rally in favor of equal rights outside the U.S. Capitol last month.

In the meantime, the island's economic troubles are getting worse, which is only exacerbating the exodus, The Washington Post reports.

The economy has been in recession for nearly eight years, the jobless rate is almost 15 percent, and the island government is almost $70 billion in debt.

But in that respect, the territory has the same obligations as the states: it cannot file for bankruptcy, leaving Gov. Alejandro Javier Garcia Padilla to balance budget cuts and austerity measures against the need to stimulate growth.

"Sometimes, you are between the wall and the sword," he told the Post.

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