Whether or not Puerto Rico becomes the 51st state of the United States of America is an important issue that has been pondered for the last fifty years. Puerto Rico is currently a Commonwealth of the United States and has been under U.S. rule for a century. Spain ruled Puerto Rico for about 400 years prior to the U.S. take-over in 1898. The current and pertinent issue, though, is whether Puerto Rico will remain a Commonwealth of the U.S., become the 51st state, or gain independence. In "Doing Right by Puerto Rico," the former governor of Puerto Rico (1973-1976, 1985-1992) argues that Congress must take action. He describes the deterioration of the quality of life in Puerto Rico and explains that it is imperative for a decision to be made in regards to the status of Puerto Rico so political conflict and deterioration of the quality of life can be laid to rest. His solution is that "the bitter status conflict in Puerto Rico can be defused only by finding the common values that underlie all the positions of the conflicting parties. The time has come to work toward the common goal of addressing the democracy deficit (Colon 1998)." In this paper, I discuss Puerto Rico’s history beginning with Spanish rule to it’s current relationship with the U.S. and the question of Puerto Rico’s future status: statehood, continuation as a Commonwealth of the U.S., or complete independence from the U.S. I conclude that if a majority vote favors statehood, the United States should take immediate action to make Puerto Rico the 51st state.
Puerto Rico was under Spanish rule for about 400 years prior to the 1898 Treaty of Paris. It was then that Puerto Rico began to be governed as an unincorporated U.S. territory. Robert Pastor from "The New Republic" believes that the U.S. acquired Puerto Rico almost by accident:
"When President William McKinley succumbed to the pressures in his party to go to war against Spain in 1898, American attention was focused on liberating Cuba. To prove that U.S. motives were purer than those of European imperialists, Congress added to the declaration of war the Teller Amendment, which denied any intention to annex Cuba. Nothing was said about Puerto Rico because few even knew about the island...On July 25, 1898, American soldiers went ashore on Puerto Rico, and the conquering General Nelson Miles promised ‘to give to the people of your beautiful island the largest measure of liberty...[and] to bestow upon you...the liberal institutions of our government.’ Believing them, Puerto Ricans welcomed the Americans (Pastor 1984)."
The promises for liberty and liberal institutions were slow to begin and never fully completed. Two years after the U.S. began to rule the island; the basic structure of the U.S.-Puerto Rican relationship was established with the Foraker Act of 1900. The United States was prepared to defend Puerto Rico and provided for its currency. In fact the currency in Puerto Rico today has remained as the U.S. dollar. By 1902,...