Last Updated on January 30, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 844
Chapter 14: Puerto Rico, U.S.A.: Possessed but Unwanted
Puerto Rico is the United States’ largest colony in a time period in which colonialism has largely ended. Because its residents are legal citizens, they are endowed with the same rights as those on the mainland, including minimum wage and workplace regulations. Simultaneously, their lack of voting rights or Congressional representation make Puerto Ricans exempt from taxes.
As the previous chapter explained, neoliberal trade created numerous economic problems in Puerto Rico, including increased poverty and unemployment. As a result, nearly half of all Puerto Ricans no longer live on the island, and a staggering percentage of those who do receive welfare benefits—all of which are paid from the tax revenue of mainland citizens. Many in the American public and in Washington find these facts troubling, which has led to a contemporary debate over the future of Puerto Rico.
Despite Gonzalez’s earlier claim that Puerto Rico’s FTZs failed, he explains how certain industries with low production yet high development costs—such as pharmaceuticals—have exploited duty-free tax loopholes to avoid paying federal taxes. This shows how Puerto Rico, despite its controversial relationship to the US, continues to be a large contributor of wealth to its colonial master.
Despite these boons for the US, Puerto Ricans experience high levels of unemployment, which have remained largely unchanged for decades. To explain this phenomenon, Gonzalez outlines the various factors that negatively impact Puerto Rican islanders.
Shipping laws dictate that Puerto Rican imports and exports can only be transported on US cargo ships, meaning that Puerto Ricans pay much higher shipping fees because of their isolation from the mainland. In addition, Puerto Rico is prohibited from free trade with nearby Caribbean countries, forcing the island to be dependent on US imports.
The language disparity between the lower courts on the island, which operate in Spanish, and the English-only federal courts create barriers for citizens whose cases require further litigation, while preventing many locals from serving on federal juries. Recent cuts to entitlement programs, including Medicaid and welfare, on which a large number of Puerto Ricans have grown dependent, exacerbate the struggles of the island’s poor. Although Puerto Ricans have been drafted in major wars, starting with World War II, they have no representatives who vote on Congressional declarations of war.
All of these factors communicate the notion that Puerto Ricans are second-class citizens undeserving of the same rights and protections afforded to other US citizens. This contradiction has given rise to various ideas about the long-term future of Puerto Rico, from the option of statehood to “enhanced commonwealth.”
The uncertain feelings about Puerto Rico stem from a variety of misconceptions from outsiders. Unlike other Latino groups who have come to the US, Puerto Ricans are free to return to their homeland because it is a US territory. This causes many middle-class Puerto Ricans living stateside to return to the island after amassing some savings so that they can enjoy a higher standard of living while staying closer to their families and culture. As a result, many Puerto Rican barrios in the US have relatively few middle-class residents, creating a perception that Puerto Ricans are willfully impoverished in comparison with other Latino communities.
In addition, Gonzalez describes how long-term colonial rule has contributed to the lack of...
(The entire section contains 844 words.)
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