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‘Puerto Ricans are outraged’

Emmanuel Navarro (20) on why Puerto RIco would be better off as an independent country

Emmanuel at the Yayoi Kusama exhibition in Washington D.C. After his studies in Entrepreneurship he would like to study art. © Emmanuel Francisco Navarro Pizarro

Puerto Rico is in trouble. The island is bankrupt and turned to court for debt protection. As a much overlooked part of the United States of America they are struggling to choose between statehood and independence.

What many people don’t know about Puerto Rico is that it is a property of the Unites States. ‘Puerto Rico is neither a state nor an independent country, it’s what they call a colony,’ says Emmanuel Francisco Navarro Pizarro, clearly upset. Being Puerto Rican comes with many disadvantages: the people have no presidential vote on the island, no vote in Congress and they can only do business with the US and its partners.

In 2015 it became clear that Puerto Rico would not be able to pay back its 72 billion debt. This does not get easier because of the special status of the island. They can’t turn to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) because it is not an independent country. Neither being a US state, it does not have the right to protection against bankruptcy. Emmanuel, a Puerto Rican Entrepreneurship student at the University of Puerto Rico believes the island becoming an independent country will save them from their problems.

Could Puerto Rico become a state?

Yes it could, but it is really difficult. To become a state Puerto Rico will have to make some arrangements. The debt per capita should at least be closer to the poorest state in the U.S. Theoretically speaking it is possible, but on the human side: we have a complete different culture. Puerto Rico was founded by the Spaniards, so we are closer to the Spanish culture than to the American one.

I don’t think Puerto Rico will become a state though. If it would be a state, it would be a democratic one. And it would need seats in Congress. I don’t think the current administration would allow that. Puerto Rico is also older than some states in the US. We have been part of the US for 119 years, that’s longer than Alaska and Hawaii. If they would want to make Puerto Rico a state, they would have done it a long time ago.

45 percent of the population is living below the poverty line. If the island would eventually become a state it would be the poorest state in the US and the state with the most social inequality. It would be like joining a country club, you don’t join something you can’t pay. We would have to find a way to keep up with the other states and our economy is just not strong enough for that.

Why do you believe that independence is the best option?

Right now is not a good time to become a state, because of the many problems. If we want to be equal to the US, we should be independent. We need to have our own power. We don’t have power to choose with whom to trade our goods, which we would be able to do if we were independent. Trade with other countries is vital to develop.

We Puerto Ricans are also really proud of our culture and nation. We might not be an independent country yet, but are definitely a nation. We have our own traditions, completely different from those of the US. English isn’t even the most common language here. We speak Spanish, only twenty percent is completely bilingual. We are just too different from the US to become part of it. And right now we don’t have a choice in anything. Being independent would really give us the tools to fix our problems ourselves.

Running a country is not like running a business, you’re not dealing with numbers but with people.

What does the US do to help Puerto Rico?

The government does nothing to address the economic situation. They take some measures but those are based on numbers. Running a country is not like running a business, you’re not dealing with numbers but with people. But most Americans don’t even know where Puerto Rico is located. And most people don’t think that Puerto Rico should become a state because they see it as a totally different country.

What is happening now with all the strikes?

Right now there are a lot of strikes. The Puerto Rican government decided to denounce a commission that worked on why the debt is now so big and who is responsible for it. People are outraged. Why would they do that? There are whispers that the government is hiding something. Why would they denounce something so important in a time when we are passing our worst economic crisis. What is happening in Puerto Rico is the worst we have ever been through and the government isn’t doing anything. They don’t have a plan.

A federal control board overseeing our finances has also proposed a 450 million dollars cut in the budget of my university, the University of Puerto Rico. This has also been a source of anger, with many students going on strike. It’s so stupid, we need our schools in our most difficult times because that is where we prepare professionals. If you cut their budget what will you leave to the next generations?

How would you fix these problems?

Let us fix our problems ourselves. The US outsources many jobs, including finding a solution to our problems, to people from outside the US. We have human capital in Puerto Rico and they are hiring people from Ukraine. It’s unbelievable.