SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The dire economic situation in Puerto Rico is reigniting an international conversation about making the Caribbean island the 51st state. The unemployment rate is about 12%, and the U.S. territory carries a public debt of $72 billion. Americans of Puerto Rican descent told 22News they feel conflicted, but want the best for what’s still home to many loved ones.
“Just about everyone in my mother’s side of the family is from Puerto Rico. It’s absolutely beautiful. I remember the rain forests, all the animals. Definitely a really pretty area. If it was to help Puerto Rico out becoming the 51st state then go for it,” said Josefina Paz of Springfield.
As a state, Puerto Rican cities and towns along with public utilities would have the opportunity to restructure their debt through bankruptcy. They’d also be eligible for more federal funding. But Jose Claudio of the New North Citizens Council said it’s not enough to rescue Puerto Rico from debt. There needs to be more incentive for businesses to develop there and create jobs.
“You can put a lot of money into everything, but if you don’t create a system that could work in the long run, it’s never going to work,” Claudio said.
Opponents of statehood want to preserve their culture and keep control on the island. Claudio said whatever happens, Puerto Rico will always be Puerto Rico. “It’s never going to lose the salsa and the thing we got inside of us. That’s always going to live inside of us,” he added.
Since 1967 the majority of voters in three referendums have favored remaining as-is, but the gap has narrowed with time as the economic climate becomes even more bleak.