Statehood for Puerto Rico

Adapted from Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in

About 80 percent of Holyoke, Mass., public school students are of Puerto Rican background. Now district officials are preparing for a flood of new students as a result of the ravages of hurricanes Irma and, especially, Maria, in that U.S. commonwealth. Other urban school districts in southern New England, especially in Massachusetts and Connecticut, that have lots of Puerto Ricans, are making similar arrangements.

What will immediately help the ravaged island is suspension of the Jones Act, which requires goods shipped between American ports to only be carried on ships built primarily in the United States and with U.S. citizens as their owners and crews. Happily, President Trump last week suspended the law. But it may be time to get rid of it for good.

The idea behind this 1920 law was to protect the American shipping business.

But the Jones Act dramatically raises the prices of goods brought into the island. Puerto Ricans must absorb extra shipping costs of items that could be shipped directly and much more cheaply from a nearby island, such as Hispaniola or Jamaica. The Jones Act forces shippers to route through an American port, in Puerto Rico’s case most likely from Jacksonville and Miami.

Puerto Rico desperately needs supplies to start to recover from these terrible storms.

For the longer term, Daniel W. Drezner, of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts wrote:

“This is not just about recovering from Hurricane Maria. It is also about Puerto Rico’s long-term future. If the Jones Act were suspended, consumer prices would drop by 15 percent to 20 percent and energy costs would plummet. A post-Jones Puerto Rico could modernize its infrastructure and develop its own island-based shipping industry. Indeed, the island could become a shipping hub between South America, the Caribbean and the rest of the world. This industry would generate thousands of jobs and opportunities for skilled laborers and small businesses. On an island with official unemployment over 10 percent (but actually closer to 25 percent), this would energize their entire workforce.’’

Meanwhile, it continues to be perverse that residents of Puerto Rico and the nearby U.S. Virgin Islands, while American citizens who can serve in our armed forces, can’t vote in U.S. elections. But that, of course, goes back to the fact that Puerto Rico is not a state. Out of fairness and for national-security concerns, the island, perhaps combining with the U.S. Virgin Islands, should become one.

If it had been a state, it probably wouldn’t have suffered thelethal delays in receiving aid after the hurricanes.  Statehood would mean that Puerto Ricans would have to pay federal taxes but that the respect and assistance that they’d get as full parts of the United States would make that well worth it.