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As a U.S. senator, Barack Obama visited Puerto Rico and promised to return. Yesterday, he did. It was the first official visit to the territory by a sitting U.S. president in 50 years. Home to high unemployment and beautiful beaches, Puerto Rico gussied itself up and gave the president a warm welcome. The trip was fulfillment of a past promise, but also a look to the future. 2012. Nearly 10 percent of Latino voters in the U.S. are of Puerto Rican descent. And they don’t always vote Democratic. We’ll talk about Puerto Rico – its people and economy, and whether it will ever become the 51st U.S. state.
- Laura Meckler White House correspondent, The Wall Street Journal.
- Luis Fortuno Republican governor of Puerto Rico.
- Fernando Pizarro Washington correspondent, Univision.
- Mauricio Cardenas director, Latin America Initiative, the Brookings Institution; formerly Colombia's minister of Economic Development and Transportation.
- Rafael Fantauzzi president and CEO, the National Puerto Rican Coalition.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico has a population of less than four million. Residents of the islands cannot vote for president in the general elections, but Puerto Ricans who live in the U.S. can. About half of Puerto Ricans support a move for statehood. A small minority support independence.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about Puerto Rico, Rafael Fantauzzi of the National Puerto Rican Coalition, Mauricio Cardenas of the Brookings Institution and Fernando Pizarro, a reporter for Univision. We are going to open the phones a little later in the program. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. But, first, joining us by phone, the governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuno. Good morning, sir.
GOV. LUIS FORTUNOGood morning. My pleasure to be on your show.
REHMI'm so glad you're with us. Tell me how important President Obama's visit was for you and the residents of Puerto Rico yesterday.
FORTUNOOf course. Well, we -- it allowed us to highlight the fact that we've been part of the United States since 1898. We have been citizens since 1917 and actually fought in every single war ever since then. We've (unintelligible) and in greater numbers than most states. And the fact that, in spite of all that, there is still a, you know, almost 3.8 million American citizens residing here that have aspirations very similar to those of our fellow citizens in the 50 states, but that don't necessarily sit on the table when decisions are being made.
REHMWhat kinds of aspirations?
FORTUNOCertainly, aspirations for a better living, quality of life, better jobs, aspirations, so that -- in a way, that allows for every single group to be represented, that we have a vote on the status question that is respected and acted upon both by the White House and Congress, aspirations that we can live in a society that allows -- that actually promotes not just a better education, but also that the public safety issues that affect us are addressed properly.
FORTUNOAnd, actually, with the clamping down on the southwestern border, some of the drug traffic that used to occur in the Mexican-American border have shifted to what I called the third border, which is Puerto Rico. And now, since we're part of a custom area of the United States, anything that comes in through here can move freely into the 50 states.
REHMHmm. You are a Republican governor. I know you support statehood for Puerto Rico, and about 50 percent of your population supports it. Is there a division along political lines for statehood in Puerto Rico?
FORTUNOWell, yes, indeed, actually. What used to be the old statehood Republican Party became, a few years back, the new party for progress. And that allows for not just Republicans, but some Democrats also to join that party and that -- our party tends to be more fiscally conservative in that sense. And the other party tends to be all Democrats. But at the end of the day, you know, we have the same aspirations and the same needs, regardless of which party we belong to.
REHMI know that the unemployment rate in Puerto Rico is quite high. What do you believe can be done to alleviate it?
FORTUNOWell, indeed. And, actually, if we -- this recession commenced in Puerto Rico two full years before it started in the rest of the country. And on top of that, a couple of years ago when I became governor, I inherited the worst fiscal situation in the country, proportionally speaking. Our state budget deficit was 44 percent of the revenues.
FORTUNOIt was so bad that not only did our credit was close to being declared junk, a status or junk bonds, but on top of that, we didn't have enough money to meet our first payroll. And we had to take out a loan. Ever since then, we have been forced to make very tough decisions. But at the end of the day, our fiscal situation is much better.
FORTUNOAnd for the first time in a long, long time, we have had a net gain in job creation in the last eight months. By the same token, retail sales are up. Car sales are up. Housing sales are up. However, we're coming from so far behind that we need assistance. And one area is the cost of energy. In Puerto Rico, the cost of energy is about twice as high as it is in the mainland. And this, actually, is not unique to Puerto Rico.
FORTUNOIslands tend to have this problem. Hawaii also has the same problem. Now, and as I told the press again yesterday, we want to buy natural gas from the mainland. We want to actually develop more resource recovery facilities and renewable energy projects. And any kind of assistance in that area is welcome.
REHMAnd what kind of assistance would Puerto Rico need in order to develop your own natural resources?
FORTUNOWell, for example, in terms of energy, one -- the Department of Energy could assist us, certainly, with the different tax credit programs that exist in order to see the development of resource recovery facilities to produce energy out of solid waste, as well as renewable energy projects. On the other hand, the cost of transporting fuels from the mainland to Puerto Rico is pretty high because we're using American ships.
FORTUNOIf we could use foreign vessels as well, we could lower the cost of those fuels, thus cost -- lower the cost of energy as well.
REHMAnd finally, Gov. Fortuno, considering the fact that 50 percent of residents of Puerto Rico are in favor of statehood for your country, what do you see happening? Do you believe it will happen in your lifetime?
FORTUNOWell, I certainly aspire for that to happen. And there are very strong reasons, as I mentioned earlier. Our men and women have served in our armed forces with courage, in greater numbers than most states. Yet they cannot elect our commander-in-chief. Having said that, my pledge to my constituents is that they -- that we have a process that is balanced, that is just, that allows all of us to express our preference, and with that mandate, then I'll go back to Washington and demand action.
REHMLuis Fortuno, governor of Puerto Rico, thank you so much for joining us.
FORTUNOThank you, Diane. You have a great day.
REHMThank you. And, now, joining us from Washington, D.C., is Laura Meckler. She is White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. She was in Puerto Rico yesterday, covering the president's trip. Good morning to you, Laura.
MS. LAURA MECKLERGood morning, Diane.
REHMTell me how the president was received.
MECKLERHe was received very warmly, and not just because it was 90 degrees and humid there. He was -- the crowds were just thrilled to seem him when there were about 1,000 people gathered in a hangar. And when Air Force One touched down, you know, a cheer went up from the crowd. So they were just -- really, just the fact that he was coming was very meaningful to them.
REHMAnd what did the president have to say about Puerto Rico's status?
MECKLERWell, he made reference to a task force report that his administration had completed, I believe, in March, where they set out a process by which Puerto Ricans could settle this issue through a series of two votes of the public. The first to determine whether or not the island wanted to be independent, and if it did not, then if it -- I'm sorry, whether the island wanted to change its status. Right now, it's a commonwealth.
MECKLERAnd if it does not want to change its status, then what would be -- if it does want to change its status, what would -- the alternatives would be either independence or statehood, so essentially trying to narrow the choices. The problem that they've had is that there are three options. And nothing gets the majority when you put them all on the ballot, statehood, staying as a commonwealth or independent.
MECKLERSo they're trying to separate it into two votes, so that they can get some clarity about what people on the island really want. So, anyways, what the president did when he was there was reference that report and say that he would support whatever the people of the island want for themselves.
REHMBut what does that mean? I mean, if he supports it, it still has to be ratified, does it not, by the Congress?
MECKLERIt does, it does. I mean obviously, if they want to remain as a commonwealth, they can do that. There would be a whole lot that has to follow. But the problem that the people have had is that the people of Puerto Rico themselves have not been able to settle this. And that's really viewed by most people who watch the situation as the first step.
MECKLERNow, there is some uncertainty about how their decision would be greeted in Washington. So I think President Obama gave them perhaps a little bit of comfort to say, yes, if you guys vote for this, I will back you up.
REHMAnd, finally, was his trip all about 2012?
MECKLERYeah, you know, it was very tempting for a lot of people, including me, to view it that way, frankly. I mean there is some, you know, there, there. He did want to reach out. He had promised the people of Puerto Rico that he would come back when he was there during the campaign. But, yes, as you said, Puerto Ricans cannot vote in the general election if they live in Puerto Rico.
MECKLERBut there are 4.6 million Puerto Ricans living on the mainland, and they can vote. Many of them are in Florida, which as you know is a critical -- the largest swing state battleground for 2012. And he is aggressively courting the Hispanic vote on many different levels, and this is one of them. I think the hope is that his visit there, and this fact that he took time to talk about Puerto Rico, that message will be received by people living here and in the mainland.
REHMLaura Meckler, she is White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. She was in Puerto Rico yesterday covering President Obama's trip there. Thank you, Laura. Good to talk with you.
REHMShort break. We'll be right back.
REHMAs we continue our discussion on Puerto Rico, the president's visit there yesterday, here in the studio, Rafael Fantauzzi. He's president and CEO of the National Puerto Rican Coalition. Mauricio Cardenas, he is director of the Latin American Initiative at the Brookings Institution. He's formerly Colombia's minister of economic development and transportation. And Fernando Pizarro, he's Washington correspondent for Univision.
REHMI've had a tweet here which says, "It's shameful that Obama was the first president to visit Puerto Rico since JFK." Rafael, how do you feel about that?
MR. RAFAEL FANTAUZZII think the person is absolutely right. I mean -- and this is why a lot of times Puerto Ricans have felt very disenfranchised and disconnected with the mainland. And there is a sense of lack of identity when you have the commander-in-chief and our leader of -- you know, for the United States of America not even paying attention and visiting us.
REHMSo what did his trip, his visit, mean to you?
FANTAUZZIWell, his visit was very significant and historic, and it was very strategic. You know, he had made a commitment as a candidate to come back to Puerto Rico as a president if he were to be elected, and he wanted to make good on that promise. It's important that he make good on promises for Hispanics because he's had a very tough time doing that with the rest of the Hispanic community, with the issues on immigration reform.
FANTAUZZIAs far as his strategic visit, he also wanted to make sure that he sends a clear signal to the Puerto Ricans on the mainland that he is paying attention to Puerto Rico. And, of course, all of the federal agencies are working with the agencies on the island in order to help the standard of living on the community.
REHMMauricio, to what extent have the demographics of the Puerto Rican population here in the U.S. changed?
MR. MAURICIO CARDENASI think this is a major issue. I think at the end of the day, this trip is not so much about the people in Puerto Rico, but the Puerto Ricans living in the United States. It's a population that has been growing. As you said in the introduction, it's 10 percent of the Hispanics living here in the United States. And it plays a very important role in places like Florida, Pennsylvania and, of course, New York, where it's always been a major force.
MR. MAURICIO CARDENASSo this is about 4.4 -- 4.5 million Puerto Ricans living in the United States. They are very important for the elections and, in particular, for the Hispanic vote.
REHMSo, Fernando, as you look at this population here in this country, how will President Obama be able to reach out to them?
MR. FERNANDO PIZARROWell, if we're talking about translating this into votes, I think this trip is relevant and very important to Puerto Ricans, to those 4.6 million living -- 900,000 who live in Florida right now. It's going to be a lot more important than others, than other Latino voters. The question is debatable whether this trip means something to other Latino voters. Let's make an analogy here. The president, a couple of months ago, went to Chile, El Salvador and Brazil.
MR. FERNANDO PIZARRODid that trip -- will that trip resonate with other Latino voters in this country? Does it matter? Does it matter to Mexican-American voters that are first, second generations that he went to South America? It is important that the president went to Latin America. But the question is, how will this trip resonate with other voters that are not Puerto Rican?
REHMHow would you answer that question, Rafael?
FANTAUZZIYou know, Fernando is absolutely correct. You know, they -- but, at least, they -- I think they want to cement. They want to cement a segment of that Hispanic population that, right now, they can still win. And they need to win in the states like Florida, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
REHMI wonder, Mauricio, exactly about Puerto Rico's status, how it affects its own economy.
CARDENASIt does. It does. And it does mainly through the impact on the relationship with the U.S. federal government that, today, is a major force, is a major contributor of funds to Puerto Rico. Well, at the same time, Puerto Ricans do not pay exactly the same amount of taxes…
REHMWhat does that mean?
CARDENASWell, that means that Puerto Rico is in a situation right now -- as commonwealth -- that is advantageous. If Puerto Rico's move -- Puerto Rico moves to statehood, of course, it would have to raise the level of taxation to its citizens and its corporations operating there and will have access probably to the same amount of funds that are available today. So, economically speaking, moving to statehood will probably have some costs.
CARDENASBut at the same time, of course, there are benefits from statehood, which is more representation and a voice, and that, of course, could mean, you know, more resources or more engagement from the federal government.
REHMWhat about its economic benefits now in relation to what it would get if, in fact, it became a state?
CARDENASI think it's hard to answer exactly what it would get. Puerto Rico is already getting large amount of resources recently from the stimulus package, for example. A number of projects are being developed in Puerto Rico with those resources. And I think the Puerto Rican delegation here in Washington has been very successful in bringing resources back to Puerto Rico. Will they be able to get more resources if they're a state?
CARDENASIt's hard to know. But, certainly, I think the only fact that is for sure is that Puerto Ricans will need to pay federal income taxes.
REHMRafael, is that the key issue dividing those in Puerto Rico who favor statehood from those who don't, that elevation in taxes?
FANTAUZZIWell, that's one of the issues.
FANTAUZZIIt's not the key issue. One very important fact that we have to talk about -- and it's the fact -- that 44 percent of the population in Puerto Rico live below the poverty line.
FANTAUZZIThat is correct. In other words, what that means and all the social welfare from the federal government really maintains 44 percent of the population. It is better for somebody to remain unemployed and live off of federal assistance than to go find a job and to pay the necessary taxes. And that is a problem that needs to be addressed.
FANTAUZZIThe jobs are not there in order for them to be able to get out of that social welfare that, right now, is plaguing, you know, the economy of the island. The government was the largest employer. The government, in the last couple of years, laid off more than 17,000 employees, which adds to the unemployment numbers.
FANTAUZZIAnd people also have a sense of identity because we have been so disconnected from the mainland. There is a sense of I want to be American. I am a U.S. citizen, but I am Puerto Rican.
PIZARROBut there's another issue that is important when it comes to deciding whether Puerto Rico is a state or remains a commonwealth. And I have to bring it back to a couple of years ago when, of course, Congress was trying to decide whether to pass the stimulus package or not, or the health care reform debate.
PIZARROThe former governor, the previous governor, when now Gov. Fortuno was resident commissioner, which is the official title of the congressional delegate that Puerto Rico has here on the Hill, they were lobbying really hard -- and the same thing happened with health care reform -- to have Puerto Rico included in both these packages.
PIZARROSo, basically, Congress was willing to pass this whole health care reform and a stimulus package to help the economy. And Puerto Rico was not even part of it. So we have to see sometimes what the problems can be with Puerto Rico not being a state today. I'm not deciding that -- I'm not saying that I'm favoring one position over the other, but that is a big problem.
PIZARROAnd that's why the Puerto Rican political class and the media on the island are so obsessed about any gesture coming from the administration or Congress about status.
REHMWould you agree with that?
FANTAUZZII certainly agree wholeheartedly. I think that's an important element that makes people think twice about, you know, well, we want to have more, but then we don't have the representation in order to get more.
REHMMauricio, how much support is there in this country for helping Puerto Rico gain full status?
CARDENASWell, that's the key question. I think President Obama said yesterday that he will endorse, he will support whatever the population of Puerto Rico decided through these plebiscites that are being planned. But it's not that easy. I mean, at the end of the day, this will come to the U.S. Congress, and there will be opposition. If the decision is to move in the direction of statehood, there will be opposition.
CARDENASSo even if that's the option, even if that's what Puerto Ricans decide in their plebiscite, the future is not clear. So at the end, we're in a situation that -- it's a little bit middle of the road. It's not independence. It's not statehood. It's that commonwealth status that plays a role, does actually help the population in terms of getting these resources from the United States. And I -- honestly, I don't see that that's going to change.
REHMYou don't think it's going to change.
CARDENASI don't think it's going to change.
PIZARROLet's look at the last time this came, you know, to Congress. And, I would say, it's probably one of the most successful times that the issue about statehood or not, or resolving the status of Puerto Rico has been debated. Resolution 2499 was passed on April 29 last year by the House. It was amended, so it was a mixed victory for both sides because, basically, it created a plebiscite in which people would vote for the present status and a different status.
PIZARROIf the present status remained the same, there would be another plebiscite every eight years. But if different status won, there would be yet another...
PIZARRO...plebiscite with the three options...
PIZARRO...in independence, commonwealth and statehood. Anyway, this went to the Senate. It pretty much died in the Senate. It's been said to me, oh, well, it was passed with a sense of the Senate, but it basically meant nothing. So it died with the 2010 Congress, and now we're back to square one. And that is...
REHMHow strong is the Puerto Rican lobby now in this country?
FANTAUZZIIt's extremely strong. As a matter of fact, I think, Puerto Rico is the segment in the United States, you know, compared to other states that spent the most in lobbying in Congress in order to advocate for their issues. But I want to bring something, you know, that -- back to the speech by President Obama in regards to the decision of status. And, you know, we are -- we live here in Washington, and we know the utilization of words.
FANTAUZZIAnd the president was very clear to use the word when Puerto Rico makes a clear decision. Now, what is the definition of a clear decision? Is it 51 percent or is it 86 percent, which other states have had to have in order to become part of the union?
CARDENASWell, I think this issue, of independence, statehood, commonwealth, is certainly an important debate. It's what, actually, you know, divides the population. It creates the main themes for the political parties. It's not so much on whether you're a liberal or a conservative. It's about this issue. But, honestly, Diane, I think, at the end of the day, this is not the most important issue for Puerto Rico.
CARDENASPuerto Rico has another more fundamental question to resolve first, which is its economic future. Puerto Rico has, certainly, a cultural identity, and we all associate that with people like Marc Anthony. But it has an economic identity crisis. It doesn't really know what it does well and what's the future. Is it tourism? Is it attracting businesses and corporations in the manufacturing sector? It does not really have a good development model.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You want to add to that.
PIZARROYeah, I wanted to add something about -- going back to the issue of status again. Both administrations, the Obama administration and the Bush administration -- I mean, the last two administrations, basically, have issued reports. They were -- the Clinton administration decided that they would issue a report on Puerto Rico's status. And it didn't get done by that administration.
PIZARROIt got pushed to the Bush administration, and the -- they issued a very criticized -- Rafael may agree with me -- report on the status, which is basically about five pages long, which it took everything back to the Puerto Rican people. It said, well, you know, it's up to you to decide what you want to do with the status. Then the Obama administration created a task force on Puerto Rico.
PIZARROAnd they just released their report, much larger. They're touching on a lot of issues, mostly economic and financial. And they released it in March. But when it came to status, it was the same thing. You are the ones that have to decide.
REHMIt's you. Here's an email from Ricardo in Miami, Fla., who says, "The issue of Puerto Rico's status has become more of a well-paid hobby for professional politicians on the island, rather than an actual pursuit with a real end goal in sight. There are too many entrenched interests on all sides to gain more from indefinite discussions regarding status rather than taking real action. The issue of how much Puerto Rico costs U.S. taxpayers is rarely mentioned."
REHM"I think it's only a matter of time before the U.S. Congress realizes the real cost of maintaining the ultimate welfare state and decides to cut it loose." What do you think, Mauricio?
CARDENASI think he's right. I think that, honestly, the situation is not too sustainable. Let me illustrate this with an example. The current governor, Gov. Fortuno, decided to introduce a set of measures to reduce the deficit of Puerto Rico. One of those measures was to raise taxes for manufacturing firms operating in Puerto Rico.
CARDENASAnd he got, at the same time, a mechanism that allows these corporations operating in Puerto Rico to deduct those taxes from the taxes they pay here in the United States. So, at the end of the day, raising the level of taxation in Puerto Rico was done in a way that reduces the actual taxes that these corporations pay here in the United States.
CARDENASSo that means that everything that's done in Puerto Rico to improve the economic situation, the fiscal situation, also has a cost here.
REHMIs costing the U.S. more and more, Rafael.
FANTAUZZIThat's absolutely right. You know, Mauricio has said several things very, very important that we need to focus on. It's the economy, the -- you know, the biggest resource in the island is its people, and its people -- first of all, there's lack of vision from the political leaders, so people don't know what to do and where they're going.
FANTAUZZISo it's very difficult to stimulate 3.6 million people to move forward in a new economy and embrace a new way of thinking when, first of all, you don't provide that vision, and, second of all, every economic opportunity that they can have, it's really not there.
REHMI asked the governor whether he thought that statehood would come about in his lifetime. The question I have for you, gentlemen, is do you believe that statehood is a good idea for Puerto Rico? Rafael.
FANTAUZZIYou know, anything that can help a segment of the American population to improve themselves and improve their standard of living, it's always going to be good. Unfortunately, statehood might not necessarily be a viable solution for the people of Puerto Rico because Congress has to decide.
CARDENASI like the idea, philosophically speaking. I think it's important for Puerto Ricans to feel more engaged in the sense that they have a voice, they have a representation, that they can vote for the president. I think that's important.
PIZARROI think it has pros and cons. They could lose certain cultural identity if they become a state. But, politically, they could become a powerhouse with up to four, six congressmen.
REHMShort break. Right back.
REHMIn our conversations thus far on Puerto Rico, I've neglected to ask Rafael how you believe President Obama and the governor of Puerto Rico actually got along together.
FANTAUZZIYou know, I think that it was a cordial visit. I'm sure both mandataires actually sat down and discussed what the issues are. But let's be realistic here. We got the leader of the Democratic Party, and we have a Hispanic Republican governor that has, in the past, positioned himself as a potential candidate for vice president of the United States.
PIZARROYeah, that is true. You know, there was a story Grover Norquist, who is an emblematic figure for many Republicans, mentioned Luis Fortuno as a potential candidate, you know, somebody could go in as a vice president in a, you know, in an election ticket. And the governor did nothing to dispel that notion.
PIZARROHe was very proud, and they were very happy to -- you know, he didn't want to -- when you interview him about it, he's very shy and coy. But, you know, it's an honor for him to...
REHMBe thought of in that way.
FORTUNO...be (word?), of course...
REHMAll right. Here we go to Kalamazoo, Mich. Santiago, you're on the air.
SANTIAGOHi. Good morning.
REHMGood morning, sir.
SANTIAGOI'm calling to ask a question with regards to the way this discussion about the economic problems or the economic issues in Puerto Rico comply with international law because the issue was being discussed as if Puerto Rico was a domestic question in the United States. And it's being closed in identity, politics and civil rights language. But the situation of Puerto Rico is -- has more in common with that of Palestine, with Kurdistan, of the vast country of Northern Ireland.
SANTIAGOAnd in order to address some of these economic issues, you have to put it into context of international law, which none of your panelists nor your questions have moved towards. The other part of my question is with regards to this economic situation, as people in the United States will profit from it and who also profit from the violation of civil rights.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call, sir. Mauricio, what about international law?
CARDENASI'm not sure exactly what the caller means. But I think that he's referring to possibly tax treatments and the idea that Puerto Rico has to be treated as an independent state in the sense of the treatment of taxation and that they're autonomous to decide what their taxes are. So I don't know if that's the point he's alluding to. But at the end of the day, it's -- we're back to this idea that, because Puerto Rico is a commonwealth, it gets funds from the United States.
CARDENASAnd whatever they do in terms of taxes and in terms of the fiscal management has a connotation and implications here in the United States. So it's not as independent as the other countries he was mentioning.
REHMWhat about the language issue, Fernando?
PIZARROThis is an issue that comes up every time the status debate hits Congress. There are those in Congress who believe, and that if Puerto Rico were to be state, its official language or official language of business and discussing political business should be English. Obviously, this is highly debatable, considering we're talking about 4 million people whose native language is Spanish, and everything is done in Spanish.
PIZARRONot that English is not used on the island, but it's not an official language at all. And Rafael can tell you -- I don't know the exact figures, not, you know, there's a large percentage of Puerto Ricans who do not speak English at all. So this is a cultural theme that hits Congress whenever we debate, you know, the status. And I think I could put it at the level of immigration because it is -- it hits those chords.
PIZARROI'm not saying that it's the same debate, but it hits that -- those chords of language and cultural issues here.
REHMAll right. To Tallahassee, Fla. Good morning, Daniel.
DANIELGood morning. Good morning, Diane. It was -- it is really a pleasure to talk to you. I've been trying to reach you for the longest. Anyway, talking about Puerto Rico -- let me explain you something. I arrived at the island in 1961. I've been involved in many political campaign there in the islands in (word?). Later, Carlos Romero Barcelo, who was also Gov. Rossello, and I left the island with Rossello. So I have not been with Fortuno.
DANIELBut just to let you explain this, it's just that, I believe, the Puerto Ricans will be a state when the Republicans think that there are more Republicans than Democrat in the island. It is just a matter of, they know for fact that if Puerto Rico becomes the 51 state, will be another Democrat state. And that is not what they want to. I think of the people in Puerto Rico love United States, mostly all of them.
DANIELOnly 5 percent of the population want to become independent from the United States, which don't mean anything at all because they cannot really live without the United States. And I love the island. I was born in Argentina, but I love the island. I married a Puerto Rican girl, and we have children here in Tallahassee. So we love this country.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling. Rafael.
FANTAUZZIOh, I think he's absolutely right. That's one element, you know. I've been privy to some conversations from members of the Republican Party, members of Congress, that have said, first of all, you know, the language issue. If Puerto Rico -- you know, we have to incorporate in any kind of legislation that the official business language has to be English.
FANTAUZZIBut, also, they know and they have said it, no, we cannot allow Puerto Rico to become a state because we will never have Republican representation in Congress. And it's always going to be Democratic.
PIZARROBut we have to give, you know, the New Progressive Party some credit as well. The new progressive party is the party that Gov. Fortuno and the current resident commissioner belong to. And they are the one -- they are the statehood party. And, as he clearly stated, that's a party that it's -- I don't know about the proportions. But it's divided between Republicans and Democrats. The resident commissioner today, Pierluisi, is a Democrat.
PIZARROAnd, of course, you have his partner in the ticket, Gov. Fortuno, as a staunch Republican. But you have to give that party credit that that is the party that is actually looking for statehood. And, you know, so it -- there is a -- there could be a contradiction there that the party that it wants statehood on the island is half of it or more Republican.
REHMAll right, to Bally in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. Good morning...
BALLYHi, Diane. Am I on air?
BALLYOkay. Yeah, well, I got two comments. And one is how shameless it's for the U.S. political parties, both Democrats and Republicans, to come here to Puerto Rico to ask for funds for elections that we cannot vote for. I don't think that's democracy. I think that's feudalism. I think it's very shameless that they're running away with our money for -- when they can take these unilateral decisions about what happens in Puerto Rico at higher levels.
BALLYAnd, two, I think statehood would be a downgrade of what Puerto Rico is. If we want to move forward, we have to be independent. We have to join the global economy. And the only way to be that is to be an independent nation, friends of the U.S., where we can engage on one-on-one at the same level. Statehood will only drive us back. We're a different country, different culture, different people, and that's my point of view.
REHMAll right. Bally, let me ask you, how much support do you believe there is for Puerto Rico as an independent nation?
BALLYI mean, there are some people will -- gauges and use the index of the Partido Independentista Puertorriqueno, which is an electoral -- an election party. But things that are not popular or other small movements around island that don't -- that don't have a party, particular party to vote for and won't vote. But I believe that it's more than 5 percent of the people here, especially the young people of Puerto Rico, see that independence is a bigger...
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Mauricio.
CARDENASI think the issue of independence, of course, has merit and the idea of a country that, you know, is autonomous and can decide its own policies, et cetera, it's a good idea in general. But in practical terms, what the...
REHMHow is it going to support itself?
CARDENASRight. So, in practical terms, these will represent a reduction in living standards for Puerto Ricans. There is no doubt that as an independent country, they will not have the benefits that they get today from the United States. And with an economy with a 16 percent unemployment rate -- let's not forget that -- that means that if Puerto Rico becomes independent, wages are going to go down.
CARDENASThe minimum wage is not going to be what it is today. It's going to be much lower. Funds are not going to, you know, arrive at least in the amounts that they're getting from the United States. So there'll be a reduction in living standards. Maybe in the long run, in the very long run -- and we're talking decades -- the Puerto Rican economy can grow and can become a competitive force.
CARDENASBut it will be at a cost of a reduction in living standards, at least in the first phase of that new stage. Now, I think with that forecast, it's very difficult for people today to vote for independence because they know that there'll be cost associated with.
REHMHere's a website comment posted to "The Diane Rehm Show," which says, "Puerto Rico is essentially a welfare state. It has the highest unemployment, brutal crime, labor laws that make it exceedingly difficult for business to flourish. Why would the U.S. wish to allow Puerto Rico into the fold?" Mauricio.
CARDENASWell, I think also there is an argument to be made that Puerto Rico can become another state, a successful state in the way that, say, Hawaii is and that, you know...
REHMBut wasn't Hawaii successful before it became a state?
REHMI mean, in terms of tourism, in terms of its own agriculture, in terms of its own population self-sustaining.
CARDENASYeah, there were more opportunities there. But you cannot think of things that Puerto Rico could not do that Hawaii does today. I mean, Puerto Rico can also become an important force. Puerto Rico is in a very good geographical location. Puerto Rico, by no means, is a country that is doomed to fail. It could succeed. And, of course -- but it requires a lot of action and decisions.
CARDENASAnd, I think, beyond the issue of statehood -- let me go back -- what is the economic mode of Puerto Rico? What is it that Puerto Rico is good for? Is it tourism or is it a hub for, say, manufacturing operations? Is it services? What is it that Puerto Rico is good for? I think Puerto Ricans need to answer that question first.
REHMAll right. To Alicia in San Antonio, Texas. Good morning. You're on the air.
ALICIAI've been listening. How you do thing -- are you there?
REHMGood. Go right ahead.
ALICIAOkay. I've been listening to all the comments of the panel and yourself (word?) and I'd like to take you through history. (unintelligible)
REHMI'm sorry. You're breaking up on us so badly. I'm going to have to take another call from Miguel in Plano, Texas. You're on the air.
MIGUELThank you. Concerning the historical fact of Puerto Rico that was discussed earlier, in 1898, after the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico was given to the United States as war bounty with other islands, which are not to be mentioned now at the moment. However, at that time, Puerto Rico had already received from the parliament or the courts in Spain an autonomy card, which allowed Puerto Rico to establish their own government.
MIGUELAnd so that's -- it has to be clear. And a lot of people understand that that should be the basis of every conversation. I do understand that we do have a welfare state. I do understand that we lack leadership and a clear vision of what we should become. But, again, we have never had the chance to have a formal, serious, in-depth discussion with the right authorities. And I believe that President Obama's visit is like they say. (unintelligible) and, you know, life is 80 percent in showing up and...
REHMAll right, Miguel. Thanks for calling. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Going back in history, the other places that we gained after that war with Spain are now independent: the Philippines, Cuba. What was different about Puerto Rico?
FANTAUZZII actually think that the United States wanted to keep Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico became a very strategic point during issues with Panama Canal. And, you know, Puerto Rico had, you know, a big military and strategic value for the United States while the other countries also had some other elements, economic elements that were in place. In Puerto Rico, they were not in place.
REHMSo you see that Puerto Rico was dealt with fairly or otherwise?
FANTAUZZIYeah, you know, it's really interesting because I read the other -- yesterday, a press release from when Theodore Roosevelt visited Puerto Rico 106 years ago. And, basically, his speech was very similar to Obama's speech. Oh, we have issues. We know we are in a tough economic. We are with you. You're part of the vision. Things haven't changed, and that's because there hasn't been a specific paid attention to the island as what really needs to be done.
FANTAUZZIThrowing the ball and the hot potato back to the people of Puerto Rico, that lacked that vision that I was talking about, really continues to perpetuate what I call the political insanity, you know, basically expecting a different outcome but doing the same thing.
REHMHere's a final email, and I'd be interested in your reactions, from Steve in Elmwood, Ill. He says, "I think a Major League Baseball franchise would be a great addition to Puerto Rico. Attendance would be far better than in many cities. It would be great to plan early and late season games there and would build a greater connection and awareness among the American population generally."
REHM"Maybe president Obama could encourage this as part of a campaign." What do you think, Fernando?
PIZARROI agree, totally. You know, there are teams in major leagues in the United States and Canada today. It's been discussed sometimes to place teams in Mexico. And why not in San Juan? And there have been opening season games for Major League Baseball actually held in Puerto Rico. I remember at least one, if not more.
REHMFernando Pizarro, he is Washington correspondent for Univision, Mauricio Cardenas, director of the Latin American Initiative at the Brookings Institution and Rafael Fantauzzi, he's president and CEO of the National Puerto Rican Coalition. Thank you all so much.
PIZARROThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm
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