By Frank Zorrilla
The status issue of Puerto Rico precedes the cession of Puerto Rico to the United States after the Treaty of Paris that put an end to the Spanish-American War in the year 1898. Since the beginning of the 19th century, under the domination of Spain, the nation of Puerto Rico was recognized by all of the Puerto Ricans.
It is no coincidence that the Grito de Lares (Lares uprising) in September 23, 1868, began a few days before the Grito de Yara in Cuba. Both islands ceased to be mere possessions of Spain to become nations regardless of their sovereignty or lack of it. These actions ended in the Autonomic Charter of 1897, whereby Spain approved reforms to the colonial regime in Puerto Rico and Cuba
The invasion of Puerto Rico by the United States after the Spanish-American War did not alter the fact that Puerto Rico was already a nation with no sovereignty. During the first four decades of the American domination over the island, we were regarded as the poorhouse of the Caribbean. It was not until the administration of Luis Muñoz Marín and a generation of public servants inspired by their leader and a consensus with the United States that the economy began to grow in an unprecedented fashion, to the point that in the year 1952 Puerto Rico had the second highest income per capita in Latin America. This unprecedented economic growth and a sound scheme of labor laws enabled the creation of a strong and stable middle class.
During this period the vast majority of the people of Puerto Rico consistently rejected the statehood movement because although we are U.S Citizens, we are Puerto Ricans. We are a different nation. One thing is to be associated to the United States and support said nation in most international positions and another thing is to pretend to be something that we are not.
Conscious of this fact, the political party that proposes statehood has been trying to get a vote in favor of said form of status by the necessity of the people, not by the conviction that said status is good for Puerto Rico and the United States. Instead of enhancing economic activity, they promote dependency. That is why they attack the productive capacity of Puerto Rico in many ways. They sponsored the elimination of some incentives to the manufacturing sector that affected more than 100,000 well paid jobs and at the same time dismantled the Puerto Rico Minimum Wage Board and substituted well paid jobs with part time jobs without benefits.
Labor laws are presently intended to benefit the mega stores, affecting the distribution channel and small retail businesses. They privatized the government health care system, giving away many public hospitals, and replaced it with a system based on profits, not the health of the people, aside from adopting corruption and dishonesty as a form of government.
They also support the Jones Act, which requires that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried on U.S. flagged ships, making it more expensive to import and export goods to and from Puerto Rico, notwithstanding the fact that other territories are excluded from the act. In sum, the pro-statehood leaders, not the members of said political party, are the worst enemies of economic growth and transparency in government.
Labor laws are crucial for social justice and the creation of a middle class that ensures the stability of the society. People who are treated unfairly eventually make the abuser pay or, as happened in the recent nonviolent resistance of July 2019, an incompetent governor was ousted from his position. The truth is that Puerto Rico is a nation, a country, our patria and cannot be a state.
Frank Zorrilla served as Labor secretary under the administration of former Gov. Sila María Calderón and practices labor and corporate law, among other specialties.