- Remember the Spanish-American War? Part of it involved the invasion of Puerto Rico, primarily because of sugar interests. During the last years of Spanish rule, Puerto Rico had been given a semi-independent status, including a constitution and voting rights and had its own local parliament. The local economy was mostly based on coffee. Both that independent status and economy were wiped out by the U.S. which made the island an "unincorporated territory." You broke it, you bought it should apply.
- Puerto Ricans became citizens in 1917, largely as a way for the U.S. to use them to defend the Panama Canal during World War I. That citizenship did not, however, come with voting rights.
- The modern economy is dominated by the pharmaceutical industry. To quote the husband of a friend who works for one of the companies involved, "there are some things that even New Jersey won’t allow to be manufactured on their territory."
- One of the other things inhibiting the Puerto Rican economy is the Jones Act, which requires shipping between U.S. ports to be on ships that are entirely U.S. owned and operated. This means that fuel comes almost entirely from Canada and Europe, which makes it slower to arrive and more expensive than if it came from the U.S. mainland. If the Jones Act were such a good deal for our colonies (and, let’s face it, territories are colonies), why does it explicitly not apply to the Virgin Islands? San Juan as a port has been steadily losing shipping business to other Caribbean ports because of this misguided protectionism and its unintended consequences. (It costs about three times as much to ship something via San Juan as it does via Kingston, Jamaica, for example.)
- Speaking of the failures of protectionism, I have a lot of professional experience with another example – namely the inclusion of satellite components and complete satellites on the International Traffic in Arms Regulation list. Rather than protect U.S. manufacturers, it has led to the development of "ITAR-free" satellites by some European manufacturers. Operators are willing to pay roughly a 30% premium to avoid having to deal with ITAR compliance and the resulting delays from that. Full disclosure: I own a tube of ITAR-free lip gloss, obtained by a colleague at a conference.
- So what’s my point? The infrastructure of Puerto Rico is underdeveloped largely because of policies from the mainland. That lack of modern infrastructure is a lot of what is in the way of hurricane recovery. Yes, there is corruption and bureaucracy, but that is typical in colonial economies that are designed for the benefit of the mainland. (I have ranted in the past on why former French colonies tend to be basket cases, albeit basket cases with good coffee and good bread.) Immediate hurricane relief is only part of the need. It should include revitalizing the infrastructure. But, hey, we are letting bridges and roads on the mainland crumble and those people even get to vote, so I don’t expect anything to happen.
- And, by the way, expect shortages of common medications in the meantime.
This entry was originally posted at https://fauxklore.dreamwidth.org/393197.html. Please comment there using OpenID.