Society

Why Isn't Puerto Rico a State?

Puerto Rico is not a state but an unincorporated territory in the United States.

Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the Caribbean Sea. Also known as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the island has its capital in San Juan. While Puerto Rican citizens are formally citizens of the United States, Puerto Rico is not identified as a state but as a territory, meaning citizens of Puerto Rico cannot vote in US federal elections and are not represented in congress.

History of Puerto Rico

According to historians and archeologists, the original inhabitants of Puerto Rico were known as the Ortoiroid people who engaged in fishing and hunting. These Ortoiroid people are believed to have arrived on the island before 250 BC. In the 11th century, the Taino culture was the most dominant in the island. The people who practiced the culture named the island as “Boriken” which means “the land of the noble Lord.” Christopher Columbus arrived at its shores in November 1493. Puerto Rico became a Spanish colony in 1520.

Why Isn't Puerto Rico a State?

Before becoming a territory of the United States, Puerto Rico was formerly a territory of Spain. However, during the time of the Spanish-American War, which lasted between April and August of 1898, the United States took an interest in Puerto Rico and invaded the island with the hopes of establishing a sugar market. Encouraged by the promises of economic security and prosperity, many residents of Puerto Rico aided the Americans in the fight against Spanish forces. Following an American victory and the signing of a treaty called the Treaty of Paris, Puerto Rico was handed over to the United States. However, prosperity was not brought to the island of Puerto Rico as the United States had promised. In fact, poverty in Puerto Rico became more rampant at the time of U.S. takeover.

At the time, the United States did not want to incorporate Puerto Rico as a state, citing a series of concerns over the ability for former Spanish territory to fit into the United States (these concerns were dubbed the "Insular Cases"). The "Insular Cases" focused predominantly on the differences between the United States and Puerto Rico in terms of race and language. Puerto Rico did not become a state at this time and it was not until the year 1917, when the United States wanted to maximize troop mobility, that Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens. To this day, residents of Puerto Rico do not enjoy the full privileges awarded to other American citizens. For example, Puerto Ricans cannot vote in any presidential elections, nor can they vote for a senator or congress representative.

Since the early 20th century, there have been efforts to either move towards Puerto Rican independence or statehood. An opinion poll cast in 2017 showed that a small majority of 52% of Puerto Ricans were in favor of statehood. However, results of a referendum would not be enough to grant Puerto Rico statehood, as only the voting members of U.S. Congress have the ability to finalize statehood. As many argue that the reasons that Puerto Rico was never accepted as a state were racially discriminatory, the roadblocks that still remain on the pathway to potential statehood are controversial.

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