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Reiterating The Risks To Puerto Rico’s Political And Economic Stability: Part 2

by Arturo J. Guzmán

Viewpoint, The San Juan Star

December 1, 2002
Copyright © 2002 SAN JUAN STAR. All rights reserved. 

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two column series. To view part 1 in this series, click here.

My previous column reviewed a March 22, 1990 news conference in which I warned that if plebiscites were inconclusive and did not produce a needed change in the Island’s political-economic condition, Puerto Rico would emerge in an even weaker and more vulnerable situation because these processes would make more frail the impermanent nature of our territorial status and that of our American nationality and citizenship.

Twelve years ago, I also brought to public attention the importance of researching, planning and preparing Puerto Rico’s economy for the day when a free and democratic Cuba re-entered its former regional competitive role. This initiative had to wait until 1993 when Baltasar Corrada del Río became Puerto Rico’s Secretary of State and at my suggestion hosted a number of meetings at the State Department with members of the government and the private sector, as the preparatory steps leading to the creation of a formal group that would conduct investigations, studies and offer their conclusions and recommendations for fast-track implementation.

Unfortunately by the time these efforts were to be formalized Mr. Corrada resigned as Secretary of State to become an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico. Although, prior to parting he stressed to his successor the importance of continuing these efforts, Norma Burgos chose not pursuit the matter any further. To the best of my knowledge that was the last time this vital question was formally or officially given any serious consideration until in recent days Calderón brought the controversial subject of trading with Cuba to public attention.

Given Calderón’s past conduct and trajectory, beginning with the invitation of Hugo Chávez to her inaugural, I hold no expectations that she would base a decision to trade or not with Castro on moral, principled or humanitarian criteria she appears unable even to recognize. As a matter of fact according to their own expressions, Calderón and other members of her regime appear eager to conduct trade and business with a dictator that for over forty years has incurred in the most crass acts of human rights violations, that the Cuban economy is based upon slave labor, and that profits from business ventures will affirm Castro’s oppression of the Cuban people.

However, what one may expect from her is that Calderón would base any such decision on sound economic policy and a sense of self-preservation for the economic interests of the colonial oligarchy and order she represents. Let me repeat that at no time since 1898 has Puerto Rico’s political-economic mode been made so vulnerable to unilateral action on the part of the U.S. Congress.

Simply stated, Puerto Rico’s current condition cannot withstand the impact of Cuba’s re-insertion and avoid severe political, economic and social dislocation. Even under a best case scenario of a more competitive and "level playing field" provided if Cuba resumed competitiveness as a free and democratic and capitalist nation, within five years Puerto Rico’s population would be subject to pre 1950 economic and social levels and once again would have to resort to trying to force the mass migration of its population.

To encourage trade under Castro, as Calderón is evidently trying to do, is even more suicidal for Puerto Rico’s economy. There is no space in this column to review the entire situation, but suffice it to state that Cuba has a well-educated, bi-lingual labor force, working under slave labor conditions. There are no environmental laws, trade unions, and the cost of importing raw materials is less due to the shorter distance to the sources.

If the trade embargo were lifted, Florida and other Eastern states, Texas, Louisiana and others have already made multi-billion Dollar investments to their infrastructure to prepare and meet the potential Cuban market demands. There are at least a million Cuban-Americans, well financed and politically empowered, poised to seek these opportunities with products that are less expensive and more competitive than those manufactured in Puerto Rico, and at a closer distance. Because it is so self-evident, I will not even comment on staple Puerto Rican products such as rum, or on the impact on the local financing, construction and tourism industries. Conversely, since trade is a two way street, soon you would find Puerto Rico’s market saturated with cheaper Cuban products.

In summary, Puerto Rico can only surmount the renewed competition from Cuba by becoming a state of the Union, and in so doing acquiring the political and economic power that would allow it with other states in assisting in Cuban reconstruction. The other competitive alternative would be if Puerto Rico were to become an independent nation provided that Puerto Ricans as a people proved willing to turn the clock back and conform to the political, social, and economic standards of other countries in the region. That last alternative may be the hidden purpose behind Calderón agenda in trying to precipitate the situation seemingly against all logic and economic convention.

Fortunately, Calderón wont be able to act on her own desires, because as an American territory Puerto Rico must abide by federal statute and it is highly unlikely under current conditions that the newly elected Republican congressional majority will repeal the Cuban trade embargo. Nor is it likely that President Bush would change his commitment to veto any such legislation. In conclusion, it will be the Republicans in the White House and Congress that will stand and save Puerto Rico from the designs of the malevolent totalitarians in the region: Calderon, Chávez and Castro.

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