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Puerto Rico . . . not so rich after all . . .

By Juan J Miret

Cristóbal Colón arrived to the stunning Puerto Rico in 1493 on his second voyage to the New World. San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, was established on the northern coast in 1521. The fortified port withstood many foreign assaults over nearly 400 years at the preeminent Spanish stronghold in the Caribbean.

Puerto Rico became an American tenure in 1898 along with the Philippines and Guam following the US victory in the Spanish American War. Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship with full passport rights under the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917. The island has held a distinctive status as a Commonwealth of the USA since 1952.

Puerto Rico has made great strides economically since achieving Commonwealth status. Today, the island is a favored port of call for major cruise ship lines and features a very strong pharmaceutical industry. A vibrant Puerto Rican community in the USA has been a strong influence on American modern culture.

From El Viejo San Juan to sandy beaches, lush rainforest to bustling casinos, Puerto Rico offers a diversity of exotic and superb natural beauty for everyone.

However, this beautiful island has another face.

Beyond his natural monuments and colossal hotels and welcoming people, Puerto Rico’s annual income per person was around $12,000 in 2005 (according with the Puerto Rico Agency for Negotiating Development and Change), less than Mississippi, the poorest state.
lso, according with the Federal Department of Social Services, more than 48% of the island’s people live below the federally poverty line. That poverty rate is nearly 4 times the national average and more than twice as high as in poor states such as Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia.

Puerto Rico ought to be doing much better, because being part of the USA gives it many advantages over low income economies. Most important may be American’s legal system, which offers outstanding protection, by developing economic standards, for private property, contracts, patents, free speech and so forth.

These guarantees tend to attract outside capital, spur local investment and let commerce and innovation flourish. The island can also trade freely with the giant mainland economy. And its workers can migrate to and from the 50 states at will, gaining skills, creating business connections and making money.

Puerto Rico has needed over the past few decades medium tech plants. The island already has a very advance high technology industry sector. Drug firms and chemical producers have built factories that used lots of capital but a few workers, because doing so, lowered their global tax bills. Indeed High Tech sounds great but the island with a more medium tech environment will be able to employ more workers, teach them skills better suited to the island’s level of development. More service jobs for the unskilled would be good, too. Steven Davis at the University of Chicago’s Business School has pointed out that jobs in tourism and recreation engaged a lower share of the workforce in Puerto Rico (despite its beautiful beaches) than in any other state.

Puerto Rico’s bloated government also bears much of the blame. Around 30% of the territory’s jobs are in the public sector.

Americans are oblivious to the island’s problems. America cannot be indifferent about the real face of the island.

Puerto Rico deserves better, much better.

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