No More Bananas
By Tony Candela
Puerto Rico has once again been victimized. Before we react by calling it a “sh-t-hole country” an expression used by a former President to refer to some places in the Caribbean and Central America, let’s stop and understand what is going on. My plea is for an end to the perpetuating cycle (flooding, poor health, poverty, low educational attainment) that enables places like Puerto Rico to remain vulnerable to the environment and social disadvantage. The same plea should be made for places like Appalachia and every inner city in this country.
In his book, How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States (2019), Daniel Immerwahr describes the long history of Puerto Rico and especially its status since the U.S. gained possession of the island from Spain after the Spanish-American War (1898). Since then, the history of the island has included heated internal debate about which existential form should Puerto Rico occupy: independent country, commonwealth (its status since its constitution was passed around 1950), or statehood, the only realistic alternative on the table these days. For much of its history with the United States, stereotypes such as those in an original version of the musical “West Side Story” included: “ugly island” of “tropic diseases,” with “hurricanes blowing” and its “population growing”. The commonwealth had been criticized for perpetuating an overcrowded environment, but as air travel enabled its women to migrate to the mainland with relative ease, the population began to moderate. Recently, the U.S. census shows an eleven percent drop over the past few years. Still, the island remains crowded. Its infra-structure is still vulnerable to hurricanes. Now, five years after hurricane Maria devastated the island and billions of FEMA dollars have poured in, there is a new problem. Global warming is causing massive amounts of rain to fall as illustrated by the latest victimization, hurricane Fiona. Although power was knocked out again, suggesting the FEMA money and the private utility Luma Energy has done little, flooding did most of the damage this time. There is reported to be on the ground markedly more food-stores, generators, and other recovery resources, but not nearly as much new building has taken place since hurricane Maria, mainly, according to a radio report I heard, due to FEMA over-caution. Thus, significant funding was only released a year ago by the Biden administration.
What will it take for Puerto Rico to stand firm against nature and on its own two feet economically? What will it take for the commonwealth to become the 51st State of the Union?
While I have no expertise in these areas, I can say that it is time to finally and totally dispense with the image of Puerto Rico as yet another “banana republic”. I have visited Puerto Rico several times, making sure never to miss an opportunity to tour the Bacardi rum factory. I ran a half marathon there and wrote about it in my memoir “Stand Up Or Sit Out” (see below). Its people are warm and serious about the place in which they live. Those who want a better life than available on the island freely migrate to places like New York City. Many go back and forth. It is said that the Puerto Rican government and those responsible for maintaining and growing its infra-structure are not up to the task. Perhaps it is time for P.R. to benefit from reverse-migration. Puerto Ricans from the mainland may need to return to help their homeland get ready for the next stage in its evolution.
Meanwhile, let’s see how long it takes this time for power to be restored to every Puerto Rican; bridges rebuilt; power stations and lines hardened, not only against devastating hurricane winds, but rising water levels; and so much more. Since the mid-20th century, the island has hitched its wagon to the U.S. economy. Tax breaks once enticed several companies there. Trade with the U.S. has been indispensable. Tariffs that might ensue should the island become independent are considered a death-nell. Statehood would provide representation in Congress and protections not currently available to the commonwealth. A 51st star on our flag should not be too disruptive.
What pre-requisites might be needed for Puerto Rico to become a State? Certainly, the stereotypes will need to disappear. An improved economy, significant steps toward a rebuilt infra-structure, and increased expertise on the island to run its government and manage its internal affairs seem reasonable. It is up to us to help push the agenda forward. If P.R. could have done this on its own, it would have done so by now. There should be no chicken-and-egg complexity. Let’s band together and drive the vehicles that will enable Puerto Rico to be less victimized in the future.
Anthony R. Candela, Author
Saying aloud what should not remain silent.
Books by Tony…
Stand Up Or Sit Out: Memories and Musings Of a Blind Wrestler, Runner, and All-around Regular Guy
A memoir about life lessons learned, especially through sports
Vision Dreams: A Parable
A sci-fi novella about how a dysfunctional society forces people to go to extremes, including four blind people who seek out artificial vision.
buy his books at: https://www.amazon.com/~/e/B08MT8WQ42
More About Tony…
Tony Candela has worked as a Rehabilitation Counselor, supervisor, manager consultant and administrator for more than 40 years in the field of blindness and visual impairment. His work has included promoting literacy and employment of blind persons and a special interest in enhancing the career preparation of blind persons who wish to work in the computer science field. He is a “retired” athlete, loves movies, sports, reading, writing, and music, including dabbling in guitar.
Check him out and follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/anthonyrcandelaauthor