The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is a political and economic anachronism.
Twenty-five years ago the establishment of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was the official U.S. response to the worldwide process of decolonization. It was the "showcase of democracy" for colonial peoples and underdeveloped countries, the U.S. model of how a country could pull itself out of poverty "by its own bootstraps" through an intimate political and economic relationship with the United States.
By 1977, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has become a source of embarrassment to the United States. Today Puerto Rico is one of the few colonies left in the world. It is an extreme example of social deterioration, with some of the world's highest indexes for drug addiction, alcoholism, broken families, and criminality. The economy is admittedly decadent: real personal income has decreased since 1973, real unemployment rates fluctuate between 30 and 40 percent, while 71 percent of all households depend on the U.S. food-stamp program.1
The world has changed. The United States has changed. Puerto Rico has changed. But the legal and economic structures of Commonwealth status remain unaltered, a bar to economic, social and political development congruent with the new realities. Commonwealth is a brittle residue of the cold war, a pawn left over from a game of international politics long since concluded.
On December 31, 1976, President Gerald Ford declared that he would submit to Congress legislation for the admission of Puerto Rico to the Union as a state. President Ford's Tory farewell to the bicentennial year of