The financially troubled island now says it is unable to pay an estimated $72 billion debt, casting a pall on bond markets and pension funds. On the surface, Puerto Rico’s debt crisis is one of run-away spending on public welfare, with a diminishing small tax and economic base to support it. However, the island’s troubles are also tied to its commonwealth status: Puerto Rico is part of the United States but it lacks the local autonomy afforded to other U.S. states and electoral representation in Congress.
It is finally time for Puerto Rico to break free. Independence would allow Puerto Ricans to directly address their economic woes, but, perhaps more important, it will grant the island’s 3.5 million inhabitants the right to determine their own destiny. On July 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston ruled that Puerto Rico couldn’t restructure its own debt. Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory bars the island from requesting bailout funds from other development banks. Independence, nationalists argue, would allow the commonwealth to make these and other autonomous choices.