Can an independent Puerto Rico work out?

I don’t think so, here are a few points:

1. Any deal would involve a transition period.  During that period, many more Puerto Ricans would move to the mainland than if there were no deal.  You may or may not think that is a good outcome, but it is not exactly what the “cut them loose” proponents have in mind.  “Let’s make Puerto Rico independent so we can have more Puerto Ricans in the United States” is not a winning rally cry for anyone.

2. The Caribbean as a region has been doing dismally for a few decades now.  Puerto Rico is by far the wealthiest part of the Caribbean, small tax and finance havens aside.   Without a connection to the United States, Puerto Rico might regress to Dominican Republic levels of income, GNI of roughly 24k vs. 15k.

3. The best thing about independence is that the deal might allow a “pure default” by the Puerto Rican government.  Still, that could be arranged under a version of the status quo.  Default plus independence would shred the Puerto Rican safety net at least for a few years, perhaps forever.  If you think their future is one of falling per capita income, that safety net never would recover.  You might believe that such a safety net is in some ways holding Puerto Rico back (true), but if the natural trajectory is to lose both population and per capita income, removing that safety net won’t do much good either.

So it’s simply not clear what is to be gained from independence.  On top of that another referendum would be needed, given that Puerto Ricans have rejected the notion in the past.  What if they still opt for a continuing attachment to the mainland?  That process then will have produced a few years of electoral uncertainty, with no change in the final outcome, as if the UK suddenly decided to reverse its Brexit decision.

Puerto Rico is very likely to remain a part of the United States, one way or another.


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