Most of you may have heard of Wikileaks, the Website which has published troves of classified U.S State Department diplomatic cables. It has released documents dealing with countries (and U.S territories) from around the world, including Puerto Rico. The local papers didn't really cover much of what was said about the island, perhaps because it wasn't newsworthy. What was published mostly dealt with the status issue. According to the documents leaked by Wikileaks however, there was also talk of having U.S territories that receive U.S federal funding pay federal income taxes. If this were to become reality, it would certainly provoke massive demonstrations and mayhem. Given the crisis already taking place at the University of Puerto Rico, and the island's weak economy (it has been in recession for the past five years and 2011 GDP growth forecasts look bleak), it would lead to an explosive situation.
What Wikileaks published about the island was nothing scandalous, and nothing surprising. I can't help but wonder what (if any) those other classified documents would contain. So, I'll just put in my own two cents about what these possible cables might say. After all, for such a tiny island, Puerto Rico does generate quite a bit of news (mostly ignored by the U.S mainstream media though). Let me begin with corruption. This past Monday, Hector Martínez, a senate politician, was found guilty of taking bribes from a businessman and was indicted by a U.S federal court. Mr. Martinez joins a long list of cronies, from small town mayors to a former Department of Education secretary who was accused of stealing millions in federal funds. Corruption is a serious issue on the island and the most effective weapon to fight against it has been the presence of federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI.
On the topic of corruption, let's now move on to the local criminal justice system. It has been exactly a year since the mysterious death of Lorenzo González, who was 8 years old when he was murdered. No charges have been filed. However, the local Justice Department has stated that the mother, Ana Cacho, is the principal suspect. As with most crimes perpetrated on the island, it looks as though local law enforcement officials will once again let this case fall through the cracks. One of the most egregious examples is the so called "masacre de Pájaros," where 12 individuals were accused of murdering three people. Although some were indicted by a jury on conspiracy charges, the judge decided to absolve all of the accused. In a strange turn of events, one of the defendants' lawyers was allegedly seen celebrating with the judge at a nearby restaurant afterwards. In the end, some of the accused were arrested by DEA agents and are now sitting in a federal prison.
Corruption and the criminal justice system on the island are not the only areas in which the U.S federal government is closely monitoring. The U.S Department of Education has also been keeping close tabs on the island's public schools, as a majority of them (86% to be exact) have not met the testing requirements set forth by the "No Child Left Behind" policy. In terms of higher level education, it has been nearly a year since the student strikes at the University of Puerto Rico began and there is no end in sight. In fact, the strike has taken a turn for the worse. The chancellor of the Rio Piedras campus was violently attacked this week while emerging from a meeting at the university.
Violence is a matter of utmost concern in Puerto Rico. Most murders are drug-related but robberies and other types of crimes are on the rise, especially since the economy continues to stagnate. According to the latest findings in the 2010 census, there was a 2.2% population decline on the island in the past 10 years. This is mainly attributed to the migration of Puerto Ricans to the mainland in search for jobs, and not a decreasing birth rate, especially for some of the most well-educated. If the economic and social conditions continue as they are, and as the U.S economy improves, there will be a further contraction of the island's population. In the political front, the two main parties seem to be mired in perpetual bickering, both internal as well as against one another. These are tough times for Puerto Rico, and the future looks grim, but without the presence, aid and oversight of the U.S federal government, things would be in much dire shape.
In conclusion, it's unlikely that the island truly wants to become a sovereign nation, given the significant amount of federal funding it receives. The chances of Puerto Rico becoming the 51st state don't look very promising either, given both the resistance to this idea on the island and in Washington DC. The majority on the island seem complacent with the commonwealth status though. However, there's another possibility which should be taken into consideration. Given the increasing national debt and its decreasing stature as a world economic superpower, perhaps the time has come for the U.S to free itself of Puerto Rico.