A little background on the Territories
Disaster relief has come to Houston after Hurricane Harvey and to Florida following Hurricane Irma fairly rapidly. Puerto Rico, hit much harder by
Hurricane Maria remains largely without electricity and water, and relief has suffered from delivery and distribution problems.
Our president has told us that it is because the ocean is large; trucks could get to Florida and Texas easily. Really?
The Atlantic is big, but Puerto Rico is in the Caribbean, not exactly on the other side of the world.
Where’s the holdup?
Before looking into that let’s look at Puerto Rico and its status as a U.S. Territory. What exactly is involved with being a territory? As it turns out it depends on which territory. You might be surprised, as I was, to find that the U.S. has nine territories.
I knew about Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and even the Marshal Islands, but have you heard of The Federated States of Micronesia or the Republic of Palau? The complete list of U.S. Territories is: American Samoa, Guam, Federated States of Micronesia, Midway Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Republic of Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
It might surprise you to find that the residents of some of these territories are citizens of the U.S. while others aren’t. Some are considered to be citizens but can’t vote except in some cases during the Primary elections. This ability is not a constitutional right. It is granted by Congress.
These territories are considered to be countries with treaties with the U.S. Some, like Puerto Rico and Guam, were ceded to the U.S. by Spain. Others, like the U.S. Virgin Islands were purchased. Some merely signed contracts that guaranteed military protection while allowing business interests to access raw goods.
Puerto Rican residents are non-voting U.S. Citizens, as long as they stay on the island. If they move to the mainland they can vote. Some objection was made to Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor’s appointment to the Supreme Court claiming that she was an immigrant. Actually, her parents were citizens when they moved to the mainland from Puerto Rico. You don't need a passport to come here from Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico made application to become the 51st State years ago, but in order for that to happen, Congress has to approve it, and the president has to sign off on it. Since it is feared that Puerto Ricans would vote overwhelming as Democrats there has been little sentiment in Congress to make Puerto Rico a state.
There are those who don’t want to evacuate any of the residents of Puerto Rico to the mainland as a humanitarian rescue effort because the rescued might end up in Florida, stay, and make the swingiest of swing states vote Democrat.
Another factor in the humanitarian response has been the Jones Act. The Jones Act was passed in 1920 to protect U.S. merchant marine interests.
We went on a cruise to Hawaii in 2007. We sailed from San Diego on Royal Caribbean to Hawaii. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL) sails under a “Flag of Convenience” registered in the Bahamas. This registration meant that our cruise ship could not sail out of, and return to, the same port without first docking in a foreign port. So, on the way back, during the night of the fifth day at sea on the return trip, we technically docked in Mexico. Despite being founded as a Norwegian company, RCCL is now headquartered in Miami, but because it is registered in the Bahamas it is considered a foreign ship line.
An amazing number of ships are registered under Bahamian, Panamanian or Liberian flags.
Foreign registered ships cannot sail directly to Puerto Rico and deliver relief supplies. They must first stop in Florida, off-load supplies, and a U.S. registered ship has to deliver the supplies to Puerto Rico under stipulations of the Jones Act.
That’s right; all supplies shipped to Puerto Rico must arrive by a U.S. merchant ship. This means that everything in Puerto Rico costs about 20% more than it would on the mainland. Puerto Rico is treated like a colony and its residents are treated as half citizens.
President Trump finally suspended the Jones Act provisions for Puerto Rico relief as a result of all of the cries of indignation.
The average difference between Republican and Democratic Party votes in the last general elections has been 18,000. That is less than 1% of the vote. RCCL could deliver supplies to Puerto Rico and then load up with Puerto Ricans needing medical help. Some of those ships carry a crew of about 2000 and a passenger list of 3000. Six trips would balance the vote in Florida, and ten might swing it permanently to the Democrats. But, of course, this is relief effort is not about politics.
Perhaps the most damning thing for Puerto Rico is that the residents speak primarily Spanish and not “Murican”. The fact that many older Puerto Ricans and residents in the more rural areas speak only Spanish creates the idea in the minds of many people on the mainland that Puerto Ricans on the mainland are immigrants.
There are about 4,000,000 people living in the U.S. territories. Of these, about 18,000 are Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, yet they cannot vote. One in eight Guamanians is a U.S. military veteran who can’t vote for their commander-in-chief.