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This information originally appeared in Spanish in Puerto Rico’s Vocero newspaper. While politicians on the island from all political parties play the partisan game, according to the US Census, Puerto Rico is facing worsening economic and social conditions.

Puerto Rico has become a poor country, that is more dependent, with more disabled people. The working age population is now the minority, their participation in the labor market is minimal and they are less educated.  A quarter of the population lives in poverty, according to 2010 Census.

Here are some facts:

  • There are 311,000 people who live alone. That equates to one in five of all 1.319 million Puerto Rican households 1,319 million. The average number of people in other households is 3.2.
  • Half of the families in Puerto Rico are married couples, and 43 percent of them have children. A third of households are headed by women. There are now 700,000 thousand children. There are more people over 65 in Puerto Rico than children, creating a dependent population.
  • Each year there are 17,000 marriages, while there are 15,000 divorces. Almost half of couples who have a home are not married.
  • 52 percent of the population are women.
  • 15 percent of the population is over 65 years old.
  • In 42 percent of the families, there is a person over 65 years old, which means that this elderly population does not have sufficient income to live alone.
  • In the area of ​​education, a quarter of the island’s total population, one million people, is comprised of students, including adults, adolescents, and children. However, the majority of the adult population has attained a high school education. The level of education is 22 percent, which suggests that the poverty rate has increased.
  • 80 percent of teachers in the public school system are not in English, while 63 percent of university students do not graduate. 60 percent of public school students do not master basic skills in Spanish.
  • Only one in five Puerto Ricans have mastered English skills, thus reducing the bilingual labor market.
  • There are 2,444,000 people who 25 years or older. 20 percent of  this population has ninth grade education or less, 11 percent complete Grade 11, while only 25 percent have completed fours years of high school.
  • 63 percent of the population have a college education or lower education.
  • On the island there are 400,000 people with college degrees, or 16 percent of the population. Only 6 percent if the population or 154,000 people have a graduated degrees The total number of people with undergraduate or graduate degrees is only 22 percent of the population.
  • There are 113,000 veterans Puerto Ricans living on the Island
  • Meanwhile, there are 726 000 people with disabilities, or 20 percent of the population. 52 percent of people over 65 has some form of disability, and children represent 7 percent of the disabled population. There are 67,000 students in special education. Disabled adults and children account for 1.5 million people, or one third of the population.
  • There are 200,000 Puerto Ricans born in the U.S., or 5 percent of the population. Another 304,000 were born outside the United States, while the rest of the population was born on the island.
  • In terms of economics, the study revealed that a 250,000 families (with 3.2 members per household) live on less than $ 10,000 annually, or $ 800 per month, which equals $ 240 a month per household member.
  • Women are discriminated against by receiving less pay and have worse working conditions, while the average monthly income of retirees is $ 668 from Social Security.
  • The labor force is 1.2 million, a quarter of the population. The participation rate is one million, less than 39 percent of the total population. Only 39% of older people who work.
  • Almost half the population lives below the poverty line: 45 percent of 3.7 million.Less than 40,000 families have incomes more than $ 100 000. 37 percent of the population depends on the federal Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP).
  • In the last decade has been over half a million Puerto Ricans have left the island, which results is a fleeing of knowledge from the island.
  • 40 percent of the population receives 8 percent of the country’s income, while the remaining 92 percent goes into the hands of 60% of the population, which implies an unequal distribution of wealth.
  • On issues related to the population of all Puerto Ricans in the United States, there are now 4.2 million Puerto Ricans living in the United States. This signifies a greater diaspora, when compared to countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Palestines.
  • The population of people under 18 years old fell to 17 percent.
  • Puerto Rico has become a nation without a working class, with poor, dependent, disabled and marginalized people.

The island has been in decline, according to data that could be classified as the worst since the first census conducted in 1950. Is it the lost decade?

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With the news yesterday that Puerto Rican gubernatorial candidate Alejandro García Padilla of the island’s Popular Democratic Party announced the candidacy of Washington lawyer Rafael Cox Alomar as his party’s choice for Resident Commissioner, the conversation has turned to how a candidate like Cox Alomar, who has no legislative experience, represents a conscious decision by the PPD’s current leadership to maintain the island’s commonwealth (and colonial) relationship with the United States. At at time when the island continues to wrestle with its 113-year-old colonial relationship with a country that invaded it in 1898, the PPD has clearly stated its case: the status quo is the way to go. Why rock the boat. Sure, we are suffering from one of the worst recessions in the history of Puerto Rico, but God Bless the USA, they will see us through this.

Reaction to Cox Alomar’s nomination has, not surprisingly, been partisan in nature. Republican and pro-statehood Governor Luis Fortuño went on record yesterday saying he doesn’t even know who Cox Alomar is, when asked by reporters. Pro-statehood representative José “Pichy” Torres Zamora said he welcomed Cox Alomar’s candidacy, calling him “the Resident Commission candidate that nobody in the Popular Democratic Party wanted.”

Cox Alomar’s position on Puerto Rico’s status is pretty clear: in an essay he wrote in 2010, he was quick to defend the current commonwealth system, and also labeled that those sectors in the island who are pushing for a free associated state outside of the commonwealth arrangement as “neo-independence” believers who are harming the island. As he writes in a piece about the “myths of status:”

What about the neo-independence supporters (who call themselves “sovereign”)? Are you talking about independence in the context of Puerto Rico as a model of free association that already exists in the archipelago of Micronesia?

In his essay, Cox Alomar criticizes the freely associated states of Micronesia as being utter failures, and that creating a Puerto Rican political system will suffer with its own self-funded model, basically suggesting that the island cannot survive without continued financial aid from the United States. In other words, without its colonizer feeding the entitlement machine (Puerto Ricans receive several entitlements from the federal government and has become as classic example of a “welfare nation”), Puerto Rico cannot survive as a country. It is a hard argument to substantiate, since there has never been a case where Puerto Rico has ever been self-sustaining. Once a colony, always a colony.

We argue that Cox Alomar’s position is short-sighted and does not speak to the economic reality that is occurring in Washington these days. When national presidential candidates talk of cutting government spending and the GOP wing of the Congress calls for even more entitlement cuts, there will come a time when Puerto Rico will be on the table. When GOP rhetoric towards US Latinos borders on tinges of hate and ignorance and racism, it is highly unlikely that a new Republican administration will agree that the current economic relationship with Puerto Rico is a good one.

Both Cox Alomar and García Padilla have decided to take their chances on the hope that when push comes to shove, the United States will continue to give Puerto Rico billions and billions of government handouts. In addition, since the position of Resident Commissioner does not even carry a vote in the US Congress, this strategy is just a pipe dream. Without a vote, Puerto Rico is still beholden to the US Congress. That is a risky gamble to take, and it does not speak to the belief that now more than ever, Puerto Rico must take control of its own destiny.

All the law degrees in the world won’t help. In the end, the PPD leadership for the next election is promoting the idea that the status quo is the way to go. Long live colonialism. It is the only thing Puerto Ricans have known for hundreds of years. Why change it now?

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The more things change, the more they stay the same. As the island of Puerto Rico continues to face the challenges of a crumbling economy as well as 113-year-old colonial relationship with the United States, the main opposition to Republican and pro-statehood Governor Luis Fortuño—Alejandro García Padilla of the pro-commonwealth Popular Party (PPD)—continues to lack the political courage to capitalize on a growing sentiment among Puerto Rican voters that the current political system is no longer working.

Today, García Padilla announced his choice for Resident Commissioner, a non-voting member of Congress in Washington, DC. His candidate? Rafael Cox Alomar, whom García Padilla described as a true defender of the “Associated Free State (ELA) and permanent union with the United States.”

As García Padilla stated in an email to supporters today:

Cox Alomar is the ideal person to represent us in Washington. Rafael will go to the Federal Capitol to put the people first. He will not be motivated by ideological agendas or unaccredited status processes. He will go to Washington to create jobs, to improve our security, open up new doors of educational opportunities for our children, and increase health services for our people.

García Padilla’s message is generic and hints at the fact that the PPD there is no urgent need to resolve the island’s political status. It is still colonial in nature and gladly accepts that more of the same thing is the way to go. While Fortuño faced criticism for pushing a two-step plebiscite that would still be non-binding, he at least pushed the envelope, and most would think that it was done out of political desperation since the incumbent is still behind García Padilla in the polls. García Padilla, on the other hand, is clearly running on the fact that going back to a pro-commonwealth administration will solve the island’s ills. But we would argue that Puerto Rico’s next governor needs to be bolder, and unfortunately, García Padilla does not fit that bill.

Cox Alomar, to put it mildly, has no real legislative experience in Washington, having cut his teeth in DC’s private law world. Although his education is highly impressive (Harvard Law School, Oxford), he is certainly not the kind of candidate that Puerto Rico needs right now in Washington. What DC needs is a political shaker, while the Governor takes care of economic matters on the island. Cox Alomar, with his impressive resume, in the end looks like more of the same, just another Washington insider who knows how to play within the system and not outside it.

The timing is ripe to have more political options in Puerto Rico, and that goes for the Puerto Rican Independence Party as well, which still seems to be stuck in 1961.

Here is Cox Alomar’s bio:

RAFAEL COX ALOMAR

Education

Rafael Cox Alomar received his J.D. degree from Harvard Law School in 2004, where he was a member of the Harvard International Law Journal. Mr. Cox Alomar received a D.Phil. degree from the University of Oxford (Trinity College) in 2001, where he was a Marshall Scholar. He was awarded a B.A., Magna Cum Laude with Distinction in all subjects, from Cornell University in 1997.

Experience

Mr. Cox Alomar, having practiced for the last six years in some of the most prestigious international law firms in Washington D.C., has represented clients on a wide array of dispute resolution and transactional matters. More specifically, he has acted as counsel on eight international arbitrations before the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) representing, among others, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the Republic of Chile, the Republic of the Philippines and Électricité de France. Moreover, Mr. Cox Alomar also acted as co-counsel in the successful representations both of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in Rodríguez v. PRFAA, 435 F. 3d 378 (D.C. Cir. 2006) and the Republic of Ecuador in Republic of Ecuador v. Chevron Texaco Corporation, 499 F. Supp. 2d 452 (S.D.N.Y. 2007).

More recently, Mr. Cox Alomar acted on behalf of several multilateral lending institutions such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Corporación Interamericana para el Financiamiento de la Infraestructura, S.A. (CIFI). Of particular relevance is his co-representation of the IDB in its first ever Yen-denominated loan — which consisted of nineteen billion six hundred million Yen (¥ 19,600,000,000) to finance the capital expenditures of a Brazilian steel conglomerate. This deal closed on March 27, 2009 and received raving reviews in the Latin Lawyer Magazine (Vol. 8, Issue 4).

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