A veces nos preguntamos como nos vemos a los ojos de otros paises. Aqui esta una opinion de un ex congresista Koreano.
Impressions from a trip to Puerto Rico
By Jay Kim
I visited Puerto Rico for a week in late September as a former U.S. Congressman. Puerto Rico is an island located near Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Its population is 4 million, and the country is relatively poor economically with an 18 percent unemployment rate and a $7,000 per capita income.
It is always hot and humid throughout the year there (the winters are just a little less hot), making the climate intolerable for those who grew up in a continental climate like Korea’s.
Like any tropical island, the people of Puerto Rico seem laid-back and not tough and hardheaded; perhaps this is because rushing does not lead anywhere but to the surrounding sea.
A Spanish colony for almost 400 years since Columbus discovered it in 1493; the 1898 victory of the U.S. in the Spanish-American War made it a U.S. territory. Hundreds of years of exploitation by European countries have made the native people of the island almost extinct.
In April 2000, the U.S. decided to give citizenship to people born in Puerto Rico. This was an odd decision, since from the U.S.’s perspective Puerto Rico has neither natural resources nor any special manufacturing resources.
Also, the nation’s education level is not high (18 percent college graduation rate), and the country depends primarily on tourism resources pumped in by the hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S.
There was some claiming that Puerto Rico would not be a boon to the U.S. economy, leading to debates in Congress over what to do with the island. In 1993, when I was a sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives, there was a referendum to decide the status of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Ricans were offered three choices: become an independent country, become the 51st U.S. state, or maintain its current status as a U.S. territory.
Leading up to the referendum, Congress expected the people of Puerto Rico would overwhelmingly vote to become the 51st state of the U.S.; this led some members of Congress to voice concerns about the budget to add a star to the national flag, to rewrite an amendment to the Constitution, and to revise textbooks.
Many members also said that they could not understand why Puerto Ricans would be opposed to becoming an independent country after nearly 500 years of living under the control of other powerful countries.
However, the result of the referendum was that Puerto Ricans chose to maintain their current status and remain a U.S. territory.
The generally stated rationale was that there was no reason for the island to change its status since they received every benefit a U.S. citizen has, with the added benefit of not having to pay taxes to the U.S. government.
That’s just the sort of thinking the people of a tropical island would have. Had it been Korea, the choice of independence would receive almost 100 percent of the votes.
During my recent trip, I attended a dinner with the governor of Puerto Rico, lunch with the mayor of its capital, San Juan, in the City Hall, and a cocktail party with the speaker of the House.
All of these political leaders seemed to support statehood. My impression was that their stance was based on personal interests, i.e. breaking into American politics; for them, being a major politician on the island alone is not satisfying.
If Puerto Rico was to become a U.S. state, they would be allocated two seats in the Senate and seven in the House of Representatives, and those men would have a pretty good chance to win those seats.
We as Koreans, many of whom have died for our independence, can hardly understand the thinking of those that believe that comfort from being another country’s territory is better than protecting one’s own country.
The U.S. currently has four territories other than Puerto Rico ― American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Washington, D.C., the U.S. capital. Each of them, from Puerto Rico with a population of 4 million to Samoa with a population of 660,000, has only one elected representative to the U.S. Congress.
These five representatives are treated as equal to any other U.S. Congressman and can become a chairman of a standing committee, but don’t have a vote in a plenary session.
In the U.S. Congress, these representatives are called “delegates,” or “resident commissioner” in Puerto Rico. For example, Eni Faleomavaega, the delegate from Samoa, is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
He is well known for being pro-Korea, and has frequently visited Korea as the chair of the subcommittee. Unfortunately, he does not have a final voting right on the House floor.
Another referendum on the status of Puerto Rico is expected around next year. Most Democrats in Congress agree that Puerto Rico should be the 51st state, but opposition from the Republicans is not easy to deal with, making the outcome hard to predict.
Unfortunately, the FBI’s recent arrest of 80 Puerto Rican police officers for drug trafficking, broadcast live on TV, surprised the American public. I believe that, all the more due to this event, it will be difficult for Puerto Rico to become the 51st state of the U.S.
Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).