The book How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States (2019) by Dr. Daniel Immerwahr asks: When have you seen a USA map that includes Puerto Rico (PR)? That question leads to formulate another one: Is a USA map complete in 2020 leaving out America’s populated unincorporated territories? Those territories are: Guam (GU), Northern Mariana Islands (MP), United States Virgin Islands (VI), PR, and American Samoa (AS). Those born in four of these territories are American citizens (exception: AS). The most populated of the territories is PR with 3.2 million inhabitants followed by Guam with nearly 165,000 residents. The difference is significant, PR has nearly 20 times the population of Guam and more citizens than 20 individual states of the USA.
This is so despite the population decline that PR faces due to multiple factors; namely, the collapse in 2006 of its economic model (expiration of tax incentives to transnational corporations under Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Code of the USA), the financial crisis of 2008, and the catastrophic damages resulting from hurricanes Irma and María in 2017. Interestingly, PR maintains a gross domestic product ($100 billion USD) that is similar to or greater than 13 individual states of the USA.
According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as of 2017 PR had three times the per capita debt of Connecticut, then the highest of the U.S. states. That debt per person in PR is $17,000 as per estimates of the CIA -excluding unfunded obligations. Moreover, in 2016 PR became the only American jurisdiction (territory or state) that has defaulted on general obligations bonds since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Since 2017, PR is in a bankruptcy proceeding presided by Laura Taylor Swain, a judge of the federal district court for the Southern District of New York. As suggested last month by Avik Roy in an article published by Forbes, something that can help alleviate the finances of PR is a corporate tax exemption for generic drug manufacturers. This can also help to reduce America’s dependence on China for generics in light of the present pandemic as reportedly 9 out 10 antibiotics used in the USA come from China.
By mid-March, I sent a note to the newsroom of The New York Times (NYT) asking them to consider including unincorporated territories in the USA map with Covid-19 cases. On April 1, the cases reported by PR were less than 300 and as of April 28, 2020 the confirmed infections there were slightly more than 1,400. I was able to learn that because since this month (April) there is an archipelago (PR), south of Florida, in the USA map published by the NYT.
The point is that since 1898, the USA map includes unincorporated territories (a category invented in 1901). There should be no doubt as to that, and for those who prefer finances over cartography, the following is particularly impressive. On March 27, President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, entailing a historic $2.2 trillions federal appropriation. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), $2.2 billions have been appropriated for PR, this is more than the funds destined for 24 individual states under that law.
Going back to Immerwahr’s question, the answer is: I saw a USA map including PR since April 1, 2020 in the NYT. Also, by mid-March, I sent a note to The Washington Post. That note invited them to include the five populated unincorporated territories in their compilation of national statistics of Covid-19 infections. Now, in April, alongside PR, I’ve seen in The Washington Post the other four territories: GU, MP, VI and AS.
This month represents a sign of progress in terms of presenting the map of the USA as it is. I don’t know if my messages had something to do with that; however, what matters is that territories have been included in two important maps. One of the maps shows that, as of this date, the only American state or territory without positive Covid-19 cases or deaths is AS.
Manuel Román-Basora received his A.B. and M.P.A. from Puerto Rico’s flagship university; his master’s thesis was: The Applicability of the United States Constitution to the Unincorporated Territory of Puerto Rico (1898-1952). Currently, he holds an assistantship at the Department of Public Administration of the University of Illinois, Springfield and is completing in person his doctoral elective coursework at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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