IN 1952 America granted self-rule to the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, which it had obtained from Spain in 1898. Last year Congress in effect revoked that autonomy, by creating a control board capable of vetoing any item in Puerto Rico’s budget.
The reversal was hardly an act of imperial gluttony. The island had issued $70bn in debt, far more than its stagnant economy could hope to sustain. But because Puerto Rico is not a state, its public companies could not use the bankruptcy code used by insolvent borrowers like Detroit. That raised the spectre of a chaotic default.
In response, Congress passed a law with a tough trade-off. To obtain a bankruptcy-like proceeding that would shield the wayward island from its creditors, Puerto Rico had to relinquish control of its finances. Nonetheless, the policy bolstered the argument long made by proponents of both statehood and independence: that Puerto Ricans have no right to self-determination. “The creation of the…Continue reading