SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson traveled to Puerto Rico on Sunday to support the U.S. territory becoming the 51st state, saying that would strengthen the United States.
Carson attended a political rally of statehood supporters and pledged to advocate for statehood for the island.
He said Puerto Rico has done much to justify becoming a state, pointing to its century-long association with the United States and the participation of its residents in fighting U.S. wars.
"We probably have more patriotic Puerto Ricans than almost any other state. Look at all the contributions that have been made to America. So you know you have already paid your dues. When you look at all the other territories that became states, very few of them have met all of the requirements that Puerto Rico has. So there is really no reason that we should not be doing this," Carson said.
He said the current financial problems of Puerto Rico's government, which is trying to refinance $72 billion in public debt and spark an economy that has been in a slump for nearly a decade, is no reason to deny statehood.
"Puerto Rico's current debt problems are the result of it being treated unfairly as a territory and the situation would improve once the island wins equal treatment under statehood," he said
"The last two states, Hawaii and Alaska, also had a significant problem financially until they became states - then things took off and that will happen here as well," Carson added.
His one-day trip to Puerto Rico follows visits to the island by fellow Republican candidates Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, who have also expressed support for statehood.
In four nonbinding referendums on the island's status held over the past half century, the idea of statehood has never won a clear majority from Puerto Rican voters. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but those living on the island do not owe federal income taxes, paying only Social Security and Medicare taxes to the federal government. Their one member in Congress doesn't have a vote.