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Status for Puerto Rico remains a conundrum despite Nov. 6 vote

Op Ed by Antonio Barrios, La Prensa

Nov. 6, 2012: The vote is in and the tallies have been taken. A seemingly majority vote has been cast but does it resolve the question of Puerto Rico’s status? Questions and doubt still trouble the enchanted island.

Puerto Rico, a long time territory of the United States, has been battling its own state of existence since before the 1960s.  Four plebiscites have not been able to set the question to rest in a definitive manner.

In the 1960s, the first significant plebiscite did not result in any change; it seems the residents of Puerto Rico wanted to maintain the status quo, that is, to remain a territory of the United States. The same for the one in the 1970s but in the plebiscite of the 1990s a new question was added which was:  none of the above.

Antonio Barrios

This was a striking difference from the other editions of the plebiscites. According to local informed sources, this was the beginning of a great change for Puerto Rico. For many years most Puerto Ricans were content with the so called, “Estado Libre Associado” title, which was believed to be a Free State Associated with the mainland. But this was not a formal treaty or agreement by the US Congress who actually controls the small Caribbean island.

This has been discussed on the island for many years as the official status of Puerto Rico with the USA; there are even songs written about the relationship but Congress still considers Puerto Rico one of its possessions—a territory controlled and governed by the United States.

Although the Puerto Ricans have been given the possibility of voting for its own governor, instead of having one appointed by the US Congress as it was in the past, it is still not a state or sovereign; nor can residents on the island vote for the US President. They can enlist and serve in the military as thousands upon thousands have done and fight to the death for the US Flag.

But as a US territory, Puerto Rico cannot enter into any agreements with any foreign powers; it does not have its own military; it can’t make its own money and a few other stipulations that basically control the island’s life and future.

So the Nov. 6th vote, what exactly was the vote? Even here the situation is not clear. But one of the most significant statements voted on by the residents of Puerto Rico is that they no longer want the status quo—they did vote for a Change. Now exactly what form that change will be is not clear, at least to some 500,000 voters who had left the ballot blank on those questions of statehood and independence. They have raised the question as to what form of relationship Puerto Ricans want.

A strange result of this election immediately jumps out at the general public. The residents gave a majority vote to the statehood status while electing a new Governor, Alejandro García Padilla, with approximately 873,000 votes; but García Padilla is not in favor of statehood as was the defeated incumbent Luis Fortuño, who received 858,000 votes—Fortuño was pushing for statehood. The House and the Senate of Puerto Rico also went to those candidates that opposed statehood. So how does that figure into the equation?

The question and ambiguity brought up by those that oppose statehood is that, yes, the statehood issue won the majority with 809,000 votes but if the votes for the re-modified “Estado Libre Associado” category along with the voters who cast a blank ballot (approx. 472,000 votes) considered a protest vote, those two votes result in 913,000—a far bigger majority, which is being touted as a “No” vote for statehood.

The situation is complex to say the least. Speaking on a recent radio program Tomás Cabassa, a Latino leader who has family and business ties on the island, is concerned because the issue is not clear on what the future of Puerto Rico will be. Cabassa stated: “It may end up in the hands of the President of the United States, who has stated he will push for a binding plebiscite on the status of Puerto Rico if a clear cut majority is not reached.” 

That seems to be one of the issues with all of the preceding plebiscites—they were never a binding vote for the US Congress to consider. So until the Congress of the United States gets involved in an official binding plebiscite, the status of Puerto Rico may well be the political football used in island politics to control the power and destiny of Puerto Rico.

Fear tactics have been played by all sides on the issue. The question of Puerto Rico losing its culture and traditions if it becomes a state has been used to vote “No” on statehood. The fear of having the US Congress make a life-changing decision on the Puerto Rican status with no regard as to the wishes of the people has also been heard throughout the island.

One thing is clear, that the vote numerically indicates a change in status but it is far from certain as which future Puerto Ricans want for themselves.

On a side note, there are more Puerto Ricans living on mainland USA than live on the island itself. The mainland Puerto Ricans are also divided as to who should have a voice in the island’s future. Some say that they are 100 percent boriqua and want to be involved in the island politics but don’t want to move there. Others say that it should be up to the Puerto Rican people that actually live on the island to decide.

First generation Puerto Ricans, transplanted to the U.S. because their families came to US-America for a better life, feel tore between the issues. They are more connected to the island than the younger generations who know very little about its history and, at times, don’t speak the language. Most realize that the citizenship given to the natives of Puerto Rican was done by an Act of Congress, which another act could take away, so they prefer statehood. Others that still travel to Puerto Rico frequently fear the island would lose its identity with an English-only government.

Fact is no one knows what is in store for Puerto Rico. It may be another Latino issue for the President and US Congress to solve—this is the Puerto Rican conundrum.

On the Internet: Puerto Rico referendum on statehood skews results, http://www.purdueexponent.org/opinion/columnists/article_0effcc7a-26b0-54bc-9510-e4996105bd39.html

Copyright © 1989 to 2012 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 11/13/12 17:46:49 -0800.




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