Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

A debate on Puerto Rican statehood

Matthew Cohen

Puerto Rican statehood? Not so fast…

For decades, people have debated whether Puerto Rico should remain a territory of the United States or become a state. Although the statehood argument has some merits, it is not the time for Puerto Rico to become a state for two reasons. First, as seen through four statehood referendum results, there has never been a majority of Puerto Ricans who expressed the desire to become a state in the United States. The U.S. government should respect the will of the Puerto Ricans and not impose statehood upon them. Second, given Puerto Rico’s weak economy, America is not in the position to spend billions of dollars on fixing the mess. Without a mandate or the resources, the United States cannot grant statehood to Puerto Rico.

The American government has affirmed the right of the Puerto Ricans to choose their own destiny. In 2010, Congress expressed support for the idea of Puerto Rican self-determination by voting for the Puerto Rico Democracy Act. Given the results of the 1967, 1993 and 1998 referendums, people should respect Puerto Rican wishes to be a territory of the United States.

It is imperative that the United States respects the will of the Puerto Ricans. Failure to do so could diminish the strength of their cultural heritage. For example, of the people who speak a language besides English in their home, which is 85 percent of the Puerto Rican population, less than 30 percent of those Puerto Ricans speak English very well. California is the next lowest state, with 30 percent of households not speaking English at home and, of those households, more than 80 percent speaking English very well. Moreover, Puerto Rican teachers have resisted teaching English at school. While former Governor Fortuño proposed making Puerto Rico fully bilingual, he lost reelection in 2012, so it is uncertain whether his plan will be continued.

Language is key component of culture. The stark language contrast indicates that there are strong cultural differences between Puerto Rico and the rest of the United States. If the people of Puerto Rico want to join the United States as a state and potentially give up part of this cultural heritage as they assimilate into the U.S., then they are entitled to do so. However, they have not indicated that they want to pursue statehood.

Advocates for statehood will point to the results of the 2012 Puerto Rican referendum as evidence that Puerto Ricans want statehood. In that referendum, by a vote of 54 to 46, the people of Puerto Rico expressed their disapproval in Puerto Rico’s current status as a territory. However, on the second component of the ballot question, which people were eligible to vote for regardless of how they voted on the first question, they were divided on the alternatives. Only 60 percent supported statehood; 33 percent supported free association and the rest voted for independence. Until there is a majority that supports one option  – statehood, territorial status, independence – the status quo should remain in place.

Additionally, there are some structural changes that Puerto Rico should undergo before it becomes a state. With Puerto Rico’s abysmal economic conditions, the territory would be a drain on the U.S. treasury. Even though budget deficits have plummeted under President Obama, there are still concerns that the U.S. has an unsustainable budget problem and Puerto Rican statehood would only make that problem worse.

If Puerto Rico became the 51st state, it would be the poorest in the nation with $24,000 per capita income. People are leaving the territory to escape the economic disaster. As a state with 3.5 million people, Puerto Rico would be given billions of dollars through social welfare programs. These programs – such as unemployment insurance and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – are an important safety net for society. However, with unemployment at 14 percent in this territory, compared to the national rate of 5.6 percent, the U.S. government would end up spending an astronomical amount of money supporting Puerto Rico. Over $70 billion in debt, Puerto Rico would only add to the $18 trillion budget problem that the United States faces. Puerto Rico needs to improve its economic outlook before the U.S. considers adding it as a state.

The people of Puerto Rico do not want statehood right now. It would be unwise to ram statehood down the throats of Puerto Ricans, for it could potentially devalue their culture. Moreover, given the outlook of the U.S. budget, we should hold off all consideration of admitting Puerto Rico to the Union until their economic outlook improves. There are simply no options on the table right now, except for the United States maintain Puerto Rico as a territory.

Contact Matthew Cohen mcohen18 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Johnathan Bowes

¡Admisión ya!

In November of 2012, as votes for Obama and Romney went into ballot boxes around the States, voters in Puerto Rico had a different question before them: What will the future of the island look like? More specifically, the plebiscite asked voters in Borikén to choose between remaining a territory, declaring independence, and (the most popular option) statehood.

The people of Puerto Rico have faced this question on the ballot only a few times before. Back in 1967, the only time the US Congress authorized a referendum on the status of the island, statehood only won the support of 39 percent of those voting. During the two plebiscites in the 90s, one in 1993 and the other in 1998, around 46 percent of voters wanted to see the island as el estado 51.

2012 proved different. Despite the campaigning of the Popular Democratic Party (or Partido Popular Democrático, PPD) to protest the plebiscite by submitting blank ballots on the question of statehood, nearly two times as many people voted in favor of joining the Union as left their votes blank — constituting a plurality close to a simple majority if the blank votes are counted. (If those votes do not count, then the number in favor of estadidad rises to 61 percent.) Adding further insult to injury, 54 percent of voters rejected continuing the estado libre asociado (loosely, the Commonwealth) that the PPD exists only to defend.

The pro-statehood New Progressive Party (Partido Nuevo Progresista, or PNP) may have lost political control of the island in 2012, but nonetheless, the trend of history is clear: Slowly but surely, the people of Puerto Rico are realizing that the colonial Commonwealth cannot continue, and statehood must replace it as soon as possible.

The island has been awakening to this reality for years, thanks in no small part to the state of the economy. Since the years following the Spanish-American war in 1898, and particularly during the two decades following World War II, Puerto Ricans fled the island for other parts of the US — notably Hawaii, as my family did, and, of course, New York. But with an unemployment rate of 15 percent on the island (exacerbated further by current Governor Alejandro García Padilla’s proposed tax hikes), the Diaspora has only hit Borikén harder. Now, more boricuas (Puerto Ricans) live in other parts of the US than live on the island.

This economic situation has its origins in the fact that, in all but name, Puerto Rico still exists as a colony of the United States — just as it has since the Treaty of Paris in 1898 and the Insular Cases in 1900. More than any singular politician or administration, that colonial status quo has forced my ancestral homeland down the path to ruin.

But fortunately, rejecting the colonial Commonwealth status and becoming the 51st state in the Union could help in putting Borikén on the right path. Just like happened with Alaska and Hawaii back in 1959, statehood seems likely to cause a general improvement in the economic situation of Puerto Rico that is hard to quantify. But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has quantified the specific impact on federal programs and federal taxes that statehood would have on the island and on the rest of the US in general. The GAO found last year that the admission of Puerto Rico as a state would likely cause federal tax revenues to increase by $7 billion; in the same report, the GAO predicted that estadidad would cause $10 billion to find its way into the island’s economy.

Of course, Puerto Rican statehood is not just an economic issue. For the major political parties, it could become an electoral issue. Puerto Rico would become entitled to eight votes in the Electoral College on the one hand, but more important would be the post-statehood political landscape of the island. Once the PNP and PPD don’t have to advocate for specific territorial statuses, the parties would likely start reorganizing in ways that align themselves more closely to the nationally prominent parties.

But more than anything else, the issue of statehood for Puerto Rico is an issue of spirit. The issue hits at the heart of how we as a country see ourselves.

At the turn of the 20th Century, the US saw itself as a power on the rise in the traditional, European sense — and that meant taking (and holding) colonies of our own. That idea sits at the heart of the Insular Cases, in which SCOTUS held that the Constitution did not protect the rights of people in Puerto Rico, the Philippines and other territories taken from Spain as the spoils of war. Among other things, those cases kept Puerto Ricans from having citizenship for nearly two decades, until World War I made drafting boricuas (and thus extending the definition of citizenship to include boricuas) politically expedient. Since then, Puerto Ricans have fought and died under the orders of a President they cannot help choose.

But if the imperialism that enabled the US colonization of Puerto Rico ever had a valid justification, that justification no longer makes sense in today’s world. We as a nation must return to the values of freedom and republican rule that first compelled our Founders to throw off our own colonization as a nation. Doing so means rejecting our own experiment as colonial masters. And unless we’re willing to completely sever the bonds between Puerto Rico and the rest of the US, that means that we — the people of both — must get ready to add another star to our national constellation.

Contact Johnathan Bowes at jbowes ‘at’ stanford.edu.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    Whatever you want to call them, hijo de puta, they are the ones who kick your balls every time there is a referendum.
    Statehood is popular among 44% of the Puerto Rican population. It’s REPUDIATED by 56%.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    You and the other sore loser lambeculos in the Statehood movement say those blank ballots are not part of the electorate because they didn’t give Statehood their support. Had they given their support to Statehood, you’d be giving your ass in their defense.
    However, the day you find your balls to participate in a Statehood “Yes or No” referendum, a referendum that is binding and mandated by Congress, I assure those half million electors will not leave their ballots blank. If they wanted to vote “YES” for Statehood, they would have voted for Statehood in 2012.

  • His Excellency

    There is a significant support for statehood in Puerto Rico. The option got 61% in 2012, or 21% more than in 1998. There is more than enough support for statehood. And will you quit calling me a “hijo de puta”, pendejo?

  • His Excellency

    Statehood is popular among 61% of the electorate in Puerto Rico. It’s repudiated by 39%. And quit using vulgar pejoratives, pendejo.

  • His Excellency

    Keep lying, pendejo. Keep lying. You are acting foolish.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    Listen, hijo de puta, to fool Congress with a claim of 61%, you have to conveniently hide half a million who left their ballots blank in REPUDIATION to Statehood. You are gonna have to do better than that. You think Congress is stupid? The day there’s a Statehood “yes or no” referendum, they will not leave them blank. Congress knows that.

    You will not shove Statehood down the throats of a majority comprised of 1,044,778 people who repudiate it. It’s undemocratic and un-American. Those may be your values, but not those of Congress.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    Hijo de puta….. 44% is not “significant”. 1,044,778 people had the chance to vote for Statehood and only 834,191 chose it. That’s a 44% support towards making Puerto Rico the 51st state of the Union. In 1998, you had got a record 46%.

    To fool COngress with a claim of 61%, you have to conveniently hide half a million who left their ballots blank in REPUDIATION to Statehood. The day there’s a Statehood “yes or no” referendum, they will not leave them blank.

    You will not shove Statehood down the throats of a majority comprised of 1,044,778 people who repudiate it. It’s undemocratic and un-American. Those may be your values, but not so Congress’.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    Just because you don’t like the mathematical truth does not mean I’m lying, cabrón. It only means you are in denial.
    1,044,778 people had the chance to vote for Statehood and only 834,191 chose it. That’s a 56% repudiation towards making Puerto Rico the 51st state of the Union.

    Of those 1,044,778 electors, there were half a million who left their ballots blank in REPUDIATION to Statehood. The day there’s a Statehood “yes or no” referendum, they will not leave their ballots blank.

    You will not shove Statehood down the throats of a majority comprised of 1,044,778 people who repudiate it. It’s undemocratic and un-American. Those may be your values, but not so Congress’.

  • His Excellency

    In 2012, statehood achieved a record of 61%. To fool anyone with a claim of 44%, you have to conveniently include a half-million non-votes that are not part of the electorate. 61% is significant.

  • His Excellency

    I’m not anti-democratic. You are. And enough of your vulgarities and lies, pendejo.

  • His Excellency

    Why are you acting so vulgar, fool?

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    Bull crap, pendejo. 61% is the number you want to use to deceive Congress. Congress did not buy your bull in 2012 and is not going to buy it now.

    Am I including half a million “non-votes” as part of the electorate? Of course, pendejo. You have to because in a “yes or no” ratification referendum, they will not leave them blank if they have the chance to vote “NO”.

    1,878,969 people had the chance to vote for Statehood when they went to the polling stations in 2012, and only 834,191 chose Statehood. That’s a 44% rate, lambeculo.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    Because I wish to counterbalance your nastier and more shocking un-American and anti-democratic statements that pretend to justify the imposition of Statehood on 56% of a population that REPUDIATES it. That’s why, cabrón, not that your pejoratives are any better than mine.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    Yes you are un-democratic, you hijo de puta. 1,878,969 people had the chance to vote for Statehood when they went to the polling stations in 2012, and only 834,191 chose Statehood. Anyone who advocates for shoving Statehood down the throats of the 1,044,191 who did NOT vote for Statehood is an undemocratic and an un-American bastard.

  • His Excellency

    Okay, what shocking statements, pendejo? Provide an example?

  • His Excellency

    No it wasn’t. 1.3 million voters answered the second question of the 2012 status plebiscite and 834,191 voted for statehood. That’s a 61% rate. The 44% that you obsess over is fake.

  • His Excellency

    You just want territory status to exist forever and for “Commonwealthers” to dominate island politics forever, just like they did from 1949-1969. You are undemocratic.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    I just want the will of the people to be respected, hijo de puta. The will of the people is does not demand Statehood or Independence.

    1,878,969 people had the chance to vote for Statehood when they went to the polling stations in 2012, and only 834,191 chose Statehood. That’s a 44% rate.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    Yes it was, hijo de puta. Whenever you find the balls to encourage Congress to mandate a Statehood “yes or no” referendnum, there will not be 1.3 million participants in that one. There will be over 1.8 million again and Congress knows there will be ZERO ballots left blank.

    1,878,969 people had the chance to vote for Statehood when they went to the polling stations in 2012, and only 834,191 chose Statehood. That’s a 44% rate, lambeculo.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    Everything you write cabrón, form the idea that Congress can shove down Statehood down the throats of a majority of constituents who repudiate it, to the most moronic comment today that the previous governor of Puerto Rico — who received LESS votes that the one who took power in 2012 — should have stayed in power. Like I stated, you are so un-American and so undemocratic that you are not even worthy of living in the state of Florida.

  • His Excellency

    Why do you include a half-million non-votes into the equation, a**wipe? Statehood won 61% because I got 834,191 out of 1.3 million. You hate statehood.

  • His Excellency

    How can you be so sure that around 1.8 million would vote again? And how can you be so sure that exactly 56% would vote “no” in a statehood “yes or no” vote? Quit acting like a cabrón and quit calling me a “hijo de puta”

  • His Excellency

    Fine. With regards to the gubernatorial election, I would give you the victory, since your candidate did receive a plurality, even though he got under 50%. But statehood did win the most votes. Even if blank ballots were valid ( which they are not), it still got the most votes among the status options.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    Of course what I just wrote is fine, pendejo. I can’t believe it took me 500 comments to get you to see the light there.

    On the other hand, you don’t have to “give” me crap, let alone “the 2012 victory”. That’s why there’s an electoral commission in Puerto Rico, and that is also why there is First Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston for your sore loser pro-Statehood candidates insist in not giving up power when they lose.

    Statehood did not win the most votes, Jo’eputa — 1,878,969 people had the chance to vote for Statehood but only 834,191 chose Statehood. 834,191 is not “the most votes”, you freaking moron!

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    There’s another Stupid statement, this time in the form of a question. Check the electoral history of the last 20 years, hijo de puta.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    Because if the issue is “Statehood Yes or No”, those half million people that you want ot exclude so bad will vote against statehood any time they are given the opportunity.

    1,878,969 people had the chance to vote for Statehood when they went to the polling stations in 2012, but only 834,191 chose Statehood. That’s a 44% rate.

  • His Excellency

    Will you quit calling me “hijo de puta”, fool?

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    Depends on your pejoratives, pendejo.

  • His Excellency

    Anyway, the real culprits in the status dilemma are statehood opponents. Those like “Commonwealthers”, independentistas and soberanistas, as well as the “Back to Spain” group who all collaborate against statehooders. The anti-statehood alliance post revisionist history on Puerto Rico.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    Everybody is the real culprit, pendejo. Statehooders and Independentists for not respecting democracy, like you, and for believing they can impose their ideologies with their mere cojones, and Commonwealthers for not standing up for respect like I stand up to sore losers like you. Bastard.

    1,878,969 people had the chance to request Statehood democratically, and only 834,191 did. You can accuse Commonwealthers for that — I’ll take that one with pleasure.

  • His Excellency

    “Commonwealthers” + independentistas + soberanistas = despair.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    Only a sore loser pendejo would say such a crap to give the perception of hope. Statehooders are no hope. They have never been one, and they will never be one with 44% support of the people. If you feel despaired, you can stay in Florida — no one is asking you to leave the Sunshine State, not even when it is so obvious you believe you can piss on democracy.

    1,878,969 – 831,191 Statehooders = 1,044,778 people who repudiate Statehood.

  • His Excellency

    Statehooders have 61% support, fool. Statehood is Puerto Rico’s real hope. “Commonwealthers” and other statehood opponents are the real despair, pendejo. Why don’t you move to St. Thomas if you love territory status so much.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    Statehooders don’t have 61% support, jo’eputa. When 1,044,778 do not support Statehood, and 834,191 do, that’s 44%. If Statehood represented hope for Puerto Rico, you’d see more 44% supporting that ideology.

  • His Excellency

    Statehood has 61% support, and blank ballots do not count as anything, cabrón.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    In the 2012 referendum, 1,878,969 Puerto Ricans had the chance to vote for Statehood, but only 834,191 did. That means all you sore losers got was 44% because the 1,044,969 who did not vote for Statehood represented 56%. Simple math, pendejo. The electors who left their ballots blank among the electors who did not vote for Statehood will not leave them blank again when Congress decides, if ever, to mandate a Statehood “yes or no” ratification referendum.

  • His Excellency

    Those who left their ballots blank are NOT electors. Statehood won 61%, because only 1.3 million electors participated in the important question regarding the alternatives to territory status.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    You can worry all you want about the blank votes, jo’eputa. Bottom line….. they won’t be blank when the Statehood “Yes or No” ratification referendum is mandated by Congress, if ever. If those electors ever want to vote for Statehood, they had their chance in 2012 and did not.

    1,878,969 Puerto Ricans had the chance to vote for Statehood, but only 834,191 did. That’s why Congress never recognized a winner in that gimmicked and non-binding election.

  • Tyler Warner

    Some members of congress are hopeless partisans; but I think most people in the states would welcome a 51st state. Guam should also try and become one so it makes a nice happy 52.

    While some of the more vapid evangelicals would balk at the idea (because it scares them) most of the citizens here would be happy as heII.

  • His Excellency

    Uh, the Justice Department doesn’t view “enhanced Commonwealth” as a viable option. Try again.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    Uh, you’re pulling that out of your arse again. As I have dared you before… put the proof down. And by the way, if you are so coward so as to leave this forum for almost a month and then come back like you’re doing now, thinking that I’m not going to debate you, think again, pendejo.

  • His Excellency

    Actually, I enjoy debating you on political websites. In fact, I really enjoy it a lot. I really enjoy seeing you post misconceptions on Puerto Rico and its political status and the 2012 status plebiscite. What I don’t like is how you mock us statehooders. But I guess you’re not as bad as that a**hole “PNP Parker Ajo”. But I enjoy having debates.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    You are diverting the subject with Parker Ajo, pendejo. You claim the DOJ stated that “enhancing the Commonwealth” is not a viable solution but you still can’t submit the proof in this forum. Go ahead, see if you can save one ounce of your damaged reputation, loser.

  • His Excellency

    How is my reputation somehow “damaged”? And why are you still calling me “loser”?

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    Well, on the one hand, you are asking the question after so many stupid entries. On the other hand, you are
    still cowardly evading the issue at hand =====> you need to prove the DOJ claim. Something I know you can’t because I know you had just pulled that claim off your asrse.

  • Dennis Myers

    That’s the problem with leaving a vote blank. Only votes that are cast are counted. 61% of those who cast a vote on the second question voted for statehood, meaning that in a yes or no vote, it is a viable contender. The first question, the status quo or wanting a change was also very important, and change is desired by that vote. Those who voted for the status quo were less than those who voted for change, and less than those who voted for statehood. But you are right in that this result is not definitive, because it split the “no” vote. So a simple yes or no vote is what is needed. And when your side wins, we can start letting you spin off into your own nation, and remove your citizenship. But if your side loses, and the “yes” vote wins, you keep your citizenship, and become America’s 51st state. And then the tourists and retirees start flooding you with their cash.

  • José M. Díaz Carazo

    There is no problem with leaving 500,000 ballots blank, except if you are a Statehooder, you’re stuck with 44% of the vote, and you need those votes to give Statehood some credibility.

    As far as anyone saying that “only votes that are cast are counted”, that’s NONSENSE. Congress is NOT, repeat, NOT going to shove Statehood down the throats of 1,044,778 people who did NOT vote for Statehood, even if half a million of them left their ballot blank instead of voting for Statehood, so that the 834,191 who voted for it can do their cucaracha dance. If Statehood were so Star Spangled Awesome, no one would have voted against Statehood or left their ballots blank. Puerto Rico is not going to see Statehood EVER. For one, 54% of Puerto Ricans would rather wipe their rears with the ballots before giving their vote to Statehood, especially if they are forced to vote for Statehood instead of their desired political option, and on the other hand, Puerto Rico is a failed, bankrupt territory and Washington will not give them Statehood as a bail out. Statehood is not a bail out.

  • JC

    Cohen uses a very old sources, such as the ones in the 1997 and 2000. 1997 and 2000 report/article were used when he was trying to prove that the culture won’t blend in (language). The time has past by, so there must have been a change. It’s pretty biased in that sense, but he had a lot of strong points.