Let’s make one thing clear about Puerto Rico’s recent plebiscite vote on its political status: voters essentially rejected the island’s current status quo (a commonwealth system that is colonial in nature) and placed the spotlight on statehood all because the island’s new Governor-elect, status quo supporter Alejandro García Padilla, gave the electorate bad voting advice.
In the meantime, the issue of Puerto Rico and its relationship with the United States has gotten more and more national attention since the November 6 non-binding referendum, even though most of the attention has been blatantly ignorant (see TMZ) and downright offensive (see The Daily Bleach’s satire failure).
Yet the non-binding results—which said no to the current status and yes to statehood over independence and sovereign free association—mean that the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration don’t have to pay attention to them. However, I still believe that Puerto Ricans on the mainland have a responsibility to ensure that the plebiscite and the whole issue of political status doesn’t fizzle out like it has done many times before the latest vote. Letting it fizzle out is just an example of the old political way, a way that has consistently failed Puerto Rico.
I don’t think it is a partisan act when Puerto Ricans living in the 50 states take action and call their representatives to demand that Puerto Rico’s status issue must be resolved and resolved now. It has been 114 years since the United States invaded Puerto Rico. It has been 95 years since Puerto Ricans were made U.S. citizens. And it has been over 500 years since the people who have lived in Borinkén or Porto Rico or Puerto Rico have not capitalized on choosing their own destiny (give or take a few “Gritos” and independence leaders who have kept the flame of Puerto Rican identity and self-determination burning).
I personally don’t favor statehood, but I do respect the vote of my fellow Puerto Ricans living on the island. I also don’t think statehood is the current preference but still, Governor-elect García Padilla fell into a “vote blank” trap that has backfired. Statehood has now become the center of the agenda, whether people like it or not.
More importantly, no one can argue the fact that the island rejected its current commonwealth government. All Puerto Ricans should respect that vote, especially the elected representatives of the U.S. House of Representatives who are of Puerto Rican descent. Instead, most of them are still playing old Puerto Rican politics: keep using status and promises of resolution as a distraction.
Exhibit #1: New York’s Nydia Velázquez (D) scoffed at the plebiscite by saying the following to El Nuevo Día: “Ay, por favor.” (Oh, please). Velázquez basically said that Congress won’t take the plebiscite results seriously.
Exhibit #2: Illinois’ Luis Gutiérrez (D), a champion of immigration rights, said that the plebiscite results were “predetermined” and that they just favored statehood. He also said that the plebiscite process was not transparent.
Exhibit #3: Idaho’s Rául Labrador (R) also backed away from the results by saying that even though statehood was the winning option, the island’s pro-statehood party lost the gubernatorial elections, when García Padilla defeated incumbent Governor Luis Fortuño. Labrador was one of many GOP members of Congress who felt the next steps in the plebiscite process were just a pipe dream.
I urge these three members of Congress to follow the steps of their colleague, New York’s José Serrano (D), who emphasized the key issue here: for the first time in the history of Puerto Rico, voters rejected the island’s current system. He also called for Congress to act.
Serrano gets it. The old politics is over. The vote must be respected. Do I need to remind President Obama that the Puerto Rican vote overwhelmingly supported his Florida victory? He should return the favor by making Puerto Rico’s status issue a priority of his second term. And Velázquez, Gutiérrez, and Labrador should follow Serrano’s lead and get something done.
114 years is long enough.
Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77 ) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. This year, Julito represented the Rebeldes on Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, Forbes, and The New York Times.