A street in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo/Alfredo Sosa/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images)

Opinion: Does the United States even care about Puerto Rico?

A year has passed since Puerto Ricans on the island voted (yet again) in a non-binding plebiscite to determine where they stand on the issue of self-determine and political status. Like a Facebook relationship status, the conclusions from the November 6, 2012 vote were “complicated.”

Did a majority of Puerto Ricans reject its current territorial status with the United States? Yes.

Did these same Puerto Ricans also vote for statehood? Yes and no.

Yes, because those who did vote in the second part of the ballot chose statehood over the other two options: sovereign free association and independence. No, because commonwealth supporters were urged by their party to leave the second part of the ballot blank. Problem is, voting blank wasn’t an option, so who knows what blank votes represent?

One year later, nothing has happened.

Sure, the White House has weighed in, saying that we need to a do-over on another vote and that the Department of Justice will oversee it. Meanwhile, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, the island’s only non-voting member of Congress, introduced a Puerto Rican Statehood Bill in May. When that bill was discussed at Senate hearings in August, three senators showed up for the complete committee hearings, and two of those three senators had to be there since they were the committee’s co-chairs. The Pierluisi bill is still languishing around, and it is safe to say that if Congress won’t even deal with immigration reform this year, Puerto Rico‘s political status is no way near the legislative radar.

Things in Puerto Rico are bad, real bad, so bad that last month García Padilla solicited funds from investors in a full-page Wall Street Journal ad. Now there is talk that Puerto Rico will be the next Greece.

Yet if you ask most Americans if they even know how bad it is for some of their fellow American citizens, you would get blank stares. Do they even know or care about Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States? What about rampant unemployment and financial ills?

Sadly, no.

And how do Puerto Rico’s politicians respond to all this? Pierluisi is correct when he says that the island’s current problems are directly tied to the island’s commonwealth status, and García Padilla is correct that the focus should be on economic issues for the island, yet when was the last time you say Pierluisi and García Padilla actually work with each other? These guys are worse than Tea Party Republicans and Democrats, and represent a class of political leadership that has unfortunately become the new normal in Puerto Rico.

Therein lies the problem. Politicians don’t care. Congress doesn’t care. Other Americans don’t care.

Yet a recent Washington Post editorial said Puerto Rico’s worsening and serious fiscal crisis is “traceable, ultimately, to its muddled political status, still not fully resolved despite decades of tedious political wrangling.”

So what are Puerto Ricans to do?

A protest is always a good place to start.

Last week, about 2,000 Puerto Ricans took to the streets of Old San Juan and demanded that the island’s government begin to actually act on last year’s plebiscite vote. Organized by Boricua, Ahora Es, the protest called for an end to the island’s commonwealth system. Now, those who favor the current political status quo will say that this so-called protest was just a political rally for BAE’s Ricky Roselló, the son of former pro-statehood governor Pedro Roselló, and that the demonstration was all about statehood.

It wasn’t. Pro-independence supporters were also there. People who don’t favor the current status quo were there too. This was all about saying “no” to what the protest’s supporters call la colonia. It was about young Puerto Ricans who are actually putting Puerto Rico first and political status options later.  As Roselló said, “The world has shifted away from colonial territories. Secretary [John] Kerry mentioned colonialism is devastating for world peace. If those facts are true then people should know Puerto Rico is the oldest and most populated territory in the world and we have voted against it.”

Yes, Puerto Rico is in crisis. And Americans don’t care. It is time for all Puerto Ricans to remind the rest of this country that this is all connected: some of us think the commonwealth status has bred the new “Greek” crisis, and we are done —all 8 million of us living on the island and on the mainland— with the begging.

Opinion: Does the United States even care about Puerto Rico? julio nbc final 1 politics NBC Latino News

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.  In the past 12 months, Julito represented the Rebeldes on Face the NationNPRUnivisionForbes, and The New York Times.


  1. scenebygina says:

    Reblogged this on scenebygina and commented:
    New post by my friend, Julio.

  2. Reblogged this on Franky Benítez and commented:

    My latest for NBC Latino

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