Political status is the elixir of the Puerto Rican people – to paraphrase Karl Marx.
I’ve said this before and it bears repeating, because the newly installed island Gov. Ricky Rosselló and newly sworn Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González expect to file a bill in Congress on Wednesday for Puerto Rico to be admitted to the union as the 51st state.
At the same time, the Puerto Rico Legislature will put forth a bill for yet another plebiscite with only two options – statehood or independence – thus excluding the present-day commonwealth status.
The move harks to a 2012 non-binding plebiscite – of which there have been several in Puerto Rico – in which statehood buried Commonwealth, garnering 61 percent of the vote. Congress ignored it.
For six decades Commonwealth has been billed as a semi-autonomous option, except that the congressionally imposed fiscal control board that likely will govern Puerto Rico over the next five years has proven that commonwealth is hollow. The island is not, in fact, self governing.
With Puerto Rico in dire financial straits as it tries to manage $72 billion in debt and in need of drastic economic reforms, a plebiscite can serve only as a public distraction from the very difficult decisions that lie ahead.
A distraction from billon-dollar budget deficits. A distraction from thousands of potential layoffs. A distraction from the downsizing and privatization of government. A distraction from badly needed education reform. A distraction from the island’s incredibly shrinking population as migrants continue to flee to places like Central Florida.
In fact, Rosselló’s father, former two-term governor Pedro Rosselló, utilized the very same distraction – twice during the 1990s. To no avail.
To be sure, the island’s political status needs to be seriously addressed and resolved. After all, it has been over 100 years since U.S. troops marched into Puerto Rico and took the island. And Puerto Rico is treated very unfairly in hundreds of federal programs because of its territorial status, as outlined in a recent report by a congressional economic commission on Puerto Rico that included Florida’s Senators Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R).
However, Puerto Ricans love, love, love talking about political status. Many will be more than happy to welcome the distraction.
Pour the elixir.
˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor