NLY A THOUSAND MILES OFF the coast of Miami, there is pristine paradise simmering for salvation. It is only one chain, of the many, that makes up the beautiful Antilles of the Caribbean Sea. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and all of its poor, disenfranchised locals are precariously resting in between two worlds right now, and in about two weeks there will be another referendum for their statehood.
The American territory has a population of about 3.5 million people. The “residents have U.S. citizenship but can’t vote in presidential elections and have no vote in Congress.” There is no other way to say it than: their future progress is going to depend on the other 300 million people who already have a vote in Congress, and who for the time being—don’t really seem to care about them.
It is pretty hard to get excited about this referendum because back in 2012—a majority of the population already voted in a referendum for statehood, and Congress ignored it. But a lot has changed in these five years. Meaning things have gotten drastically worse there. At the beginning of May 2017—the territory declared bankruptcy. This made it “the first time in history that an American state or territory had taken the extraordinary measure.” And according to the New York Times, Puerto Rico is “approximately $123 billion in debt and pension obligations.” This by “far exceeds the $18 billion bankruptcy filed by Detroit in 2013.”
This month there is a lot of talk about what’s going to happen. The entire territory “is facing a true human crisis if the federal government doesn’t intervene in the next few weeks.” Bernie Sanders spent a lot of time talking about the humanitarian issue that has been mounting in Puerto Rico during his 2016 Presidential campaign. These stats are from his website:
Today, more than 45 percent of the Puerto Rican people are living in poverty, and the childhood poverty rate is a staggering 56 percent.
Meanwhile, the official unemployment is more than 12.5% — more than twice the national average – and real unemployment is much higher still. It is no wonder that an estimated 84,000 thousand people fled the island last year, and more than 1,000 are moving to Florida every week.
Taking into account that over half of the population is living in poverty and the childhood poverty rate is so high, the “general sales and use rate increased from 7% to 10.5% with an effective total tax rate of 11.5% on many transactions when combined with the municipal sales and use tax of 1% (as of July 1, 2015). Puerto Rico now has the highest sales tax in America.” This means that the poorest region inside of the richest country on Earth—where no body has a vote—is paying the highest sales taxes and this is apparently all happening in order to pay off the growing public debt that the territory has because the federal government is leaving them half-starved.
Over half of the population has already voted to change the political status of the island from a territory to a state. This mass popular vote—however unsurprising in a post-Trump Presidency, but not-so-much in Obama’s—was completely disregarded.
[I]f Puerto Rico were to become a state, we are set to receive no less than 83 percent of all health-related expenses through the federal government. That’s enough to continue covering our most vulnerable, our children and the elderly.
But Congress have yet to act on the admission of Puerto Rico, despite having a mandate of our people, expressed free and democratically in the 2012 status referendum which statehood won with a robust 61 percent of the vote.
For the last 5 years, over three and a half million “Americans” have been completely ignored by the federal government. They have already said that they want to be a state and that request was shut up. And now all of the hospitals are starting to shut down, and almost all other basic services are going under-funded. Over half a million “Americans” are going to be stripped entirely of all healthcare insurance if something doesn’t happen very soon.
Every citizen of Puerto Rico is disenfranchised, and stripped of their right to decide their fate. Puerto Ricans are in grave danger, not because they don’t have a plan to cover the health services they need, but because the services are not going to be there anymore. The local government isn’t being allocated enough cash by Washington to provide for all of the residents, and on top of that, the local government has no say or vote in the decision about money for as long as it stays a territory. Puerto Rico is starting to rot from the inside, thanks to its delusional Empire.
In December 2012, Puerto Rico’s legislature requested that the U.S. Congress and Obama act on the results of a recent referendum in which 54 percent of Puerto Ricans rejected territorial status and 61 percent chose statehood from the alternatives.
(Turnout was 80 percent.) In 2014, resolutions were introduced in the House and Senate to hold a yes-or-no referendum among Puerto Ricans, with a “yes” majority compelling Obama to submit legislation enacting statehood, but both resolutions died in committee.
A full 970,910 (54.00%) voted “No” on the first question, expressing themselves against maintaining the current political status, and 828,077 (46.00%) voted “Yes”, to maintain the current political status. Of those who answered on the second question 834,191 (61.11%) chose statehood, 454,768 (33.34%) chose free association, and 74,895 (5.55%) chose independence.
Because there were almost 500,000 blank ballots in the 2012 referendum, creating confusion as to the voters’ true desire, Congress decided to ignore the vote.
June 11th is the next referendum and a lot is going to ride on it. The most important thing for everyone to pay attention to is: If the vote to become a state gets ignored once again. What will that mean for American democracy Hawaii had to become a state. What we can learn from their journey to statehood is interesting. If it wasn’t for all the Yanks that moved to the islands of Hawaii—for whatever reason—then there wouldn’t have been any leverage in D.C. to push the laws. Of course, in Hawaii’s case back in 1959 — only the white, land-owning men were eligible to vote:
Out of a total population of 600,000 in the islands and 155,000 registered voters, 140,000 votes were cast, the highest turnout ever in Hawaii. The vote showed approval rates of at least 93% by voters on all major islands
Two major things will ride on this referendum vote in Puerto Rico: First, it will depend on if more residents express that they want to become full-fledged Americans. Hawaii had 93% of the voters showing they wanted statehood. And secondly, it will also depend deeply on the reaction of the rest of the United States. In other words, if the “full-fledged Americans,” who already live in a state that awards them vote in Congress, will continue to let these millions of citizens (or half-citizens,) who live on arguably the most exotic geography in the Union—suffer for no good reason.
Ricardo Rosselló became Puerto Rico’s newest Governor in January of this year. He was elected under a progressive banner of ushering in statehood. He told the Miami Herald that Washington will have a “moral obligation to comply” if the population votes the same way they did back in 2012. Rosselló commented that the U.S. “is always demanding democracy in other parts of the world, but it seems to me it doesn’t have the moral standing to demand democracy in Venezuela or Cuba if it won’t extend [democracy] to 3.5 million of its own citizens.” Will the “free world” keep denying rights to its colonies? Will it continue to “demand democracy” while not even practicing it itself?
Puerto Ricans are not the only ones that need a vote. There’s also Guam, the Virgin Islands, Marshall Islands, American Samoa. None of the American territories have full rights. Puerto Rico has the highest population of any other territory, and on top of that, it is completely bankrupt. That’s why this is such a pressing issue there. It could be a paradise for America, but it’s not going to be able to function anymore if something doesn’t happen very, very soon. I hope that the Yanks start to appreciate what they already have before they start to lose everything.
Header credit: Magaly Rivera