Boycott the Ballot?

The PPD is calling for a boycott of the June 11 referendum on Puerto Rico’s political status.

A three-way vote

As of this writing, the ballot will include three options:

  • Statehood
  • Continued territorial status
  • Independence, with or without free association with the United States.

Voters can go to the polls on June 11 and choose among these options. If most voters want to continue as an unincorporated territory of the United States, they will choose that option. Puerto Rico will continue to be a territory, with no sovereignty, completely under the power of Congress. If this is in fact the will of the people of Puerto Rico, they can show this by choosing that option on the ballot.

Being a territory is not a permanent status and it will not resolve the status question. The independence party can continue to work for independence and the statehood party can continue to work for statehood, and there will be no significant changes.

This is the status quo option.

The voters of Puerto Rico could also vote for independence. They have never done so before, but this could be the time. The U.S. Department of Justice has confirmed that Free Association is “unencumbered independence” and that it is not “enhanced commonwealth.” Puerto Rico can declare its independence and become an independent nation. The government of Puerto Rico can negotiate with other governments, including the government of the United States, in hopes of gaining support or trade deals or a Compact of Free Association. This will probably mean the loss of U.S. citizenship, and will certainly mean that there will be big changes.

Statehood could also win. In the last plebiscite, statehood gained 61% of the vote. We expect that statehood will win again. Becoming a state will give Puerto Rico sovereignty, rights, and full participation in the democracy of the United States. There will still be plenty of work to do to strengthen Puerto Rico’s economy, but statehood will also certainly bring many changes.

Why a boycott?

If Puerto Rico’s voters go to the polls and vote, there will be a clear outcome. Of the three possible options, one will win.

This is not acceptable to the “commonwealth” party, because they will not win. It has become clear that “enhanced commonwealth” is a fantasy and that the territorial option is all the “commonwealth” has to offer. They expect, as we do, that statehood will win.

If they can achieve a boycott, then they will be able to say that only the statehood party voted, so the vote doesn’t count. “What validity can the process be given where you were the only one participating?” asked Manuel Natal.

This sounds absurd to voters in the States. People who choose not to vote, in the United States, have no voice. Their opinion doesn’t matter. If the “commonwealth” party truly believed that the people of Puerto Rico prefer being a territory, they would work to get their supporters to vote. They would expect to win the vote.

It is only because they know that this is unlikely to happen that they are calling for a boycott. They are encouraging their supporters to throw away their votes because their only hope is to manipulate the election after the fact, as they did with the 2012 plebiscite. This will give Congress an excuse to ignore the vote of Puerto Rico’s people.

A history lesson

Puerto Rico has held four plebiscites before. The “commonwealth” party has won before, and the U.S. Congress has responded by saying that their “enhanced commonwealth” is unconstitutional, and cannot be put into place. After the 2012 referendum, the “commonwealth” party was able to stir up enough controversy that the U.S. government determined to hold a final vote. This vote was intended to resolve the status of Puerto Rico. Now, with the territory status on the ballot, the 2017 referendum might not resolve Puerto Rico’s status. If the status quo wins, nothing will change.

But if the “commonwealth” party can sow enough uncertainty to make Congress ignore the 2017 vote, they will get to keep the status quo without winning. They did it in 2012, and they want to do it again in 2017.

Don’t let them. If you live in Puerto Rico, vote. If you live in a state, contact your legislators.

Either way, talk with your friends and neighbors. Puerto Rico should not throw away a chance to resolve the Island’s political status at last.

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