Can’t Puerto Rico Just Work It Out?

At one point in this week’s House subcommittee hearing on Puerto Rico,  Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan of the Northern Mariana Islands asked the leaders of Puerto Rico’s political parties (except for Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla, who didn’t show), “Can’t you just get together and work it out, and then come tell Congress what you want?”

Rep. Sablan asked the question outright, but the 2013 hearing concluded with a similar remark from Rep. Ron Wyden, who said, “Absent an agreement of the three of you it seems that this will just go round and round some more.”

Is the problem simply that Puerto Rico can’t come to an agreement?

Not at all. And the question shouldn’t be framed in that way.

Look at the presidential election voting record in Florida, a state where Puerto Rican voters are expected to make a big difference in 2016.

  • 2012: 49% Republican, 50% Democrat
  • 2008: 48% Republican, 51% Democrat
  • 2004: 52% Republican, 47% Democrat

This pattern is much like that of the whole nation, (except that Presidential elections are not decided by simply counting up all the votes in the country). If the United States couldn’t have a president until the American people all got together and figured it out, we wouldn’t have a president at all.

Rep. Pierluisi pointed this out in the hearing, saying that people have differing opinions. “That’s why we vote,” he said.

In 2012, when 54% of the voters rejected the current territorial status, it was a larger win than any of those shown above.

So no, Puerto Rico can’t — and shouldn’t — just work it out. That’s not how Democracy works. In Puerto Rico, just as in Alaska, there have been multiple votes on Statehood. Statehood won in an Alaskan referendum in 1946, and it was another 13 years before Alaska became a State. Statehood won in Puerto Rico in 2012, and we hope to see action sooner than in Alaska.

But, as another witness at the hearing, Carmelo Romero Barceló, said, “Whether we demand equality or not, it is the Congress and the President’s duty… to put an end to this inequality.”

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