Jorge Ramos says, in a story at Fusion News, “I asked Miranda if he favored statehood for Puerto Rico, and whether he believed that the island would be facing such economic woes if it were America’s 51st state. ‘[Statehood is] a question for those living on the island,’ he said. ‘I live in New York.'”
This sounds good. We’re hearing statements like this from many politicians this year, too. Just make up your mind, Puerto Rico, and we’ll go along with you. It sounds like respect for the preferences of the people of Puerto Rico, and that’s probably where it comes from in many cases. Undoubtedly, that’s what Lin-Manuel Miranda means.
But that’s not really good enough. Because Puerto Rico already rejected its territorial status. The Supreme Court already made it clear that Puerto Rico is still a territory, and the majority of Puerto Rico’s voters said they don’t want to be a territory. The remaining options are statehood, which got over 61% of the votes in the last referendum, and independence, which has never gotten as much as 6% of the vote in any of the status votes on the Island.
Some say that they want Puerto Rico to come to a consensus. They want all the people of Puerto Rico to agree on a status before Congress takes any action. Pedro Pierluisi, the Resident Commissioner for Puerto Rico, objected to that suggestion during one of the hearings on Puerto Rico. “It’s democracy,” he said. In a democracy, we don’t wait for everyone to come to an agreement and we don’t try to force a false impression of consensus. We vote.
Puerto Rico has voted. Funding has been set aside for one more, federally-sponsored vote. This plebiscite will include only the options that the Department of Justice agrees are compatible with the U.S. Constitution. The goal is to have a vote so clear that those who favor the status quo can’t refuse to acknowledge it. A vote that will get action from Congress.
The current governor promised that this vote would take place in 2016. The debt crisis is being used as an excuse not to live up to that promise, even though the funding for the vote has already been set aside by the federal government.
And that’s the second reason that just saying, “We’ll do whatever Puerto Rico says” is not good enough. It’s really not good enough to say that Puerto Rico should decide, because this is a civil rights issue. The people of Puerto Rico, citizens of the United States for nearly a century, have no vote for president. Federal law allows Congress to treat Puerto Rico differently from citizens living in states. This has consistently meant that Puerto Rico gets less federal support than a state. Puerto Rico has higher levels of unemployment and poverty than any state. The people of Puerto Rico are leaving their Island in record numbers in order to gain the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
In the U.S., we do not accept that people should be treated unfairly by their government just because that government thinks it’s okay. We demand equal rights for everyone.
We demand statehood for Puerto Rico.