Apologist for denial of democracy in Puerto Rico practices dark arts of propaganda to dehumanize elected pro-statehood leaders
Local media censorship
Here at PR51ST we have commented before on the propagandistic anti-statehood arguments made by A.W. Maldonado. His ideologically strident anti-statehood outbursts are featured regularly in Caribbean Business, an anti-statehood periodical that refuses to publish serious and substantive pro-statehood rebuttals.
Caribbean Business is so intolerant of open debate it denies equal time to scholarly pro-statehood responses to anti-statehood commentaries by its Executive Editor, Philipe Schoene Roura.
So it came as no surprise when Caribbean Business published yet another Maldonado diatribe questioning the “mental health” of elected leaders in Puerto Rico who support statehood (“Has Puerto Rico, too, gone bananas?” Caribbean Business, Jan. 17, 2018). He is not the only prominent statehood opponent to accuse statehood supporters of being crazy.
A former anti-statehood governor wrote in Congressional affairs periodical The Hill that support for statehood is “insane.” Unlike Caribbean Business, The Hill does not practice censorship and allowed rebuttal of that poisonous attack on freedom of speech and belief (“Puerto Rico’s State of Mind” The Hill, Jan. 31, 2018).
Escalating ideological intolerance
Maldonado’s latest rant alleges that a clinical condition of “grave emotional instability” attributed to President Trump also afflicts Puerto Rico’s current elected leadership. The only evidence Maldonado offers to support his clams about mental disorders among duly-elected leaders is support for timely transition to statehood by Puerto Rico’s Governor, Presiding Officers of the Legislative Assembly, and Puerto Rico’s non-voting Member of Congress.
But what most irks the prickly and imperious Maldonado is the historical reality that statehood is the only path to full recovery from collapse of the current “commonwealth” regime of territorial government. Pro-statehood leaders are empowering people with knowledge life can be better under statehood in the future than it was in the past under the “commonwealth” regime. The ideological desperation this engenders for Maldonado leaves him no choice but to dehumanize his enemies by attacking their soundness of mind.
Maldonado seems utterly undaunted that political weaponization of mental health science and medicine, by declaring one’s political opposition mentally defective, is a common tactic of socialist dictators and totalitarian regimes. This new propaganda attack by Maldonado was not social satire or political humor.
Rather, it has all the elements of snide and cold-blooded character assassination. There was nothing funny about Maldonado’s clearly malicious intent.
Maldonado brazenly invokes an unscientific and non-medical “diagnosis” of Trump by “psychologists and psychiatrists” as the rhetorical springboard to accuse elected pro-statehood leaders of being crazy. There is nothing clever or cute about accusing political rivals of being mentally ill.
In doing so Maldonado is marching in lock-step with propagandists who supplied the “heroic” ideological narrative for Stalinist strongman tactics of Castro in Cuba and Maduro in Venezuela. It also is chillingly reminiscent of political propaganda tactics dehumanizing opposition leaders and Jews by German and Italian fascists, and repression by Juan and Eva Peron in Argentina and Pinochet in Chile.
With mean spirited exuberance for thinly-veiled political hate speech that’s become his trademark, Maldonado spews a litany of vituperative epithets at those he sees as enemies. In the unrestrained invective of an ideological absolutist, Maldonado brands both the U.S. President and democratically elected pro-statehood leaders in Puerto Rico “deranged,” “unhinged,” “senseless” and, of course, “bananas.”
Yet, supporting “statehood now” is what Puerto Rico’s Governor and non-voting Congresswoman promised voters before being elected by a democratic majority! Thus, it is Maldonado who seems to be experiencing cognitive dissonance about democracy, along with ideological delusions that the failed “commonwealth” regime of territorial government can be salvaged.
Democracy/free enterprise not “insane”
By calling for a timely transition to statehood, the elected leaders of 3.5 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are faithfully representing the aspirations of a majority in the territory. Those aspirations were expressed democratically before the “commonwealth” regime became insolvent in 2015, and also before Hurricane Maria struck in 2016. So the advent of fiscal disarray and natural disaster did not trigger the democratic will to seek statehood.
The vote in 2012 to end the current status in favor statehood confirmed majority rule rejecting the status quo. This manifests public realization that only statehood can redeem the human dignity that comes for U.S. citizens only with equal rights and opportunities secured by admission to the union.
In seeking a federal commitment to future statehood even after an already weak economy was further crippled by Hurricane Maria, the elected leaders of Puerto Rico simply are being realistic with Congress. That’s because there is not enough government money to restore social, political and economic conditions needed to reverse the exodus of productive workers and flight of capital out of Puerto Rico.
Educated and trained workers, as well as many of the most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders, are joining the poor and needy escaping dystopia. The demographic of those leaving is diverse, driven not only by natural disaster but also catastrophic collapse of the “Commonwealth” regime of territorial government.
Only private enterprise will save Puerto Rico
There is a word for what some are calling a “Marshall Plan” to prevent Puerto Rico from being abandoned by those now being forced to leave. That word is “statehood.”
Only a declaration by Congress that Puerto Rico will become a state in the future will mobilize the private sector capital investment to jump start a new economy. Private investment is needed for small, medium and large enterprises to take advantage of the opportunity to profit in the future by taking an early position in the emerging market of a future state.
Of course, the historical reality that democracy and capitalism create the greatest good for the greatest number of people is heretical to Maldonado. As a mouthpiece for the socialist “commonwealth” party junta, he believes federally subsidized “dependent autonomy” is the best Puerto Rico can do, and all its people deserve.
That is clearly revealed in Maldonado’s patronizing, paternalistic and condescending argument that statehood is beyond the reach of 3.5 million U.S. citizens. The proof he offers that statehood’s a lost cause is that the people are suffering human misery in the aftermath of natural disaster.
Yet, it is the developmental arrest caused by dependence on federal subsidization and failure to pursue statehood for 65 years that left Puerto Rico exposed to fiscal insolvency and no hardened “state-like” infrastructure. Instead of broad based strategically diversified development and sustainable growth driven by market economics, Maldonado absurdly claims the economic benefits of federal tax credits for mainland corporations were an economic fix-all and bridges to prosperity.
Actually, the corporate tax shelter gimmicks he exalts were like throwing Puerto Rico crumbs of bread, instead of the feast of opportunity laid before all 32 territories that became states. Seeking to demoralize and rob his own people of hope that statehood can bring a way of life even better than before the storm, Maldonado declares the quest for statehood an exercise in abject futility.
Maldonado offers no evidence for how, realistically, the “commonwealth” regime that failed before the storms struck somehow offers a better future than statehood. Instead, Maldonado is simply a cheerleader for the futility of hoping that human misery and denial of democracy can ever end.
Maldonado’s message is that integration into the life of our nation with equal rights and opportunities of a state as well as national citizenship is impossible. He asks and answers his own question “How could an economically destroyed Puerto Rico become a state?” In the idiom of an indoctrinated propagandist he insists, “It doesn’t add up.”
Declaring statehood impossible
To sustain his narrative of defeatism and surrender to despair, Maldonado chants the mantra of historical revisionism that is the catechism of the “commonwealth” regime. Instead of equal rights and opportunity its platform seeks “dependent autonomy.” That is why Maldonado’’s entire narrative pivots on recitals about 1967 federally sponsored “commission” on Puerto Rico status, a project overtaken by intervening events decades ago.
In a pathetically anachronistic argument Maldonado mocks statehood leaders back in 1967, who at the time expressed satisfaction that the project’s final report recognized that Puerto Rico can and should become economically successful before it can achieve statehood. Maldonado and anti-statehood leaders liked the idea that Puerto Rico could be denied statehood if not deemed sufficiently prosperous and successful by Congress.
Maldonado also touted the 1967 report finding that the success of the “commonwealth” regime would create the optimal conditions for determination of a future political status. Maldonado and other advocates of “dependent autonomy” and delegated sovereignty with federal subsidization also liked the idea that the federal government was committed to the success of commonwealth.
Of course, at that time it was deemed possible that the “commonwealth” regime could be converted to a permanent sovereign status, under which a local “mutual consent” veto power over federal law would substitute for voting rights in federal elections, restricted by the U.S. Constitution to states of the union. By the mid-1990’s it was clear that “commonwealth” was and always would remain a territorial status with delegated powers of internal civil self-government on purely local matter not otherwise governed under federal law.
The missing link in Maldonado’s revisionist theory is revealed when he blames the failure and bankruptcy of the “commonwealth” regime not on the lack of equal political rights and economic opportunity compared to the states, but instead on the need for federal subsidization. Specifically, Maldonado insists “commonwealth” was a sustainable success story, if only the Clinton Administration had not agreed with Congress in 1996 to phase out the tax shelters for U.S. companies that invested in Puerto Rico.
In making this historically and economically absurd argument, Maldonado admits the success of the “commonwealth” regime was linked to and dependent upon the tax shelters that propped up the territorial status quo. Yet, no objective economist will deny the benefits of those tax credits to the overall economy of Puerto Rico were not equal to the economic benefits that would come with statehood.
Indeed, the economic benefits of federal tax credits as one of several forms of federal subsidization to prop up the “commonwealth” regime disproportionately favored businesses exploiting those credits. By all objective indicators the benefits of those tax credits to the local economy and workers in terms of local jobs and wealth production were inadequate to justify the “corporate welfare” effects of that tax shelter scheme for large mainland companies.
Contrary to Maldonado’s argument, statehood leaders were correct in the 1990’s, those federal tax shelters were actually preventing Puerto Rico from achieving the broad based economic development deemed optimal for admission statehood by the 1967 status project report. That was especially true because the corporate tax shelters were not permanent and benefitted only a narrow bandwidth of Puerto Rico’s political economy.
By the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s it was clear Puerto Rico had reached a state of developmental arrest that prevented full realization of the potential for prosperity in a more open, diversified and market driven political economy. The experience of 32 territories that became states demonstrated Puerto Rico could achieve economic success and statehood if it stopped depending on tax shelters, the primary purpose of which was to prop up the “commonwealth” regime.
Tax shelters were obstacles to democratic self-determination
Pulitzer Prize winning Watergate reporter Bob Woodward told an intriguing anecdote about researching his book about the Clinton presidency, “The Agenda.” According to Woodward, the U.S. Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, told Clinton in 1996 the U.S. would have to give statehood to Puerto Rico if the Internal revenue Code Action 936 tax credits were phased out.
Well, the credits have been gone for 12 years, and the U.S. is still dithering over when and on what terms it will offer statehood to Puerto Rico.
That’s because the “commonwealth” party convinced enough voters that the status quo was better than statehood that a majority did not even vote for statehood until 2012. One reality finally sunk in for a majority of voters, which was that it was not the loss of the Section 936 tax credits that was suffocating the local economy and leading toward a territorial government budgetary crisis.
Voters began or see that the “commonwealth” regime was promising “state-like” political sovereignty and a state-like standard of living, at the same time Maldonado and the “commonwealth” party junta demanded the voters embrace the anti-statehood party’s “dependent autonomy” manifesto calling for restoration of the Section 936 tax shelters.
In other words, the “commonwealth” party’s platform was to go back to federally subsidized tax credit dependent “autonomy” instead of forward to equal rights and opportunities of citizenship in the states. Instead of “state-like” political and economic conditions in a territory based on anti-statehood propaganda, the voters chose real not virtual statehood.
At the same time, the public became aware that excessive government borrowing to deliver a “state-like” standard of living was unsustainable. Voters recognized that instead of embracing statehood the “commonwealth” party leaders were making promises of “state-like” benefits, but those promises could only be kept by borrowing more from Wall Street than the territorial regime could afford to pay back.
Maldonado also ignores the fact that local government demands to close one military base backfired in 2004 and led to closure of all U.S. bases in the territory. That ended $300 million in annual spending by the military in Puerto Rico, including 6,000 mostly well paying jobs with good benefits. Loss of U.S. bases prevented more rapid and effective federal response to Hurricane Maria.
Maldonado misleadingly asserts the territory was on sound footing when the Section 936 tax credits were barely propping up the territory economy at a level far below that of 32 territories that became states. He then asserts that it was the loss of those very same tax shelters that prevented the economic success that was needed before statehood would be possible under the 1967 federal status project report.
Yet, in the next breath Maldonado shows his true colors by arguing that it was the misguided efforts of pro-statehood leaders to seek statehood and a statehood economic standard of living that prevented the success of “commonwealth.” In his mind it was the pursuit of statehood that caused the “commonwealth” regime to collapse.
Economy only one factor in statehood
Maldonado reveals the fallacy of his ideology when he insists: “It was precisely the attempt to make the island economy compatible with statehood that ruined the economy in the first place. And it is precisely the ruined economy that makes the demand for statehood senseless.”
Just the reverse is true. It was the failure to make the economy compatible with statehood, and instead depending on tax shelters incompatible with statehood, that prevented the economy from developing, and growing until it achieved readiness for statehood as envisioned by the 1967 federal status project report.
The historic reality is that if Puerto Rico had put itself on a path to seek statehood in 1950, it would be a prosperous state paying its way in the union like other states admitted in the 20th century. New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii all were economically challenged, some more than others, but statehood led to sustainable prosperity.
Under the “commonwealth” regime Puerto Rico began to converge with the poor territories that were in turn converging with the poorest state based on the prospects for sustainable growth. It was adoption of the “commonwealth” regime of federal subsidization and tax shelters that led to developmental arrest. That left Puerto Rico stranded at a level higher than other territories but lower than territories that became states.
Maldonado’s historical ignorance
Finally, Maldonado claims Washington is in a national crisis mentality caused by Trump’s craziness. He mocks and ridicules the elected leaders of Puerto Rico for adopting a Tennessee Plan strategy, sending a delegation to Congress, and demanding Puerto Rico be admitted as a state.
He insists there is too much controversy and chaos for Puerto Rico to do what California did in 1850. But California became a state even though the debate on whether new states would be free or slave was pushing the nation to the brink of Civil War. In less than 12 months California went from a predominantly Spanish speaking federal reservation under military occupation to admission as a state.
We next are told by Maldonado with sneering sarcasm that there is too much confusion and conflict in Washington to consider statehood for Puerto Rico. Yet, six years after the Louisiana Purchase, in the midst of a war with Great Britain in which the White House would be burned to the ground, economically backward and non-English speaking Louisiana was admitted to the Union.
The historic truth is that few territories were admitted as states because everything was going well, politically or economically. The 1967 federal status project was wrong about statehood becoming possible based on an economic or social success story.
The truth is that most territories became states when the only thing in the eyes of Congress worse than admission would be to deny it any longer. By that standard, 65 years of failed federal policy perpetuating the fallacy of “dependent autonomy” has created conditions that make denial of future admission to statehood the only thing worse than the status quo.
Indeed, without a Congressional declaration that statehood will be offered to the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico the territory is at high risk of becoming a depopulated tropical Bleak House. Without statehood Puerto Rico is likely to become a failed dependency denied democracy in perpetuity, with a index of human suffering comparable to third world countries trapped in a cycle of under development.