Puerto Rico is no longer held back by its past. The 3.3. million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico know the time has come for Puerto Rico to become a state or a sovereign nation. Increasingly, 5 million Americans with Puerto Rican roots living in the 50 states, along with growing numbers of informed citizens across the nation, agree that a fully democratic status is long overdue.
Puerto Rico is the last large U.S. territory, and today its U.S. citizens generally do not suffer any longer from unresolved cultural identity portrayed in the 1950’s musical “West Side Story.” Because of its historic experience as a crossroads of European, Latin American and U.S. societies, civil society in Puerto Rico has emerged into the new century with strong social cohesion that celebrates America’s patriotic ethnic pluralism.
Puerto Ricans stand ready to decide on the future and attain full democratic self-government with equal rights and duties of citizenship at the national level. The will to achieve long overdue full democratization was reflected in the 2012 majority vote in Puerto Rico to end the current territorial status.
That is not to say that the past does not hold deep meaning that drives political values in the future political status debate. Rather, it is a truism that looking back does not prevent Puerto Rico from looking forward with clarity of purpose. Puerto Rico’s awareness of its past now informs democratic determination of its future political status as a state or a new nation in a referendum this Sunday, June 11.
In that act of self-determination voters for the first time will be presented with a clear choice between all legally valid future status options. That includes statehood, which received 61% in the 2012 vote, and separate sovereign nationhood, which garnered 38% in 2012.
Sovereign nationhood comes in two forms – full independence now or gradual transition to independence under a treaty of “free associated state” status. That choice will be made in an October run off if nationhood is chosen by voters on June 11.
Full independence has never gotten more than 5% of the vote, so to avoid another embarrassing defeat the local Independence Party is boycotting the June 11 plebiscite. For the same reason the local “commonwealth” party supporting the current status if “enhanced” to combine statehood and independence is boycotting the vote.
Since the federal courts and Congress have rejected the “enhanced commonwealth” model as unconstitutional, the U.S. Department of Justice required that current territorial status appear on the ballot – without the false promise of “enhancements.” That actually gives voters a clear choice between the only politically viable options for resolving the future status question, statehood or a gradual transition to nationhood and independence under a treaty of free association.
Statehood alone ends the current territorial based on equal rights and duties of U.S. national citizenship enjoyed only by residents of the states, including voting representation in Congress and the Electoral College that chooses the President. Under free association the people of Puerto Rico would have equal national citizenship under a national constitution that would replace the U.S. Constitution as the supreme law of the land.
The vote this Sunday is a moment of truth in which only those who go to the polls will be empowered to speak for the people. Voters will decide whether statehood or nationhood will be the democratic choice for a non-territorial status that ends the current state of developmental arrest, insolvency and failed client state syndrome for Puerto Rico.
The platform of “enhancements” to the status quo rejected by a majority vote in 2012 represents a mentality that still identifies with contrived metaphors of the “West Side Story” narrative. That popular culture rendition of America in 1961 evokes social and racial identity orientations no longer dominating Puerto Rico or mainstream American culture.
Today the story of Puerto Rico and America encompasses the broad sweep of history and progress of the American idea captured in the bolder and brighter metaphors of the Broadway play “Hamilton.” Even that narrative fails to illuminate fully the moral resonance of Puerto Rico’s shared experience with the United States.
In 2012 voters chose to end the current territorial status and redeem the promise of real empowerment that comes come only from equality. When Puerto Rico attains government by consent, and can compete economically on an equal footing, be it statehood or nationhood, the private rather than public sector will drive recovery.
Prosperity is not a right, but is the product of rights. When Puerto Rico enjoys equal rights at the national level through statehood or nationhood, its potential for prosperity under one of those options will be realized. After centuries of colonial rule it will at last be the best of times for the people of Puerto Rico.