In March of 1775, the people of Virginia came together to decide whether or not they should separate themselves from the British Crown. Most of the colonials were cautious, to say the least, preferring to wait for King George’s response to the colonies’ most recent plea for reconciliation.
How, they asked, could the colony of Virginia survive without the economic benefits and strong military protection provided by the British Empire?
It was then that Patrick Henry spoke in front of his fellow Virginians: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains? … I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” The people of Virginia quickly prepared for war.
Compare that bit of history to the interesting, glorious and awkward news out of Puerto Rico:
“A slim majority of Puerto Ricans sought to change their ties with the United States and become the 51st U.S. state in a non-binding referendum that would require final approval from Congress.
The two-part referendum asked whether the island wanted to change its 114-year relationship with the United States. Nearly 54 percent, or 922,374 people, sought to change it, while 46 percent, or 786,749 people, favored the status quo. Ninety-six percent of 1,643 precincts were reporting as of early Wednesday.
The second question asked voters to choose from three options, with statehood by far the favorite, garnering 61 percent. Sovereign free association, which would have allowed for more autonomy, received 33 percent, while independence got 5 percent.”
As the title of the CBS News article underscores, the two-part referendum is “non-binding,” meaning Congress — which has supreme authority over the island — can completely ignore the call for statehood.
It seems unlikely that Puerto Rico will become the 51st state in at least the next few decades, anyway, so long as the island remains poor and its people remain Puerto Rican.
While Puerto Ricans can boast the strongest economy in Latin America, their economy pales in comparison to any state in the Union. Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate hovers north of 15 percent, and its per capita income of $15,203 is less than half of that of the poorest state in America, Mississippi. If Puerto Rico were a state, the American people would be embarrassed and appalled by the condition it’s in.
One estimate puts additional federal funds should Puerto Rico become a state at $20 billion a year, an amount few people in Washington are willing to tack onto the budget.
The state of Puerto Rico would also be granted seven members in the U.S. House of Representatives and two U.S. senators, which would also give the island nine electoral votes during president elections — that’s more than most current states wield. The two major parties on the island are both centrist, and their members tend to align themselves with either the Democrats or Republicans.
Yet, the general consensus is that, once Puerto Ricans are granted statehood, they’re likely to vote Democratic like their mainland brethren. And since the Republican Party just soundly lost in the 2012 Electoral College, you can expect them to block the addition of nine more blue votes.
So, in the end, Puerto Ricans did the right thing by voting against the status quo, but the referendum will amount to nothing because, after all, Puerto Rico is a colony. We real Americans own the island, and anything they vote on is merely suggestion.
Ironically enough, the island’s vote for statehood is a victory for the independence movement there. Once Puerto Ricans see that their opinions mean nothing to the imperial government across the water, they’ll shed their silly little dream of statehood and come to the same realization our founders did more than two centuries ago — that self-government is the right of every human being, and that when a government denies proper representation, it is the right of the people to separate themselves from that government.
The status quo is intolerable and the road to statehood is blocked. So there’s only one thing for the people of Puerto Rico to do. I, as an American, and maybe because I’m an American, will support their move toward independence.