BBC News provides an excellent overview of what’s at stake in Tuesday’s two-part referendum concerning Puerto Rico’s future political status:
“The first asks voters whether they want to keep the island’s current status.
The second asks whether they would prefer independence, US statehood, or an option known as ‘sovereign free association’ with the US that would grant the island more autonomy.
This will be the fourth such vote in 45 years. The others failed.”
A slim majority of islanders will likely vote yes to the first question, while the statehood and the free association options are expected to tie in the second question. Independence — the option I support — is favored by less than five percent of the population.
Ideally, the people of Puerto Rico would voice a resounding no to the first question, so that no matter what the result of the second question turns out to be, the people of Puerto Rico, the United States and the world at large will know that a change in the relationship between the mainland and the island is long overdue.
The relationship is a harmful one for the island. The Great Recession hit the island’s economy especially hard — last year the island’s debt $68 billion and unemployment was as high as 13 percent.
“Because we’re a colony, we have the misfortune of being first for federal cuts and last in line for handouts,” said Thomas Rivera Schätz, president of the Puerto Rican Senate. “We don’t want to continue being a colony. We want the full rights that we’re entitled to as American citizens.”
Puerto Rican Independence Party President Fernando Martín García described the U.S.-Puerto Rico relationship as “an accident of history” and compared the island’s situation to that of Scotland and Catalonia.
“What we have in common is that we are nations without a state,” Martín said. “The difference is that they are integral parts of the larger countries they belong to; they aren’t colonies. In our case, the government of another country makes decisions every day without the participation of Puerto Ricans.”
The right to representative government is laid out in both the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and our own Declaration of Independence. The people of Puerto Rico, as human beings and so-called Americans, deserve the right to self-government, if not through independence, then at least through statehood or free association. If Puerto Ricans are not afforded to right to choose their president and elect representatives to Congress, then it’s a sham and shame to label them “Americans.”
I would hope that the people of the United States have greater respect for citizenship than that.