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Time for Puerto Ricans to decide

Photo by Brennan Linsley / AP

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.

About Hector Luis Alamo, Jr.

Hector Luis Alamo, Jr., is the associate editor at Being Latino and a native son of Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. He received a B.A. in history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States. While at UIC, he worked first as a staff writer for the Chicago Flame and later became the newspaper's Opinions editor. He contributes to various Chicago-area publications, most notably, the RedEye and Gozamos. He's also a cultural critic for 'LLERO magazine. He has maintained a personal blog since 2007, YoungObservers.blogspot.com, where he discusses topics ranging from political history and philosophy to culture and music.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

Comments

  1. click1947 says:

    During the beginning of the 20th century, more and more land was appropriated and purchased at pennies on the dollar by sugar, tobacco, pineapple, coffe, and other agricultural concerns. Puerto Ricans were working for pennies in near slavery conditions. When the Great Depression hit, the island was devastaed with many people close to starvation. In the 30′s great unrest followed beginning with pro independence movements such as Los Nacionalistas who advocated full independence for the island. It was at this time also that Luis Munoz Marin founded the Partido Popular Puertorriqueno (Puerto Rican Popular Party) which advocated land reform, redistribution of land, more autonomy with an eye for independence. The thirties also brought about relief in the form of the US’s Puerto Rico Economic Relief Agency (PRERA), a brainchild of FDR’s New Deal.

  2. click1947 says:

    As a child, I remember dining on PRERA cheese–in big, long, yellow boxes–on PRERA rice, PRERA beans, and KLIM, a milk powder concoction. We had some chickens in our back yard and had an egg or two for breakfast, and a chicken every now and then.
    The 50′s were a time of great turbulence; Nationalists attempted to take over many government buildings, they attempted to assassinate Truman, and they tried to shoot their way in and out of the Capitol Building. Overall, the violence was for naught and Pedro Albizu Campos–along with Lolita Lebron and others–were tried and convicted and sentenced to long prison terms.
    The 60′s too saw violence in the forms of demonstrations against the Vietnam war and the US intervention in the Dominican Republic.

  3. click1947 says:

    Today, as some posters have stated, Puerto Rico is indeed a colony. Indeed, there is a culture of dependence which some might call ingrained within the psyche. Today, the economy is more and more based on pharmas, computers, tourism owned by US companies than it is on agriculture but one thing remains quite clear: the means of production, the land, the resources, are all in the hands of outside companies.
    In Puerto Rico, our culture has almost ceased to exist: no longer do we have the 3 Kings, but Santa; no longer do we listen to plenas, but to rap and hip-hop; we no longer seek spirituality but consumerism as Puerto Ricans worship at the great cathedral of consumerism–Plaza Las Americas (the biggest mall in the Caribbean).

  4. click1947 says:

    Puerto Ricans are afraid of *committment*! More than likely, Puerto Ricans will opt niether for statehood, nor independence. At best, the islanders will seek to tweak their status. They do not want to be independent as that would run the risk of dictators such as Trujillo–the Dominican Republic–or Castro–Cuba.
    Oh, and this is a true anectdote: someone explained to me that having statehood would mean Puerto Rico would lose the Puerto Rican Olympic Team.

  5. click1947 says:

    Oh, and by the way! In 1916, when citizenship was given to Puerto Ricans, no one asked if Puerto Ricans spoke English.

  6. I agree Hector. Great article.

  7. Very informative. Gracias :)

  8. True and unfortunate.

  9. Unfortunately a majority of the people on the island have become too dependant of the handouts given to them by the American government. Don’t you find it ironic that most islanders are pro Obama and mostly Democratic? I don’t think so. It was the Popular Democratic Party of the island that pushed Puerto Rico in to the coommonwealth status back in 1952. Since then PR has been nothing but a government controlled colony by the US..sad but true

  10. They should decide, finally and for a definitive time… It’s an economic dilemma: they want American social benefits but they refuse to pay the price!!!

  11. They are voting for President Obama after Mitt Romney decided to insult them when he visit Puerto Rico by saying they shuld speak English as their first language… Bad move on ur part Romney you upset alot of Puerto Ricans:) LOL! Latinos for Obama/Biden 2012!!!

  12. They got used to the American benefits but don’t want to pay the taxes we have to pay. It’s time to get off the pot and either become a state or not receive anymore hand offs from the US.

  13. They should follow the Philippines example… Become independent from the U.S

  14. But you fail to realize Ms. Rosario that it was your Democratic Party who made it mandatory that English be taught in Puerto Rican School schools and were thae ones who wanted to Americanize the island…Republicans are the ones who have pushed for either statehood or independance….

  15. oh….and the islanders can’t vote in Presidential elections…FYI

  16. Vote OBAMA

  17. @ Jose one thing is to tell the new generation to speak English in which I have no problem as it shuld be mandatory in schools. But when u have Mitt Romney tell “all” Puerto Ricans including old skool folks to speak English as their first primary English then buddy, Mitt Romney has a problem N’ trust me they didn’t forget that!!!!!!!! that’s like telling Mitt Romney to come to every latinos home n’ telling them to speak English in their homes only. Remember America is made of immigrants of all kinds of nationalities.

  18. If Puerto Rico takes the example of the Philippines it will be screw like they and the Dominicans are.

  19. @ Hector, that’s the mindset of a slave

  20. @ Jose Rios… Obama understands Latinos he learned to speak Spanish n’ saw the importance of learning it:) he didn’t come to anyones home telling them what language they should speak… http://www.youtube.com/embed/JT2LhMfe7lM

  21. Alejandra check your facts. It was Rick Santorum who said Puerto Ricans must learn English if they wish to be a State, not Mitt Romney. He never made any demands.

  22. Also, ALL immigrants and Puerto Ricans, new and old, should be able to understand English.

  23. @ Samuel… Fox News Latino posted this article: SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – In the lead-up to Puerto Rico’s primary election, GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney encouraged the island’s residents to speak English and criticized U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

    Read more: http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2012/03/17/romney-criticizes-sotomayor-in-puerto-rico/#ixzz2BOO49Jkw

  24. @ Samuel… first of all Rick Santorum n’ many americans encourage it but they are not running for Presidential??!?! Romney is! And like I said, I’m not stating that they shuldn’t in my house we speak English n’ my kids are taking spanish in High School:) But to tell my mom, grandma n’ many old skool immigrants to speak the English. Not going to happen! My parents came to the USA for a better life n’ to make money at minimum wage with no assts. of the GOP. Didn’t have time for school but send their kids to school like me. I was my parents interpreter. My parents are retired with money in the bank, 401k, n’ owns their home n’ my grandma RIP died as proud Mexican-American. You just don’t tell any old skool immigrants to speak English n’ criticize their Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (a women) period. Especially in their own home town n’ their struggles. Obama/Biden 2012

  25. @ Samuel… BTW what do you know about illegal struggles n’ immigrants?!?! Neither you or my kids will ever know what is like to live in fear of immigration or struggles. I can, I lived it n’ experienced it thru my hard working parents. But I will tell you something my kids will learn to Respect, n’ learn from other cultures. N’ will never tell anyone what they shuld or shuldn’t do in their own homes (free speech). That working hard n’ having Jesus in their life’s will lead them to the American Dream:) God Bless!

  26. “Encourage” is now the same as telling them English should be the primary language? Okay.

  27. Sorry but I don’t see that as a legit excuse. My grandmother and grandfather came to NY from Puerto Rico and managed to learn English. Abuela is in her 90′s.

  28. @ Samuel… LOL! of course he had to use the word “Encourage” first becuz he can’t make them. Since, Mitt Romney is not President… thank God! But to even bring it up in Puerto Rico… Big Mistake!!!!!! Huge Mistake!!!!!!! Obama/Biden 2012 for sure in Puerto Rico!!!!

  29. @ Samuel… ur grandma n’ grandpa being Puerto Rican’s had a better chance since they didn’t have the struggles of immigration like many here in Cali. Puerto Rican’s n’ Cubans will never know about immigration struggles. LMAO! no comparisons… OH Please Stop!!! Sorry, u just made an ass out of urself n’ offended my parents… End of Conversation!!!

  30. The Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico continue to vote against being independent. Everytime the issue comes up for the vote, they all vote against becoming independent….meaning they want to stay Commonwealth!!!!!

  31. Marcos Daniel Rodriguez says:

    Whatever you believe, something needs to change.

    The island of Puerto Rico has been a colony of two empires since it’s “discovery” in November of 1493. Whether it be independence or statehood, remaining a colony should not be a choice. Consider the real benefits for these options: Independence allows the Island what all countries strive for – a chance to be its own self-governing entity. Statehood, the better of the two options but least favored by this Countries lawmakers and elected officials, instantly puts the power of a Presidential vote, actual & real vocal representation in both the Senate and House, and as we just witnessed its’ importance – meaningful electoral votes, into the voices of a Spanish as a first language voter base. With Statehood, the island of Puerto Rico can not only be a major decider in its’ own future but also a serious influence on the mainland itself.

    Whichever your stance remember, a Country without a voice is no different than a pet waiting for its’ master to fill its’ bowl with food and water. As Puerto Ricans, islander or mainlander, it’s time to stop wagging our tails waiting for the treats for being good boys or girls and time to stand up and be the masters of our own sustenance – only Independence or Statehood can give us that right; colonialism keeps us bowing to the will of masters living in another home.

    Writer note: I was born into an Independista family who has fought and continues to fight for independence on the ‘ground’ and in the political arena. I am an Independista but believe it is more important to fight for what’s best for a collective and not for a specific few. Given the current social-economic state of the world, independence would only drive the island into a deeper economic depression it has faced for over 100 years. Statehood gives the islanders a stronger voice and an expedited path to recovery.

  32. Jorge says:

    “They got used to the American benefits but don’t want to pay the taxes we have to pay.”-

    The use of the word “they” is at once stereotypical, uninformed, intellectually vapid and offensive. It is vague, and insinuates that all Puerto Ricans sit around waiting for welfare. In actuality, there has been a reduction in the total population of the island in the last 8 years brought about by a mass of young workers, a great deal of them STEM professionals, coming to the U.S., not to look for work, but to FOLLOW UP ON JOB OFFERS. These career and trade people, young and old, are a sharp contrast to the unskilled-worker island diaspora of the ’40s through the ’50s. I am one example, having been raised, educated and acquired a family of my own on the island over a period of 20 years, I was forced to relocate to the mainland after the bottom fell out of the construction management labor market in P.R., yet I know that commonwealth status offers tax shelter and investment advantages on the island that I could not enjoy in the U.S., so I would rather invest in and retire on the island, yet if P.R. were a state, my dream nest-egg business, investments and retirement would facing the same taxation and hurdles they face here. Furthermore, there are certain aspects of urban U.S. culture which I find distasteful and unredeeming, and although corporations and the media have done much to impose much of this on P.R., I believe that statehood would open a floodgate of social, economic and political problems similar to those now being experienced in Hawaii. There are quite a few of us who feel that way, and we do NOT need welfare.

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