A Bipartisan Setback for Puerto Rico

There was a rare bipartisan vote in the House the other day, but in this case, the bipartisanship did not do anything to advance the health of our democracy. By a vote of 223-169, with neither party leadership taking an official position, the House voted to order the people of Puerto Rico to enter into a two-step referenda process that effectively penalizes one of the two more popular choices among Puerto Ricans regarding their political status. This measure is designed to frustrate, not to elucidate, the will of the Puerto Rican people and the Senate should reject it.

Puerto Rico was invaded in 1898 during the Spanish-American War and annexed to the United States. At first, it was governed directly from Washington with an appointed governor. With the collapse of colonialism throughout the world after World War II, Puerto Rico was given a measure of home rule. It is considered a Commonwealth that is associated with the United States. Puerto Ricans elect their own governor and legislators. They have a non-voting representative in Congress, like residents of the District of Columbia. Unlike D.C., they do not get to vote for President. Puerto Ricans have fought under the American flag in ever war since they were annexed to the U.S. but they compete under their own flag in the Olympics and various international events.


A little less than half of the island’s residents support statehood and the drafters of the current bill designed their proposal to inflate the significance of that support. A little less than half of Puerto Ricans support maintaining the current status. Finally, a small group of islanders, between three and five percent, favor complete independence. A decision about something as momentous as political status should require a super-majority, but the new bill sets no such requirement. Instead, it orders a first "yes or no" referendum on the current status in which, presumably, statehood advocates and independistas would unite to forge a majority. In the second referendum, the current status would not be an option, and the natives would only be able to vote for statehood, independence or a yet weaker form of association with the U.S. akin to that of the Marshall Islands, a vote likely to favor the statehood option. In short, the proposal rigs the game against the current status and thus is an affront to democratic norms.

Why should Catholics care? It is difficult enough for Puerto Ricans to resist the encroachments of U.S. culture. The habits of our spread eagle capitalism – from heavily polluting manufacturing to fast food chains – have already arrived, but there remain strong vestiges of the native culture, a culture that was born in the Catholic faith. There are public demonstrations of the faith of a kind unknown in the mainland: Good Friday processions close down the heart of San Juan, a metropolitan city of 2 million people; saints’ festivals mark the calendar alongside civic holidays with the Feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist a kind of national day, celebrated with vigor a few weeks before July Fourth. There are a few for-profit nursing homes to care for the elderly, but most families take care of their own and the poor are tended to by the Church. There is a profound reverence for, and pride in, the natural beauty of the island, a concern for its environment but also a delight in making walks through the rain forests and on the beaches and in the mangrove cays. Nature is not something you merely preserve, it is something you love and enjoy. In public opinion surveys, Puerto Ricans always rank among the happiest, lest anxious, people on the world.

Congress should not support any proposal that will make it more difficult for the Puerto Rican people to maintain their culture, least of all one that short-circuits the repeatedly stated preferences of the Puerto Rican people, who have refused in all prior plebiscites, to endorse any significant changes. The current arrangement is not perfect, but it is better than all the alternatives, at least to the Puerto Rican people themselves. And, they are the ones who should decide how and by what mechanisms they wish to alter their political status.


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8 years 5 months ago
I have been to San Juan a couple times and it seems to be a bustling place especially Old San Juan.  My wife, sons and I spent a day there a few years ago and my sons were especially impressed by the fun the people seemed to be having at El Morro which is a do not miss if you are ever in San Juan.  
We took a tour of San Juan once and the guide said that Puerto Rico has all the rights of the US, except for voting and paying income tax.  The territory has its own tax system so they do pay taxes.  One of the things that has added to the prosperity of Puerto Rico is that a lot of US pharmaceutical production was moved there about 40 years ago using tax breaks as an incentive.  Because of that Puerto Rico's average income jumped substantially.  It is independent and fields its own athletic teams in the Olympics and I really do not believe they would want to become a state.  Life to a high percentage is so much better without the hassle of the US government on top of them and why bother.  Many here would give up voting if they could lessen the impingement of the government.
Others will know a lot more than myself about the relations between the US government and Puerto Rico.  I would be interested if the healthcare legislation applies there.
8 years 5 months ago
Mr. Winters must have an addiction.  He cannot resist the impulse to distort or in some cases leave out the obvious.
''Why should Catholics care? It is difficult enough for Puerto Ricans to resist the encroachments of U.S. culture. The habits of our spread eagle capitalism – from heavily polluting manufacturing to fast food chains – have already arrived,''
How many of us would say that capitalism is as much a culprit to our current and future well being as secularism.  I suggest every Catholic read David Carlin's book, ''Cad a Catholic be a Democrat'' to see wha the real threat is to our society and that whatever ills, such as the advanced pharmaceutical drugs and manufacturing techniques that capitalism brings, it pales in significance compared to secularism.  And who is the driving force for Secularism in our society, The Democrat Party.
Capitalism has enabled Mr. Winters to have his job and assault the hands that feed him.  I find it ironic that Mr. Winters and his enablers here express so little insight into what makes the world work.
David Cruz-Uribe
8 years 5 months ago
It is worth noting that Mr. Winters underestimates the strength of the pro-independence faction.   The pro-independence party has never commanded more than 5% at the polls, but a 2008 survey by the pro-statehood party put pro-independence support at 12%.   (I have been unable to find polling data from a neutral source.) 
Commonwealth status is a vestige of American imperialism, and it needs to change:  we cannot keep treating Puerto Ricans as second-class citizens.   There are other possibilities that need to be considered.  One that comes to mind is to grant them further representation in Congress while making them autonomous in many areas-here, I am thinking of autonomy granted to the Basque and Catalan regions in Spain.   Such changes would require a constitutional amendment (a path fraught with obstacles) but much better than the status quo.
Jose Diaz
8 years 5 months ago
This article misinforms.  It is true that the pro-statehood Puerto Rican political mafiosos intended a first "yes or no" referendum to unite statehood advocates and independistas to forge a majority in order to force a second referendum without the current status to force people to vote for statehood.  However, prior to the vote, the proposal was amended to include the current Commowealth status on the second referendum, so the bill is no longer tilted anti-democratically towards statehood.
There are no more strong vestiges of the catholic culture in Puerto Rico.  Good Friday prosessions are practiced by a few elderly cats and dogs, artificial planned parenthood and abortion are as rampant as in the United States mainland, as rampant as the American cutlure of hamburgers and apple pie.  Saints festivals no longer mark the spirit o a catholic faith-now we export the whole world a new spirit of musical indecency called rap and regaetton thanks to Daddy Yankee-a 2008 campaign supporter of John McCain for president.  More and more Puerto Rican families are dumping their elderly parents in nursery homes, having learned that form their co-American citizens to the North.
Your Catholic editor, altough pretty close to the news, is analyzing this news just as wrong as American protestants, especially the mormons in their Deseret News editorial. It's not about culture or language or faith or how many Puerto Ricans have died fighting American dirty wars.....IT'S ABOUT THE PRINCIPLES OF DEMOCRACY.  The ONLY thing anyone should get from H.R. 2449 (the so called "Puerto Rico "Democracy" Act) is that American congressmen and congresswomen don't care to read proposals-they rather prefer to be told how to vote, or worse yet, they rather sell their vote.  Had the read HR 2499, they would have appreciated that the bill was intended to tilt the balance towards one of the options: statehood.  Totatlly undemocratic.  Totally shameful.  Theft.
Jose Diaz
8 years 5 months ago
Who is pushing it you ask?  The pro-statehood supporters are.  They represent about 40 to 45% of the Puerto Rico resident population.
Efrain Dones
8 years 5 months ago
I am not 112 years old, but I know that there have been a number of plebiscites where the people of Puerto Rico voted, repeat VOTED, for the status quo.  How is it that Congress, influenced by Representative Serrano (I used to like him) is justifying another plebiscite on the grounds that the people of Puerto Rico have not had an opportunity to do so in 112 years?  That is a lie! 
What is happening is that the current Governor Fortuno, P.R. Senate President Chatz, and Resident Commissioner Pierlusi - all New Progressive Party Statehood proponents, wish to ram the statehood option down the throats of the Puerto Rican pople on the grounds that ''None of the Above'' garnered 50% of the popular vote and statehood got 46.5% at the last plebiscite.  This was in spite of the fact that they tried to split the status quo vote by adding two other options (''Free Association'' that got an additional 4,536 votes and ''Commonwealth'' that got just under another 1,000 votes at the last 1998 plebiscite).  Did not the poeple make their wishes known then?  Did they not in 1993?  Did they not in 1967?  Is anybody listening, damn it!?  
They figure that with enough lies and pulling of strings they can fool enough Puerto Ricans to now vote in their favor.  They'll tell the people that they'll be able to collect SSI under statehood (as I've been told by people who've heard it) but not inform them that their paychecks (IF they're employed with an unemployment rate of over 16% currently in the Island and more jobs being lost thanks to Foruno's policies) will be diminished by federal income taxes.  Puerto Ricans are taxed enough and are losing enough jobs thanks to Fortuno and his PNP cronies!!
People of Puerto Rico...know who your enemies are...and don't vote in their favor!!!     


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