Delusion of Puerto Rican Statehood

Publicado por el periódico The Hill el 21 de junio de 2017
The pro-statehood governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, invited the people of the Island to vote in favor of statehood on a plebiscite held on June 11, 2017. It was a non-binding vote, held after the U.S Department of Justice rejected the first proposed ballot for not complying with the Constitution and federal law, and then kept silent on the ballot that was offered to the people. Showing a great deal of political maturity, Puerto Ricans massively declined the invitation. Even though our rate of participation in elections and past plebiscites have been between 60% and 80%, this time 77% of those entitled to vote, decided to pass.

The plebiscite was boycotted by the two major opposition parties and every important civic and political organization. The pro-statehood party spent millions of dollars on a fear campaign, telling people that if they did not vote for statehood they would be deprived of their U.S. citizenship and promising millions and millions of federal moneys if we become the 51st state. The pro-boycott forces spent zero dollars.

The outcome: with a participation rate of only 23%, statehood obtained 97% of the vote. That was the lowest participation ever in the five-status’s plebiscites held in the island. Even in 1967 with a population of one million fewer than today, 200,000 more people voted on in that plebiscite.

But the real story is not in the rate of participation but in the loss of support for statehood. With 97% of the vote, this was the lowest turnout in favor of statehood in the last 30 years.

In 1993, statehood got 788,296 votes. Five years later, making Puerto Rico the 51st garnished 728,157 votes and was defeated by None of the Above. Another vote was held in 2012, with a total support for statehood of 824,191. In 2012, 1,028,267 Puerto Ricans casted their ballot against statehood.

Now, running with no opposition, being the statehood party in total control of the government structure and spending millions of public and private dollars promoting the vote and statehood, this alternative got only a little bit more that 500,000 votes, the lowest in the last 30 years. Given the strong historical opposition to statehood, the fact that the forces opposing statehood got only 3% of the vote, is the clearest evidence that the real winner of this last plebiscite was the anti-statehood boycott.

It is amazing that with this record, the rejection from the DOJ of the original ballot and its silence on the second one, the lowest electoral participation in our history and the lowest total vote for statehood in the last 30 years, governor Rosselló is trying to create the illusion that there is a mandate for statehood.

For economic, identity and cultural reasons, statehood is a bad proposition for both Puerto Rico and the United States, and Puerto Ricans know that. Congress also knows that. It is time to move on and look for a different mutually beneficial alternative to solve the colonial status of Puerto Rico.
Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá was governor of Puerto Rico (2005-2009) and represented Puerto Rico in Congress (Resident Commissioner 2001-2004)