Saturday, June 10, 2017

Should Puerto Rico Become The 51st State? Election Is Mañana


The population of Puerto Rico is around 3.4 million-- just between Connecticut (3,576,452) and Iowa (3,134,693), so more than Utah, Mississippi, Arkansas, Nevada, Kansas and 1115 other states. There are Puerto Ricans in every single state, but especially large numbers in New York (1,070,558), Florida (847,550), New Jersey (434,092), Pennsylvania (366,082), Massachusetts (266,125) and Connecticut (252,972)-- part of the 5,372,759 Puerto Ricans living in the continental U.S., more than on the island.

Tomorrow, Puerto Rico has a plebiscite, asking whether the island should become the 51st state, request independence or stick with the status quo (commonwealth status). Ultimately the decision is made by the U.S. Congress but what people there want will weigh heavily-- or not-- in the argument. Last time Puerto Rico voted on status (2012), statehood won and... nothing happened.

CNBC made the case this weekend that the reason why the question of status is such a big deal in this election is economic. Puerto Rico's colonial economy is in recession, something that triggered "the largest municipal bond market bankruptcy in U.S. history in May, a process being overseen by a seven-member oversight board appointed by Washington... Some [like the governor] see statehood as the best way to pull Puerto Rico out of its economic crisis, others blame the U.S. for the malaise and would rather seek independence after five centuries of what they call colonial rule."
The sovereignty view is and has been a minority in Puerto Rico. Statehood was prominent during Puerto Rico's election in November when two pro-statehood candidates won: Ricardo Rossello, a Democrat, became governor and Jenniffer Gonzalez, a Republican, was elected resident commissioner-- Puerto Rico's sole representative in U.S. Congress who can write and submit legislation, but doesn't have the authority to vote.

...Now, given Puerto Rico's financial distress, many on the mainland are questioning whether the timing could be any better. The governor insists that statehood isn't about using federal tax dollars to save Puerto Rico. But rather, it would put the island on equal footing with other states, which would improve its economic situation, he said.

"We wouldn't want a bailout. I'm no fan of bailouts. I think we need to assume responsibility for what's going on here," Rossello said. "Statehood is much more than resources. Statehood is an equal playing field for U.S. citizens that reside on the island."

Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since a law made them so in 1917. However, their benefits relative to mainland citizens have been limited. One issue prevalent among many residents is that they pay in full for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security but can only collect on a restricted amount of these benefits relative to mainland citizens. Thousands of Puerto Ricans serve in the U.S. military but cannot vote for their commander in chief.

In April, President Donald Trump addressed the Puerto Rican financial situation on Twitter, arguing that the Democrats wanted to bail out the island (adding his signature "Sad!" at the end). Both Rossello and Gonzalez have met Trump but have not had the chance to sit down and get his [so-called] thoughts on Puerto Rico.

The unprecedented bankruptcy proceedings taking place is top of mind for many Puerto Ricans as they head to the polls. Puerto Ricans like Maria Colon, 51, a single mom with fibromyalgia, invested in various Puerto Rican bonds and has relied on the monthly interest payments as her main source of income due to her disability. She is now facing nearly $600,000 in losses to date on the bond investments.

Colon said she is voting for statehood in the hopes that if Puerto Rico officially becomes the 51st state, the government will work to find out who was ultimately responsible for this debt crisis, and bring the people of the island the relief and justice that they seek.

Regardless of what happens with the vote, the affairs in Washington have been more intertwined with those on the island than in recent memory. Nearly a year ago, a law was created, known as the Puerto Rican Oversight, Management, and Economic Stablity Act (Promesa), requiring a federally appointed seven-member committee to oversee the finances of the commonwealth, including its fiscal plans and the restructuring of its $73 billion in bond debt and nearly $50 million in unfunded pension obligations.

Gonzalez said this is the first time the island has held a plebiscite vote over statehood where the Justice Department has defined the options on the ballot, making them compatible with U.S. law. In exchange, the DoJ was supposed to contribute $2.5 million to Puerto Rico toward the cost of holding a statehood vote. After reviewing the ballot options in April, the department rejected administering the funds and suggested several changes. Despite making all of the recommended changes to the ballot, to date Puerto Rico has not received any of the promised funds.

Instead, the bankrupt island has spent $7 million.

"This is not about the money; this is more than that," Gonzalez said. "So keep the money. Let us express ourselves. And that is what we are going to have on Sunday."
I ran into Alan Grayson today. His district central Florida district was heavily Puerto Rican and he follows politics on the island closely. When I asked him and tomorrow's elections, he said "It’s necessary, from time to time, for the people of Puerto Rico to decide on their future. Without that, Puerto Rico would be no different from a colony."

UPDATE: No Surprises

Puerto Rico is still counting votes but so far 97% of the voters want the commonwealth to press for statehood. Turnout was low (just 23%) because opponents boycotted the plebiscite.

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At 5:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And again they'll decide. If it's status quo, they'll get what they want -- continued austerity.
If they decide on statehood or independence, nothing will happen.

The US doesn't want to bail out a bunch of brown people nor do they want to find out that it was (probably) goldman-sachs that ratfucked them. So congress won't do dick.

Welcome to the USA. Sucks to be you.


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