Pushing the Statehood Issue
By K.C. McAlpin
Puerto Ricans are a defiant people. In four elections, they have told supporters of U.S. territorial expansion, "Thanks but no thanks, we don't want to become the 51st state."
But "No" is never an acceptable answer to modern U.S. Manifest Destiny advocates who are determined to push American power deep into the Caribbean, notwithstanding those stubborn Puerto Ricans.
They are well along on their latest scheme to transform the island and its 4 million mostly Spanish-speaking inhabitants into the first Hispanic state. Puerto Rico's pro-statehood delegate to Congress, Democrat Pedro R. Pierluisi, is moving a bill, H.R. 2499, that would make Puerto Ricans vote on the issue of statehood yet again. This time, however, statehood supporters are leaving nothing to chance. They have pulled out all the stops to rig the voting process in favor of statehood.
To understand how and why, it's necessary to review a little Puerto Rican history.
The United States first claimed the Caribbean island as a prize after its victory over Spain in the Spanish-American War in 1898. In 1952, Congress re-created the territory as a democratic, self-governing U.S. commonwealth - recognized internationally with its own seat in the United Nations and the right to compete in the Olympic Games. By the terms of the commonwealth act, Puerto Ricans who move to the United States became U.S. citizens with full voting rights.
Since then, Puerto Ricans have voted to stay a commonwealth in 1967, 1991, 1993 and 1998. Initially when Puerto Ricans were asked to vote on their political status, they were given three options from which to choose: commonwealth, statehood or independence. The problem with that from statehood advocates' view was that Puerto Ricans consistently voted for commonwealth.
So in 1998, Puerto Rico's pro-statehood governor, Pedro Rossello, came up with a new strategy. Instead of just three options, voters would be given five. The plan was to dilute the commonwealth vote and win at least a plurality for statehood. In addition to the three previous choices, two new ones were added to the ballot: something called "independence in free association with the U.S." and the old favorite, "none of the above."
However, the "divide and conquer" strategy failed embarrassingly when Puerto Rico's pro-commonwealth leaders urged their supporters to vote for "none of the above," which won a majority.
Now statehood proponents are trying the opposite tack. Instead of offering too many options, they are limiting voter choices in a desperate attempt to engineer a victory for statehood.
Thus, H.R. 2499 calls for a two-stage plebiscite. In round one, voters will have just two options: the current, i.e. commonwealth, status, or "some other status." The idea is that the 3 percent to 5 percent of voters who traditionally vote for independence will join statehood voters and produce a majority for "some other status."
If that happens, there will be a second round of voting in which voters again will have just two effective options: statehood or some form of independence. Puerto Ricans of all political stripes recognize that they cannot hope to maintain their relatively high standard of living without the subsidies and federal money they receive from Uncle Sam. So, as pro-commonwealth Puerto Rican Sen. Juan Hernandez-Mayoral observes, "with the commonwealth option out of the ballot, statehood is finally, albeit crookedly, assured a victory."
But limiting voters' choices could still fail. Puerto Ricans in the United States are known to lean toward statehood. So, to tip the scales even further, H.R. 2499 gives the millions of U.S. citizens who were born in Puerto Rico the right to vote absentee - an unprecedented franchise that blatantly discriminates against other U.S. citizens.
And just in case Puerto Ricans still don't cooperate, H.R. 2499 stipulates they have to continue voting using the same rigged process every eight years until eternity.
All this manipulation would be amusing were it not for the consequences of making a Spanish-speaking territory our 51st state. Unless Puerto Rico were required to make English the language of its government as a pre-condition for joining the Union, it would permanently divide the United States along linguistic lines, with all the conflicts and costs that would generate.
This editorial appeared in Washington Times on October 27, 2009.
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