While U.S. citizens cast their votes for president Nov. 6, Puerto Rico’s residents were also voting for the next governor of the island. They also voted in a nonbinding referendum, a plebiscite, supposedly to define the island’s status.
Currently Puerto Rico is a “commonwealth” or an Estado Libre Asociado (ELA) or Free Associated State. This is a pure contradiction in terms, as Puerto Rico is not a state, it is not free, and it is does not have sovereignty to establish a real association. A country whose economy, foreign relations and trade, legislature and police force are in the hands of the U.S. government cannot freely decide anything.
Puerto Rico has been a colony of the USA since the Yankee invasion of 1898. Any change in Puerto Rico’s constitution has to be “approved” by the U.S. Congress. Thus this so-called plebiscite is a legal farce.
Nevertheless, it is interesting to look closely both at the vote and how the international corporate media reported the results. Even in social networks like Facebook and Twitter, there was constant reference to “Puerto Ricans choosing statehood.” This is far from the truth. Let us look at the questions and numbers.
Slightly over 2 million voters were registered. Some 77.4 percent of them voted, a high turnout compared to that in the U.S.
The plebiscite was divided into two parts. The official ballot was written in Spanish and English, which are the island’s official languages, although Puerto Rico’s primary language is Spanish. The first question was: “Do you agree that Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of territorial status? Yes or No.”
This was followed by the second question: “Regardless of your selection in the first question, please mark which of the following non-territorial options would you prefer. The options [are] Statehood, Independence or Sovereign Free Associated State.”
Reject colonial status
For the first time in the history of Puerto Rico, the majority of voters rejected the current colonial status. The “No” received 52.4 percent, the “Yes” got 44.7, and the rest of the ballots were blank. The last option was encouraged by a sector of the colonial Partido Popular Democrático (PPD) or Democratic Popular Party.
The response to the second question, which has been misrepresented by much of the international media, does not show that statehood was the choice of the majority. If you add votes for Independence, Sovereign ELA and the 473,000 blank ballots, plus some contested ballots, the total is 55 percent of voters who did not choose statehood!
These numbers in themselves are incapable of reflecting the complex economic and demographic reality of Puerto Rico.
Elections, particularly a plebiscite on status in a colony, are not a real exercise in democracy. There is no authentic freedom to organize for the option that will make the people of Puerto Rico truly free: independence. The repression of Puerto Rican independence activists and fighters is still very much alive — through assassinations, harassment, long prison terms with no justification, FBI record keeping, etc. The struggle for independence has always been criminalized.
Puerto Rico is a country whose economy has been destroyed, where the median income is less than that in the poorest state of the USA, and whose work force has been forced to migrate to the “mainland” in order to survive.
The island’s population has decreased over the last few years. There are 3.7 million people living on the island, but 4.2 million Puerto Ricans in the USA!
The Puerto Ricans who reside outside the island are not permitted to vote in Puerto Rico’s elections.
In an article written by Puerto Rican independence hero Rafael Cancel Miranda the day before the elections, entitled “Democratic Elections?” he raises another important issue regarding the demographics of the island and its impact on the elections:
“And how many of these 3.7 million residents in Puerto Rico are Puerto Rican? In Puerto Rico there are a large number of people of the USA eligible to vote, so many, that the electoral ads are published in Spanish and English. And there are other thousands of foreigners who reside in Puerto Rico, but who have sworn allegiance to the United States flag, not to the Puerto Rican. How do you think the majority of them will vote? We must not forget that in Hawaii the foreigners made up the majority in a so-called plebiscite that brought statehood to that former nation.” (pr.indymedia.org)
Fortuño rejected as governor
In the gubernatorial election, Luis Fortuño was the pro-statehood, pro-business incumbent governor responsible for the latest neoliberal policies on the island. These include the attempt to privatize national institutions like the University of Puerto Rico, the layoff of thousands of state workers, the threat of imposing a gas pipeline, and many other anti-people laws and maneuvers.
Fortuño was voted out, getting only 47.1 percent of the vote.
The new governor, Alejandro García Padilla, representing the PPD, won with 47.8 percent, a very narrow margin. The rest of the votes were divided among four parties, including the older Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP). The other three parties were new, participating for the first time in elections.