Guy W. Farmer: Statehood for Puerto Rico not likely
A grand total of 23 percent of the voters in Puerto Rico went to the polls two weeks ago to tell us they want to become the 51st state of our Union. Fortunately, however, Congress has the final say in whether Puerto Rico becomes a state, making the vote nothing more than an advisory opinion by a small sampling of Puerto Rican voters.
Puerto Rican statehood is a contentious issue that has been festering for many years. I remember doing a special report on the issue when I supervised Voice of America Spanish-language broadcasting to Latin America more than 30 years ago. Then, as now, Puerto Ricans were deeply divided on the question of whether they wanted statehood for their island nation, which has been argued ever since the U.S. acquired Puerto Rico from Spain in 1898.
According to Reuters, “Voting took place at deteriorating public schools in makeshift cardboard polling booths draped with brown plastic for privacy,” which gives you an idea of economic conditions on the bankrupt island. At present, Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million American citizens don’t pay federal taxes, vote for U.S. presidents or receive federal funding for programs like Medicaid. Nevertheless, our federal government oversees policy and financial areas such as infrastructure, defense and trade, and many Puerto Ricans serve honorably in U.S. armed forces.
Beyond low voter turnout, there were other problems with the June 11 vote, including the fact the ballot language wasn’t approved by the U.S. Justice Department, which rejected earlier ballot language that didn’t allow voters to endorse the territorial status quo. The vote came as the troubled island sinks deeper into economic chaos and bankruptcy with unemployment at 12 percent and a rapidly rising cost of living. These conditions have driven half a million Puerto Ricans to emigrate to the U.S. mainland in the past decade.
Puerto Ricans voted on the island as the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade was taking place in New York City. But there was a dark shadow over the generally happy parade and his name was Oscar Lopez Rivera, 74, who was recently released from federal prison after serving 35 years for his involvement with the FALN, a violent Puerto Rican independence group that was responsible for bombings that killed and maimed dozens of innocent people in the 1970s and ’80s. USA Today reported “Lopez Rivera was cheered by supporters, some of whom carried signs calling him ‘our Mandela.’” No way!
My guess is Congress will reject Puerto Rico’s bid for statehood. After all, why should we grant statehood to a bankrupt island nation with underperforming public schools (much worse than Nevada’s), and near-insolvent pension and healthcare systems? I doubt whether American taxpayers want to take on the burden of a U.S. territory where more than 50 percent of the residents would be on welfare.
As one bright young engineering and economics student told Reuters, “Statehood isn’t going to happen and the status quo is a trap. At this point, I think gradual independence is the best option.” If I were a Puerto Rican, however, I might prefer the status quo where I receive some federal benefits without paying federal taxes. So don’t hold your breath waiting for Puerto Rico to become a state because that’s not going to happen in our lifetime.
A QUESTION: Were we supposed to cheer when we learned banned and disgraced bicycle racer Lance Armstrong was participating in last weekend’s Carson City Off-Road bike event? Or was that offensive promo concocted by a clueless PR person? Just for the record, I’d like to know.
Guy W. Farmer supervised coverage of the Puerto Rico issue at the Voice of America in the late 1970s.