Posted by: José Cabrera | February 7, 2009

Preserving democracy at home

The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico favor statehood for the island.  The statehood movement garnered a historic victory in the 2008 elections and support for statehood has reached unprecedented levels.  More importantly, the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico demand that Congress provide a binding plebiscite through which Puerto Ricans can decide the island’s political status. 

Puerto Rico is the oldest colony in the world.  Four million Americans from Puerto Rico have long struggled to define their political status, as either a colony or as the next state.  In our local elections, we do not decide whether the government should be Democrat or Republican.  Our political parties are defined by the status preference they champion.  Our two main parties support either the colonial status quo or statehood for Puerto Rico. 

In November 2008, the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico hailed a pro-statehood platform in a landslide, with a 54% to 42% margin. This platform included a call for a new federally-mandated referendum that would give Puerto Ricans an opportunity to decide the island’s political status.  The people also rejected a platform that called for Puerto Rican national sovereignty. 

The pro-statehood victory was near absolute.  The New Progressive Party, which supports statehood, won the governorship, Puerto Rico’s sole congressional seat, a majority of mayoralties, all state district senatorial seats, and over 70% of state representative districts.  It was the most crushing defeat for the colonial status quo in the island’s political history. 

Furthermore, the island’s main newspaper released a poll in May 2008 which showed that 57% of voters would choose statehood in a new plebiscite, eclipsing the 34% support for the colonial status quo and 5% for independence.  The people would favor statehood over independence 77% to 12% in a two-way plebiscite.  The newspaper noted that this level of support for statehood is unprecedented. 

The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico have made a call for statehood.  Accordingly, they look to Congress to resolve Puerto Rico’s status dilemma through a federally-mandated referendum.  Congress must respect this democratic mandate and act for the betterment of democracy and equality at home.

The author is a law student and the president of the Puerto Rico Statehood Students Association, Inc. (PRSSA).


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