(UPDATE) Three days away from the election, the three main political parties in Puerto Rico have entered the home stretch of the campaign — for a general election that this time around also includes a plebiscite on status — and are desperate to sway undecided voters who are still wondering what status option is best for them.
There is still much confusion among the electorate. This plebiscite to determine Puerto Rico’s political status is a complicated matter, difficult to understand because of the way it will be presented, and not expected to lead anywhere in the long run.
Puerto Rico is officially called the Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico—Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in English—which in the island is usually referred to as the ELA. It has been this way since 1952, when the island’s constitution was enacted.
In 60 years, there have been three plebiscites seeking to solve status. The most recent one was in December 1998, and the majority of voters chose the fifth and last option provided—none of the above. Statehood came in second place.
“My opinion is that this is a plebiscite different to the ones presented in other years,” said Professor Carmelo Delgado from the University of Puerto Rico Law School. Delgado is also a former executive director of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture.
“Previously, they would pose the traditional options—free associated state, independence, statehood,” he told VOXXI. “This plebiscite is designed to reject the ELA or revalidate it.”
The plebiscite will consist of two questions:
- Do you agree that Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of territorial status?
- Regardless of your selection in the first question, please mark which of the following non-territorial options you would prefer.
Even if voters say they agree with the current status in the first question, they still have to choose from three options in which the current status is not included. The options offered are statehood, independence or sovereign free associated state.
Delgado explained that there could be confusion because voters could confuse the option of a sovereign free associated state with the current ELA.
“I have no hope that the political status of Puerto Rico will be solved with this plebiscite,” Delgado said. “I don’t believe that. There has not been an adequate education campaign so the people of Puerto Rico can fully understand the alternatives, because that has been up to those who back each formula, and some have more money than others.
“In any case, I don’t think the United States—the federal government and the groups of power there—are truly committed to solve the political and constitutional problem in Puerto Rico.”
In Puerto Rico, political preference is often divided three ways: those who favor statehood, who identify with the New Progressive Party (PNP); those who favor free association with the United States, who identify with the Popular Democratic Party (PPD); and those who favor independence, who side with the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP).
Historically, a very low percentage of voters have supported independence. Statehooders think Puerto Rico should have the same rights as a state, and want the island to become one. Some of those who are pro-ELA think everything should stay as it is, others think the same, except with more rights, such as being able to make decisions when it comes to the merchant navy.
The PPD’s official stance is to vote for “Yes” in the first question, but leave the second question blank. The idea is to boycott the options, and “defeat [Gov.] Luis Fortuño’s government,” as the PPD’s president and candidate for governor, Sen. Alejandro Garcia Padilla, said earlier this year.
“The PPD has long defended the status quo against any and all efforts to transition the people of Puerto Rico from an undemocratic, unequal and undignified status to a democratic, equal and dignified status — so their approach to this plebiscite is disheartening but not surprising,” Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi, told VOXXI earlier this year.
Many PPD supporters, who are known as Populares, along with other independent voters, are not sure about their best option.
“I was going to vote ‘no’ on the first question and for sovereignty on the second, to send a message to the United States Congress about the need to allow Puerto Ricans to strengthen the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico,” said Aurea Gonzalez*, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico.
“However, I have suffered the oppression that this government has put on the faculty, the community at the university and the community in general,” she said. “[The plebiscite is] a scam to confuse people, making them believe Congress will listen. I’m voting ‘yes,’ now. Through my vote I want to tell them [both in Washington and San Juan] that the people must be respected.”
Leaving part of the ballot blank is just “stupidity,” David Rodriguez, lifelong supporter of the PPD, told VOXXI.
“You don’t leave a ballot blank because that lends itself to voter fraud,” he said. “This trap has been set up by the PNP, and they fell in it. They shouldn’t have asked yes or no, they should have asked what status the people would have preferred.”
“I’m voting ‘no’ because I’m not satisfied,” said Dr. Juan B. Giusti, professor at the University of Puerto Rico’s Medical Sciences campus and an independent voter. “I don’t recognize the 1952 decision to create the commonwealth as a final solution for our political status.”
Giusti said that sovereignty is recognized internationally, and it would allow Puerto Rico to play a role in the international stage, because currently the island’s economy is tied to the United States and the island lacks privileges.
Puerto Ricans can serve in the military but cannot vote for president—with the exception of voting in presidential primaries. In addition, although for some exceptions, they pay no federal taxes. They became American citizens in 1917, around the time when the United States declared war on Germany and entered World War I.
In every plebiscite held, the current status has won.
“The United States has intervened in Puerto Rico in many ways, from television to radio, and the people of Puerto Rico have not had a chance to evaluate other possibilities,” Delgado said.
This plebiscite will be held on November 6
This plebiscite will be held on the same day of the general election in Puerto Rico, Nov. 6. Many, from U.S. senators, to congressmen to leaders of the opposition in the island, have criticized this move.
“The New Progressive Party and its leadership understand that it is convenient to attract those in favor of statehood, and then since they’re there [in the voting booth] already, they can vote for their party’s candidate as well, [governor] Luis Fortuño.” Fortuño ran for governor in 2008 with the promise of solving the island’s political status.
Delgado said there could be a surprise this year, and the annexationist cause would gain some points in this event.
A poll released by Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Dia backs the professor’s opinion. The poll revealed that the statehood option in the second question is edging out the option for a sovereign free state with a two-point advantage, with 44 percent. However, in the first question, which asks if Puerto Ricans are satisfied with the current status, the “yes” option is winning with 51 percent, against 39 percent that said “no.”
*Name has been changed