Por: Dr. Jesús D. Díaz Peña, Elgin, IL
Puerto Rico remains an unincorporated territory of the United States. The colonial condition undermines the quality of life of about 2.8 million U.S. citizens residing on the island. Recent developments have accentuated the apparent division on the matter of statehood. In November of 2020, Puerto Ricans celebrated a referendum where close to 53% of voters responded yes to the question of whether Puerto Rico should become a state of the union. In the United States, the news of the referendum had a mix of reactions. Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer, who has previously supported statehood for the island, now seems timid in sponsoring a statehood bill. Also, Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio have been ambiguous in their public remarks about the political future of the island. Yet Puerto Rico’s statehood continues to have support among the American people, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane María. Other politicians have expressed concern for Puerto Rico’s debt and its economy.
As a presidential candidate, President Joe Biden stated: “I happen to believe that statehood would be the most effective means of ensuring that residents of Puerto Rico are treated equally, with the same representation at the federal level.” Residents on the island have taken the President’s remarks very seriously. Early in March, Puerto Rico’s Congresswoman, Ms. Jenniffer González and Representative Darren Soto from Florida introduced a bill that, if turned into law, would allow the celebration of a binding referendum. At the same time, Representatives Nydia Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio Cortéz proposed a different bill that will allow Puerto Ricans to decide their political future through a constitutional convention. Unfortunately, Puerto Rico has a long journey ahead before becoming a state.
Puerto Ricans are the real threat to statehood. The possibility of becoming a state within the next ten or twenty years seems light-years away because of the political atmosphere on the island. The coup that caused the resignation of a democratically elected governor opened the door for leftist movements to diminish and undermine the validity of the recent statehood vote. The vote for statehood emerged as a desperate response to the political abyss created in the summer of 2019. Puerto Ricans should be concerned considering opposition to statehood remains significantly large on the island (47% of voters voted against statehood in November of 2020). Rather than getting closer to the United States, Puerto Rico is becoming a radicalized and impoverished island where doing business is increasingly difficult and investments are scarce. The Puerto Rican left acknowledges that instability and chaos on the island will at least delay statehood if not derailed it completely. However, the people voted. The fact remains that statehood received more votes than any other candidate in the November election. Nevertheless, Puerto Rican union leaders, leftist movements, and influencers such as Calle 13 and Bad Bunny continue to call for a Cuban-style revolution that will place Puerto Rico at the edge of extinction. In 2013, former governor García Padilla expressed that statehood would turn Puerto Rico into a Latin American ghetto. The former governor is wrong. Leftist movements will be responsible for turning Puerto Rico into an undesirable place.
The radical left uses a discourse that is appealing to the masses. Such discourse has numbed the Puerto Rican collective consciousness that values U.S. citizenship and American democracy. Voters have favored statehood for the island on multiple electoral events. The people of Puerto Rico aspire to become closer to their fellow Americans residing on the mainland. There cannot be space in our sacred American democracy for leftist coups and calls for violent protests. Ironically, the phrase ¡despierta boricua! is associated with La Borinqueña Revolucionaria, a version of Puerto Rico’s national anthem that calls for independence. Now, ¡despierta boricua! implies the awakening and the culmination of a national project that needs to turn Puerto Rico closer to the mainland. With a mandate for statehood, the colonial condition needs to end.