The political paradox that is Puerto Rico continues to thrive on the island after reaction to pro-statehood and Republican Governor Luis Fortuño has been lukewarm at best.
While the island faces some of the largest unemployment figures in its history, accusations of police abuse from the Department of Justice, charges of Social Security fraud, and angry reactions to spiraling electric bills, last week Fortuño tried to shift the political debate by turning to a topic that has haunted the island for decades: a final decision on its political status. It appears that the gamble has done nothing to help the Governor’s growing unpopularity. Fortuño is facing a reelection bid in 2012.
First, there is the speech he made last week in response to President Obama’s surprising remarks that the United States would only support Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination if the plebiscites being proposed showed an overwhelming support for a specific status option. Historically, Puerto Ricans have been evenly split between their current commonwealth status and statehood.
As The Washington Post reported:
“Let’s be clear: neither Congress nor the president, nor any other power on earth can stop Puerto Rico from expressing itself freely and democratically about its preference regarding its political status,” Fortuño said. “Congress did not act, but we will act.”
Fortuño, whose New Progressive Party supports statehood, said he will present legislation on Wednesday that would allow islanders to vote on Aug. 12, 2012 whether they want a change in status. If they want a change, voters would choose one of three options in a second referendum to be held during the November 2012 general elections.
The three options would be statehood, independence, or a sovereign free association, which differs from the current commonwealth status.
The reaction to Fortuño’s surprise speech was classically and uniquely partisan among the island’s major political parties. Fox News Latino reported:
The chairman of the Popular Democratic Party said Wednesday that Fortuño’s announcement of a referendum was an attempt to distract the public from Puerto Rico’s current ills.
The governor’s proposal shows how divorced he is from the reality of Puerto Ricans struggling to cope with a surge in violent crime, 16 percent unemployment and a crisis in the public health system, Alejandro Garcia Padilla said.
He declined to comment on the concept of Sovereign Free Association, which appears to be closest to his party’s traditional stance in favor of enhanced commonwealth status.
Illinois Congressman Luis Gutiérrez (D), an outspoken critic of the Fortuño administration, said last week that Fortuño did not like the “horror show” that is killing the island’s economy and that the Governor was using the status question to “distract the island’s attention.”
It appears that nothing has been gained so far from Fortuño’s intentions to push the status question back onto the radar, and as a result, the island’s tradition of typical partisanship, accusations, and criticisms continues. Puerto Ricans are also savvy enough to understand that the current political system and its future is still controlled by the US Congress and no one else. Maybe the idea of a bolder move will gain more traction?
In the meantime, Fortuño announced today that he would push for a 15% to 20% reduction in Puerto Ricans’ electric bills over the course of the next 4-6 months, proving once again, that when times are tough, people are worried about paying their bills, not about their political status.