With the news yesterday that Puerto Rican gubernatorial candidate Alejandro García Padilla of the island’s Popular Democratic Party announced the candidacy of Washington lawyer Rafael Cox Alomar as his party’s choice for Resident Commissioner, the conversation has turned to how a candidate like Cox Alomar, who has no legislative experience, represents a conscious decision by the PPD’s current leadership to maintain the island’s commonwealth (and colonial) relationship with the United States. At at time when the island continues to wrestle with its 113-year-old colonial relationship with a country that invaded it in 1898, the PPD has clearly stated its case: the status quo is the way to go. Why rock the boat. Sure, we are suffering from one of the worst recessions in the history of Puerto Rico, but God Bless the USA, they will see us through this.
Reaction to Cox Alomar’s nomination has, not surprisingly, been partisan in nature. Republican and pro-statehood Governor Luis Fortuño went on record yesterday saying he doesn’t even know who Cox Alomar is, when asked by reporters. Pro-statehood representative José “Pichy” Torres Zamora said he welcomed Cox Alomar’s candidacy, calling him “the Resident Commission candidate that nobody in the Popular Democratic Party wanted.”
Cox Alomar’s position on Puerto Rico’s status is pretty clear: in an essay he wrote in 2010, he was quick to defend the current commonwealth system, and also labeled that those sectors in the island who are pushing for a free associated state outside of the commonwealth arrangement as “neo-independence” believers who are harming the island. As he writes in a piece about the “myths of status:”
What about the neo-independence supporters (who call themselves “sovereign”)? Are you talking about independence in the context of Puerto Rico as a model of free association that already exists in the archipelago of Micronesia?
In his essay, Cox Alomar criticizes the freely associated states of Micronesia as being utter failures, and that creating a Puerto Rican political system will suffer with its own self-funded model, basically suggesting that the island cannot survive without continued financial aid from the United States. In other words, without its colonizer feeding the entitlement machine (Puerto Ricans receive several entitlements from the federal government and has become as classic example of a “welfare nation”), Puerto Rico cannot survive as a country. It is a hard argument to substantiate, since there has never been a case where Puerto Rico has ever been self-sustaining. Once a colony, always a colony.
We argue that Cox Alomar’s position is short-sighted and does not speak to the economic reality that is occurring in Washington these days. When national presidential candidates talk of cutting government spending and the GOP wing of the Congress calls for even more entitlement cuts, there will come a time when Puerto Rico will be on the table. When GOP rhetoric towards US Latinos borders on tinges of hate and ignorance and racism, it is highly unlikely that a new Republican administration will agree that the current economic relationship with Puerto Rico is a good one.
Both Cox Alomar and García Padilla have decided to take their chances on the hope that when push comes to shove, the United States will continue to give Puerto Rico billions and billions of government handouts. In addition, since the position of Resident Commissioner does not even carry a vote in the US Congress, this strategy is just a pipe dream. Without a vote, Puerto Rico is still beholden to the US Congress. That is a risky gamble to take, and it does not speak to the belief that now more than ever, Puerto Rico must take control of its own destiny.
All the law degrees in the world won’t help. In the end, the PPD leadership for the next election is promoting the idea that the status quo is the way to go. Long live colonialism. It is the only thing Puerto Ricans have known for hundreds of years. Why change it now?