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Good to see Florida Senator Marco Rubio commenting about the upcoming November plebiscite question in Puerto Rico. Sure, Rubio, who is of Cuban American descent, represents the state of Florida, which has seen an increase in voters of Puerto Rican descent the last few years, so it makes sense that he would weigh on the island’s non-binding vote to determine its political identity (statehood, independence or enhanced commonwealth). However, Rubio’s opinion reflects what most of the US Congress and President Obama is saying: the final decision by Puerto Ricans on the island has to be a clear majority, whatever that means. Just for reference, the 1958 statehood vote by Alaska won by a 6 to 1 margin, although only about 46,000 voted in Alaska. In 1959, Hawaii gained a 94% voted for statehood. Ironically, the one person who is pushing for a binding resolution of the status question is GOP front-runner Mitt Romney.

This is what a report from Caribbean Business chronicled about Rubio’s comments:

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a rising star in the Republican Party and potential vice presidential pick, has broken ranks with GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney over the issue off Puerto Rico statehood.

Rubio said in an interview that 50 percent plus one vote in a status plebiscite isn’t enough to put Puerto Rico on the path to become the 51st state.

“It doesn’t have to be 100 percent, nor 90 percent, but it cannot be, to say a figure, 51 percent of the votes,” Rubio reportedly told a local newspaper.

That puts the Cuban-American lawmaker, often mentioned as a vice presidential running mate for Romney, at odds with the former Massachusetts governor on statehood.

Romney has pledged to support statehood for the island if that option wins the Nov. 6 referendum on Puerto Rico’s political status, saying a simple majority at the polls should be enough.

The position taken by Rubio, a Tea Party favorite, actually puts him on the same page as Democratic President Barack Obama when it comes to statehood for Puerto Rico.

Right now, polls on the island show a virtual dead heat between enhanced commonwealth and statehood. It is highly doubtful that either option enters Hawaii or Alaska numbers, and in the end, the US Congress will still have final say. So, after 114 years of a complex (and colonial) relationship with the United States, Puerto Rico looks like it will still be stuck in the status quo.

One thing all Puerto Ricans, both on the island and the mainland, should agree on is that the upcoming plebiscite needs to be BINDING.

If you agree, let your elected officials know by visiting their official Congressional pages.

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Can the charades just stop about how amazing and awesome the Puerto Rican Wonder Boy, Governor Luis Fortuño, has been for the island of Puerto Rico? The latest news is that Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is now telling the Washington Post that it plans to showcase Governor Fortuño, a darling among GOPers who have no clue about how unpopular and divisive the governor is on his own island (psst, he is not even leading in current polls for his re-election bid), so that the Mitt Romney’s campaign can gain more of the US Latino vote.

Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño

Let’s just give Mr. Priebus the benefit of the doubt and share the following, since the 2012 campaign is all about jobs, right?

  • Also, let’s really stop to look at the actual stats about Fortuño’s push to make Puerto Rico leaner and meaner when it comes to public sector jobs. Just a few facts, from the same DOL stats: In September 2011, there were 265,000 public sector employees in Puerto Rico. In February 2012, there are now 269,000 public sector employees. Of the total jobs in all of Puerto Rico as of February 2012, roughly 25% of the jobs are classified as public sector jobs. Sure, Fortuño came in when it was a 33% but it is still at 25% and the number of public sector jobs is growing again.
  • When Fortuño took office in January 2008, the unemployment rate in Puerto Rico was at 10.7.%. As of February 2012 it is at 15%. Call us crazy, but that is progress? Romney and the RNC is praising a leader whose unemployment rate is worse that the overall US rate and this is the guy who want to showcase to US Latino voters? Also, does anyone who wants to look at actual statistics want to share the following information: the labor force in Puerto Rico is plummeting, young people are leaving the island for jobs in the US. Where is the Fortuño miracle?

Hey, but if the RNC wants to roll out Governor Fortuño as the new Latino star of the GOP, more power to them. In the end, Romney will be lucky to gain 15% of the US Latino vote, anyway. Bringing out Fortuño to prove that the GOP is listening to US Latino voters won’t really make a difference anyway.

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Before we get to a new poll published by the Vocero that flips the issues (yet again) of Puerto Rico’s political identity and colonial relationship with the United States, which has essentially owned the island since 1898 (yes, the US Army landed on the shores of Puerto Rico to win a war against Spain), you need to know a few things:

  • Politics in Puerto Rico are, plain and simple, just messed up right now. Try to stay with me here. You have an unpopular Republican and pro-statehood Governor (Luis Fortuño) who has been unable to turn the island’s economy around in his four years in office because the previous administration screwed it up too (BIG TIME), but still has a decent shot at re-election because the guy he is running against (Alejandro García Padilla) is well, not exciting, and basically has issues himself (you will see why  later in this post). Then you have other parties (like the group that wants independence) trying to stay relevant in the age of social media and 24/7 news cycles.

Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño

  • Another way to look at it is like this: Fortuño is to Barack Obama (considering Puerto Rico took billions of dollars of federal stimulus money) as what García Padilla is to Mitt Romney (going after the incumbent in a clunky way). But the fact is that Fortuño is a Republican and García Padilla is a Democrat. Then imagine if the United States were holding a vote about what type of government they would like to become the very same day that they are voting for President. THAT is Puerto Rico this year, where gubernatorial candidates are not only running against each other, but their respective parties and others (the pro-statehood PNP and the pro-commonwealth-status quo-enhanced commonwealth-whatever PPD, and the pro-independence PIP) are also pushing a vote for Puerto Rico’s political status issue, an issue that has dominated Puerto Rican politics like the elephant in the room for decades.

Alejandro García Padilla

  • And remember, NO MATTER what the Puerto Rican people decide in terms of political status, the CRAZY THING is that the damn vote is non-binding, which means the US Congress will still have to take action on the will of their own citizens and not even take the vote into account (another complication). Now, Fortuño, who endorsed Romney, is banking on Romney becoming President so that if Fortuño wins re-election and the political status vote favors statehood, Fortuño will have a friend in the White House to push statehood for Puerto Rico. And García Padilla is of course pulling for Obama to win, but Obama has already gone on record last year to say that if the status plebiscite is close and there is not an overwhelming majority for one option, Congress won’t act.
  • So basically, Puerto Rico is trying to put this whole political status question behind them (it has been going on for like decades since the 60s) so that the island can move forward and actually achieve progress economically, socially, and politically. But since we tried to explain all the craziness that is going on right now, you can see how critical the 2012 elections are for the island.

Which brings us to the Vocero poll. The poll asked the following question of Puerto Ricans: If the plebiscite were held today, what would you vote for: statehood, enhanced commonwealth or independence?

The results reported by the newspaper conclude the following: 41% for statehood, 37% for enhanced commonwealth, 4% for independence, 4% wouldn’t vote and 14% are undecided. So, at halftime, we have a tie, people, yet again! Why does that not surprise us since all the previous plebiscites never showed a clear majority (and also never got acted upon, so why are we discussing this again?)

What is so surprising about this poll has to the do with the issue of enhanced commonwealth. In 2008, this idea of an enhanced commonwealth that would define a more clearer non-colonial and non-territorial relationship with the United States was the status option that the PPD party was promoting. But when the PPD lost to Fortuño and the PNP, a push from the traditionalists of the PPD who favored to maintain the “status quo” began, culminating in García Padilla pushing for it as well. All of a sudden, enhanced commonwealth was no longer popular in 2010 as it was in 2008. In fact, that option of enhanced commonwealth was polled at 6% while the status quo was at 39% and was actually the top choice over statehood by 4%. Now, all that is out the window and García Padilla, the guy everyone in the PPD is banking on beating Fortuño, looks like the guy who placed the wrong bet on the wrong status option. Oops. Our guess is that he will react quickly to this revelation. Or will he? Remember when we said he was like Romney?

Other poll findings are just as interesting. Here are some of our favorites:

  • There is more statehood support outside the San Juan metro area (44%) than there is in the San Juan metro area (35%).
  • Voters 18-49 are choosing statehood over enhanced commonwealth 44%-34%.
  • 11% of people who say they are PPD would vote for statehood while 11% who say they are PNP would vote for enhanced commonwealth. Huh?
  • 18% of the San Juan metro area is undecided while 17% of those 35-49 are undecided as well.

This has only just begun. Looks like there will be another close vote and who knows where Congress will go with this. Status becomes the issue while the island does not progress. Classic Puerto Rican Politics 101.

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Read and sign the petition to Pass a Revised Puerto Rican Democracy Act here.

The time for games and votes that don’t matter are over. If the United States is truly serious about practicing the democratic principles it tries to spread all over the world, it must finally formally answer the Puerto Rican question. Next year will be the 114th anniversary of this paradoxical and colonial relationship. Five generations of Puerto Ricans have unsuccessfully resolved the issue of the island’s political status. Without this happening, Puerto Rico will continue to be a country in economic, social, and political limbo.

If you believe (no matter your opinion of what path Puerto Rico should take as a country) that President Obama and the US Congress are obligated to make the next plebiscite binding and formally recognize the will of its own citizens, please consider singing the following petition which is being address to ALL the members of the US House of Representative, the US Senate, and President Obama.

Read and sign the petition to Pass a Revised Puerto Rican Democracy Act here.

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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.

Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño

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.

Congressman Luis Gutiérrez

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.

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In a much-heralded White House Roundtable Discussion today with journalists from Yahoo!, MSN, and AOL, President Obama offered his views about Puerto Rico’s quest to finally resolve its 113-year-old status debate. Here is the video of what he said:

Although President Obama said “the key here is that the status of Puerto Rico should be decided by the residents of Puerto Rico,” he also said that it comes with certain conditions:

  • Puerto Ricans must show an overwhelmingly majority for one option.
  • In the end, the US Congress is the FINAL VOICE of determining Puerto Rico’s political future. A plebiscite vote will only “influence” Congress to act.
  • If the island is split on status options, “it is hard to imagine that Congress would be wanting to impose a single solution on the island.”
The reality is that President Obama, even with his actions to form a new White House Task Force on Puerto Rican Status behind him, has basically reiterated the truth about Puerto Rico: Puerto Ricans on the island do not have the right to self-determination — the final voice and authority on determining Puerto Rico’s status is and always will be Congress.
The colony of Puerto Rico is alive and well, even after the world has seen cosmic changes in new governments being formed in places such as Cairo and Tripoli.
Puerto Ricans, according to President Obama, can vote for their future, but Congress will have the final say. And if the next non-binding plebiscite is not a slam dunk for one of the four options (independence, statehood, the commonwealth status quo, or free associate state), then nothing will happen and Puerto Rico will still be stuck, as it has been so ever since 1898, the year the United States invaded the island during the Spanish-American War.
This kind of reminds us of that famous line from The Who: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

When will Puerto Rico wake up and realize that leaders from the United States and the island’s own leaders from all three major political parties are just feeding into the current status quo? When will the island and its people say that they won’t get fooled again?

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On July 7 in Guatemala, Cristina Siekavizza, a wife and mother of two, went missing. As of today, Siekavizza is still missing and there are unconfirmed indications that her husband, Roberto Eduardo Barreda (a suspect in this case) and her children, have fled to the United States.

Social media is playing a role in trying to spread the word about Siekavizza. A group called VOCES POR CRISTINA has amassed over 4,000 followers and has actively been reaching out to outlets in the United States to see if anyone has seen Barreda recently and the couple’s two children.

This news has dominated the Guatemalan press since news of Siekavizza’s disappearance went public. Here is one recent column from Guatemala (in Spanish) that tries to capture the issues surrounding this tragedy.

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