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UPDATE, August 15, 2013: Since I wrote this piece two years ago, my positions have evolved. My latest Boston Globe opinion piece reflects them. Here is the piece: “Free Puerto Rico from political limbo.”

UPDATE, November 8, 2012: I wrote this piece close to two years ago, and I will be planning to write another one to share other reasons why the latest November 6, 2012 plebiscite really doesn’t do anything to the current status debate.

Americans will never accept a flag with 51 stars in it

As I begin to cover the island’s next status plebiscite—where Puerto Ricans will once again determine in a non-binding referendum their political future—I wanted to take a minute and provide my reasons for why my homeland will never be welcome as the 51st state of the Union. First, a little history:

  • The next plebiscite, which the US House approved last year but the Senate did not, would be the fourth time the colony of the United States, a US territory since 1898, will vote on its political status. In 1967, 60.7% of Puerto Ricans chose Commonwealth or Associated Free State status (established in 1952), while 39% chose statehood, and 0.6% chose independence. The 1967 plebiscite had a voter turnout of 66%. In 1993, 48.6% voted for Commonwealth status, 46.3% for statehood, and 4.4% for independence. The turnout in 1993 was 74%. In 1998, 0.06% chose Commonwealth, 0.59% chose Free Association (think the Cook Island’s relationship with New Zealand), 46.49% chose statehood, 2.54% chose independence, and 50.3% chose NONE OF THE ABOVE. The 1998 turnout was 71%.
  • The 1998 results were an anomaly because the pro-Commonwealth party, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) recommended to choose the NONE OF THE ABOVE option to its members as a form of protest since it felt that the criteria set forth by the then ruling pro-statehood party, the New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico (PNP) was seen as unjust.
  • In 1991, Puerto Ricans voted on constitutional amendment referendum that, if passed, would have added an amendment to the Puerto Rican Constitution that allowed the following points (source): “the inalienable right to freely and democratically determine Puerto Rico’s political status; the right to choose a dignified, non-colonial, non-territorial status not subordinate to plenary powers of Congress; the right to vote for three alternatives; the right that only results with a majority will be considered triumphant in a plebiscite; the right that any status would protect Puerto Rico’s culture, language and identity, and continued independent participation in international sports events; the right that any status guarantees the individual’s right to American citizenship.” The referendum failed, 53% against and 47% in favor.

So now that you have the history of this politically charged debate (it has basically been the respective rallying cry between the PPD and the PNP), I still say this: In today’s America, a place where anti-Latino sentiment towards illegal immigrants and legal citizens has never been stronger, why would Puerto Rico, a proud country with ties to both the United States and Latin America, want to become the 51st state? Even if it did (and the current governor Luis Fortuño is a strong advocate of statehood), the America we know today would never welcome it.

Want proof? Let the videos talk. The first video is a Republican response to the House bill that passed last year that approved the next plebiscite. This video was produced BEFORE the House voted on its passage.

Ok, so you know have the facts, right? No? Then let’s have FOX NEWS’ Glenn Beck explain it to you. These videos were aired on Beck’s radio and TV shows the days before the passage of the House bill.

The newest expert on Puerto Rican politics

From his radio show:

Beck takes that radio message (and don’t get me started on its ignorance and misinformation) to his TV show the very same day. Hope you like the blackboards. Here is clip 1:

In clip 2, Beck continues:

So, you got it, class? You have everything you need? Like I tell my pro-statehood family members and friends, Glenn Beck’s America does not care nor does it want Puerto Rico as a state. If it were to become one, Puerto Ricans might as well be illegal immigrants in Arizona.

Kind of makes you long for the days of Ronald Reagan, doesn’t it?

To my fellow Puerto Ricans, stop believing the hype. Yes, we are proud. We are proud to be Puerto Ricans. And we are proud to be American citizens. We have defended the United States in wars since 1917. Yet, now in Glenn Beck’s America, where Tea Parties and Minutemen lead to senseless killings (see Brisenia Flores) and blatant racism, we will not be welcome in the US. Let us choose our own destiny: either free association or independence. The politics of the last 60 years are over in Puerto Rico. It is time to forge a new future that will truly set us free.

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On February 17, the Hon. Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner and a non-voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives, formally responded to the February 16 remarks made by Illinois Congressman Luis Gutiérrez. Here is a full copy of Pierlusi’s comments, which are now part of the House record:

Congressman Pedro R. Pierluisi
Statement for the Record
One-Minute Speech

February 17, 2011

Mr./Madame Speaker:

I rise to address the chamber this morning with disappointment, sadness, and a deep resolve to set the record straight. I am compelled to respond to remarks delivered yesterday on this floor by my colleague, the gentleman from Illinois, in which he harshly criticized the duly-elected government of Puerto Rico, the officers who serve honorably in its police force, and the chief judge of the U.S. district court for the District of Puerto Rico. The speech was inappropriate and insulting to the people of Puerto Rico. I hope such action will not be repeated. But if it is, make no mistake: I will return to this floor again to defend my constituents—and the government they chose in free and fair elections—from all unwarranted attacks. I will rise then in the same capacity that I rise now: as Puerto Rico’s only elected representative in Congress and the only member of this chamber who can make any claim to speak on behalf of the Island’s nearly four million American citizens. I will fight for my people because it is my privilege, my honor, and my duty to do so.

To compare Puerto Rico to an authoritarian country is beyond the pale. It demeans not merely my constituents, but also the millions of men and women around the world who suffer under real dictatorships, who are truly oppressed, and who lack the dignity that comes only with genuine freedom. Puerto Rico is a rich and vibrant democracy, with strong institutions, governed by the rule of law. Fundamental rights protected by the U.S. Constitution—including the right to free speech, free assembly and due process of law—apply fully in Puerto Rico. So does federal civil rights law. This is not to suggest that violations of individual liberties never take place in Puerto Rico. On occasion they may, just as they do in every jurisdiction. And I would be the first person to condemn such conduct if it occurs. But, in Puerto Rico, unlike in a dictatorship, there are legal remedies available to citizens who claim to have been deprived of their rights. Those who fail to grasp this basic distinction do not understand Puerto Rico or appreciate its strengths.

Moreover, I believe it is wrong for a member of this body to insult a federal judge simply because that judge ruled in a way the member finds objectionable. To use an enlarged photo of that judge as a prop is, in my view, particularly unfortunate. Such theatrics undermine, rather than strengthen, the argument being made. Judge Fusté, a man who has devoted over 25 years of his life to public service, does not deserve such treatment.

Yesterday, a great disservice was done to the good name and reputation of the people of Puerto Rico. I regret that it occurred. I hope—and expect—that it will not happen again.

I yield back the balance of my time.

Pierluisi is a political ally of Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño, both pro-statehood politicians and members of the island’s New Progressive Party (PNP). On the Sunday episode of Univision’s Al Punto show with Jorge Ramos, Gutiérrez compared the tactics of Fortuño and his alleged manipulation of the island’s judicial system to that of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Ramos had invited Fortuño to appear on the show and respond, but the governor did not appear. There is still an open invitation by Ramos for the governor to appear. Fortuño declined to comment about Gutiérrez at an event in Ponce last week, but Pierluisi shared his opinions about Gutiérrez on the House floor,  and it is very likely that those opinions are also shared by Fortuño.

Puerto Rican Independence Organization Supports Gutiérrez

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano (MINH), a Puerto Rican organization that favors independence for the island, announced this past weekend that it fully supported Gutiérrez’s comments. In remarks made in Spanish, Héctor L. Pesquera, the co-president of the MINH said:

[Gutiérrez] completed his obligation as a congressman and as a Puerto Rican by denouncing the violation of fundamental civil rights in Puerto Rico committed by both the Government of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Federal Courts in Puerto Rico.

In his speech to his colleagues in Congress, he clearly referred to the abuses that are occurring in this colony of the United States. It is his duty and prerogative.

Pesquera also criticized Pierluisi, saying that he is not the only person who can speak on the floor of Congress about Puerto Rico, and added:

Pierluisi only represents the Fortuño government in Washington. Gutiérrez represents the dignity of Puerto Rico and the interests of all Puerto Ricans. We should all be thankful to him.

It is inconceivable that Pierluisi would silence Gutiérrez’s right to express himself freely.

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