Puerto Rico’s political limbo

Only island’s residents can resolve their uncertain status, argues this Editorial from the Miami Herald.

President Obama’s brief but historic trip to Puerto Rico this week was so steeped in politics that it’s entirely possible his principal message was lost amid the hoopla.

“When the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision, my administration will stand by you,” the president said.

This is safe ground. No one familiar with the details of Puerto Rico’s century-long relationship with the United States will mistake Mr. Obama’s declaration for a daring political statement or a departure from U.S. policy.

Every president since Harry Truman has affirmed the right of Puerto Ricans on the island to decide whether they want statehood or independence.

Nor did the president make a commitment to ensure that Congress endorses a plebiscite and promises to abide by the results, which would signal his intention to seize this as a signature issue.

Saying he would support a clear decision is not the same as pledging to spearhead a drive to clarify Puerto Rico’s status once and for all. Instead, the president left it up to the island’s residents.

Trouble is, Puerto Ricans can’t decide what they want for the island’s future.

All recent soundings on the island regarding the status of Puerto Rico have failed to yield an indisputably clear outcome. Advocates of statehood and commonwealth status are divided nearly evenly.

The confusion is such that “none of the above” won the last plebescite in 1998 with 50.3 percent of the vote because the major parties were battling over the way the ballot was designed. Statehood was favored by 46.5 percent.

Previously, in 1993, the existing “commonwealth” status won a greater percentage than statehood by a margin of 48.6 percent to 46.3 percent, with independence favored by 4.4 percent. Voter turnout in 1998 was a robust 71 percent.

This failure to render a clear decision gives political leaders on the mainland an excuse to avoid moving forward. Why go through yet another vote if it fails to resolve the issue once and for all?

But indecision has significant costs.

It keeps the island in a permanent state of political disarray under the “commonwealth” rubric that consigns Puerto Rico to the status of an unincorporated territory with limited rights.

This is something of a constitutional twilight zone. A status some define as neither-fish-nor-fowl overshadows the island’s future and, many feel, condemns Puerto Rico to second-class status.

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but they can’t vote in presidential elections (except primaries) unless they reside on the mainland. They don’t have full voting representation in Congress, but they fight in America’s wars in numbers far greater than their proportion to population.

They don’t pay federal income taxes and receive billions of dollars from Washington in benefits, though often less than a full share. Medicare recipients get only 70 percent of standard benefits on the (bogus) theory that healthcare costs less in Puerto Rico.

In March, a presidential task force recommended that “all relevant parties — the President, Congress, and the leadership and people of Puerto Rico — work to ensure that Puerto Ricans are able to express their will about status options and have that will acted upon by the end of 2012 or soon thereafter.” It, too, called for a process that produces “a clear result.”

That’s the bottom line. The island will drift along in political limbo until Boricuas make a clear decision that Washington cannot ignore.

For the original report go to http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/06/15/2268596/puerto-ricos-political-limbo.html#ixzz1POgCijPX

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