Why the Murder of Macho Camacho Underscores the Case for Puerto Rican Statehood

This report by Tim Padgett appeared on Time magazine. Follow the link below for additional features and links.

Puerto Rican boxing legend Hector “Macho” Camacho died on Saturday after his family decided to take him off life support. Camacho—the one-time world lightweight champion who knocked out icons like Sugar Ray Leonard, but whose life outside the ring could be as sordid as his career inside it was glorious—had been brain-dead since last Tuesday night, Nov. 21, when he was shot in the head outside a bar in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. It was the most high-profile reminder yet that Puerto Rico has a violent crime plague on its hands: Its murder rate today is 23 per 100,000 people, about five times that of the U.S., the worst homicide tally the island has ever suffered.

Not surprisingly, Puerto Rico is dealing with a raft of other social crises, from a 45% poverty rate to 15% unemployment to a median annual income of less than $15,000, well below the U.S. poverty line. Little wonder that more Puerto Ricans (who are U.S. citizens) now live in the U.S. than in Puerto Rico, or that Puerto Rican voters ousted Governor Luis Fortuño on Nov. 6 and narrowly elected a new one, Alejandro Garcia Padilla. But more important, they also announced, in a non-binding referendum, that they no longer want Puerto Rico to be a U.S. commonwealth, the territorial status that the island—which the U.S. wrested from Spain in 1898—has held since 1952. By a 65%-to-35% margin, voters signaled their preference to become the 51st state in the union.)

Puerto Rico’s statehood bid has to be approved by the U.S. Congress, and there are a host of reasons why it should be granted. The brutal demise of Macho Camacho reflects perhaps the most urgent: Making Puerto Rico the 51st state would not only help the island of 4 million people pull out of its violent tailspin; it could also help the U.S. create a more modern law enforcement model inside Latin America and the Caribbean, where public insecurity is arguably an even heavier drag on development today than poverty and inequality are.

U.S. statehood is no guarantee of First World law and order. (See last summer’s murder spree in Chicago.) But it would give Puerto Rico—where the police are as corrupt, incompetent and abusive as most Latin American constabularies, according to a scathing U.S. Justice Department report last year—a better chance of forging the more reliable cop culture enjoyed by the vast majority of people in the 50 U.S. states. (Hollywood, be ready with the pilot scripts for Puerto Rico Five-One if statehood goes through; San Juan’s got gorgeous location potential, and it’s cheaper to shoot there than in Honolulu.)

Why would statehood make much difference? Because Washington would make sure it does. It’s one thing for some faraway U.S. territory, which most U.S. congressmen couldn’t find on a map if their lives depended on it, to log the kind of carnage you read about in Juárez, Mexico. It’s another thing if it’s one of the stars above the stripes, pushing up the U.S.’s down-trending national crime stats. Juárez, where law enforcement is a travesty, has the highest murder rate of any city in the world; but El Paso, Texas, just across the Rio Grande, has one of the lowest. It’s a good bet that although Puerto Rico sits in the same Caribbean basin as countries like Honduras, which has the world’s worst national murder rate, statehood would give Washington more impetus to help turn San Juan into a south-of-the-border El Paso

That in turn could have an impact on the rest of the Caribbean, if not the rest of Latin America. Granted, having First World law enforcement on the north side of the U.S.-Mexico border hasn’t done a lot to improve things on the other side, in Chihuahua or Baja California. But Puerto Rico is part of Latin America’s bone marrow; even if it never becomes more than an underachieving state like Mississippi, if a more modern and professional judicial system were transplanted there, it could spread like healthy red blood cells to neighbors like the Dominican Republic and Haiti, maybe beyond them. The bottom line is that it can’t hurt, especially since the Caribbean is a perennial transit lounge for South American drug shipments. Having a U.S. state, and more U.S.-style law enforcement, in the thick of it would be a benefit.

Another bottom line is that commonwealth status—a “political and economic twilight zone,” as Angelo Falcón, head of the National Institute for Latino Policy in New York, put it to me when President Obama visited the island last year—doesn’t work for Puerto Rico in the 21st century. And its worsening troubles are becoming a bigger source of shame for the U.S. The murder of Camacho, 50, gunned down with a friend, who was also was killed, while sitting in a car where cops found nine packets of cocaine, is just the latest shocker. So far no arrests have been made, and don’t hold your breath waiting for any. Statehood won’t change that overnight. But keeping Puerto Rico a faraway territory most likely won’t change anything.

For the original report go tohttp://world.time.com/2012/11/25/why-the-murder-of-macho-camacho-underscores-the-case-for-puerto-rican-statehood/#ixzz2DHRBcd7S

4 thoughts on “Why the Murder of Macho Camacho Underscores the Case for Puerto Rican Statehood

  1. Interesting fact that actually US has a lower murder rate than PR when it comes to national-citizen murders. That’s actually true. Maybe it is due to the fact that your beloved and renowned “honorable” ex-president, Trueman killed over 150,000 persons within 4 months (1250 persons/day) thanks to the famous project Manhattan outside your country. Hence, the fact that you don’t kill your own kind inside your country doesn’t makes you as clean-handed as you think you are. Your history is written with blood in its hands. Remember the redskin people you also slaved and raped just for a piece of land. The funniest part is that knowing all this, you say that PR is a violent place and US is going to be the hero of the day. Remember not everything last forever. Hope you could expand your narrowed vision and enhance your critical thinking. A just recommendation, be less idealist.

  2. I am surprised to see such a partisan and pro-colonial (and ahistorical) post in this blog. The pro-statehood movement on the island has been on an evangelical-like impetus that ignores the facts for the “positive” vision.

    The main reason Puerto Rico, as well as much of Latin America, has sunk into what it seems as social disarray (as seen in the surge of violence) is in fact because of its colonial status and the neo-liberal policies affecting the entire region. Adding Puerto Rico to the integral political structure of the colonial master (statehood) would not only miss the objective of producing a solution to the problems affecting the region, but it would simply be impossible.

    Understanding the nature of nation-building and nationalism would help explain why the U.S. would find it impossible to assimilate the island as an equal. There are plenty of historical examples that would also highlight the foolishness of this idea. The French is perhaps the most salient one, in which the colonial territories have been integral and full members of the French political apparatus (unlike Puerto Rico’s “commonwealth” status, which by the way, it reads radically different in the Spanish version).

    And yet, the French “Overseas Departments” have not been nor will be in the same social or political level as the rest of France. They are rather dependencies “well treated,” or better yet, “people hanging from the borders of the more progressive nation that is France” (which happens to thrive at the historical expenses of their colonial possessions). No wonder the French have not accepted them as real social equals.

    The U.S. seems to be farther behind the French in admitting this possibility with Puerto Rico–even less of accepting Puerto Ricans as full members of their society (in the continental U.S., they are considered “immigrants” in the process of becoming “Whites” as the Irish and Italians once were, if they are willing to shed away most of their cultural traits and join the “melting-pot”). So, there are enough evidences showing the final destination of the “statehood” pipe-dream.

    Puerto Rico has a long history of reactionary and pro-colonial support, and this post seems to follow in such a tradition (this thought also relates to plantation owners in Cuba who sought a union with the U.S., and also discredited Dominican caudillos who wanted the U.S. to re-colonize their country in the 19th Century).

    Yet, there are also traditions of more genuinely native and more creative lines of thinking that put a premium on emancipation, collaboration and fair equality rather than on pernicious social hierarchies. I suggest that we tap on these latter traditions, improve on them and rethink our future more brightly than joining a cause of futile begging for acceptance.

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