Puerto Rico’s state of mind
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Former territorial governor Acevedo Vila calls statehood for Puerto Rico "insane" (The Hill, Jan. 12). What in the ex-governor's own state of mind lurks behind such brash words?

As governor Acevedo-Vila and other anti-statehood leaders told disenfranchised U.S. citizens in the island territory that bias in mainland against Puerto Rico’s ethnic peoples made statehood impossible. He joined professors in teaching students when it comes to statehood, “The U.S. does not want us.”

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Anti-statehood leaders insist seeking equal citizenship rights through statehood or real independence is too difficult, and unnecessary besides. Instead, the ex-governor’s political party manifesto declares Puerto Rico a separate sovereign nation entitled to privileges of U.S. citizenship in perpetuity.

In this bizarre ideological narrative federal benefits are understood as reparations for discrimination under undemocratic territorial rule. In the name of “commonwealth” this rogue political status doctrine is espoused by anti-statehood party leaders and corporate special interests profiting under the status quo.

The anti-statehood “commonwealth” party lobbies Washington and lavishes campaign contributions seeking to prevent statehood or independence. A constant mantra of anti-statehood lobbying is that the 3.5 million U.S. citizens residing in the island territory are too poor, culturally eccentric, unwilling to speak English, and devoted to a creed of separatist nationalism to ever become a state.

However, the “commonwealth” manifesto failed to garner a majority vote in a series of political status plebiscites. Eventually the Congress, White House and federal courts rejected the anti-statehood party’s declaration of separate sovereign nationhood with U.S. citizenship.

In a 2012 referendum 54 percent voted to reject the current status, including the false promise of separate nationhood with U.S. citizenship. It also was certified that 61 percent voted for statehood in that 2012 referendum.

Unable to face reality, ex-governor Acevedo Vila still argues (contrary to U.N. self-determination standards) that blank ballots should be subtracted from statehood votes! That sterile debate is superseded by the incontrovertible fact that the total vote for statehood in 2012 was greater than total votes for the current status.

Accordingly, in a bipartisan 2014 law the U.S. Congress wisely authorized a federally sponsored vote to confirm the 2012 results, and that referendum is expected in 2017.

Still in denial, the former governor goes so far in his commentary as to ridicule his own people for advocating statehood in Spanish, as if a shameful betrayal of ethnic culture. This denigrates the character of the people for not complying with an imposed ideology.

In addition to branding voters who rejected “commonwealth” and chose statehood “insane,” the former governor’s remarks disdain self-empowerment as fully equal citizens under the law of the land.

The ex-governor’s rant about ethnic language omits inconvenient historical truths. No reminders that the percentage of non-English speaking citizens in Louisiana, New Mexico and California was higher than Puerto Rico today. No mention states have greater powers to protect ethnic language rights than Puerto Rico under current status.

Acevedo Vila also refers to federal measures addressing insolvency of the “commonwealth” regime as intrusion on Puerto Rico sovereignty over its “national budget,” as if the territory is an economically independent "country." He argues statehood is not an economic model, even though every new state has experienced dramatic sustained growth.

Economic hard times, language diversity, civil strife, cross-cultural discrimination and other difficult collateral issues were not obstacles but rather incentives for 32 demographically sufficient U.S. citizen populated territories attain equal rights and duties of national and state citizenship under the Constitution. If freely chosen on terms prescribed by Congress, only statehood, or alternatively true nationhood consistent with the right of independence, can fully empower people to preserve their cultural diversity, while also securing equal rights and opportunity for freedom and prosperity.

Dr. William Cleary is Professor of Law, Hiroshima Shudo University, formerly serving as Assistant Attorney General of Guam and Legal Counsel in Free Associated States of Micronesia.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.