The fraudulent case of Puerto Rican statehood
© Greg Nash

Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner in Congress, Jennifer González, recently introduced the Puerto Rico Admission Act (H.R. 6246) to “enable the admission of the territory of Puerto Rico into the Union as a State.” The assumption of the bill is that most of the people in the island have voted to become the 51st state. Based on facts and history, this bill could be described as a monumental hoax to Congress.

The pro-statehood government of Puerto Rico held a statehood plebiscite on June 11, 2017. It was a nonbinding vote, held after the U.S. Department of Justice rejected the first proposed ballot saying that: “(The ballot) is not drafted in a way that ensures that its result will accurately reflect the current popular will of the people of Puerto Rico.” Except for the pro-statehood party in office, all other political parties and civic groups boycotted the vote.

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The pro-statehood party spent millions of dollars on a fear campaign, telling people that if they did not vote for statehood they would be deprived of their U.S. citizenship – a farce that was explicitly rejected by DOJ – and promising millions in federal money if we become the 51st state.  The pro-boycott forces spent zero dollars.

Showing a great deal of political maturity, Puerto Ricans massively declined the invitation.  The outcome: with a participation rate of only 23 percent, the lowest in our history, statehood obtained 97 percent of the vote of the few that went to the polls.

Now, using the tragedy of Hurricane María, and the incompetence of both the Puerto Rico and federal governments in managing that crisis, the statehood party is laughing in the face of that 77 percent of the population that consciously decided to boycott that vote and trying to fool Congress with H.R. 6246.

Not only was there no mandate for statehood from last year’s plebiscite, but facts and history show that the movement to make Puerto Rico the 51st state is losing steam.

Last year’s vote had the lowest participation ever in the five status plebiscites held in the island. But the real story is not in the rate of participation but in the loss of support for statehood. This was the lowest turnout in favor of statehood in the last 30 years.

In 1993, statehood got 788,296 votes. Five years later, making Puerto Rico the 51st State garnered 728,157 votes and was defeated by “none of the above.” Another vote was held in 2012, with a total support for statehood of 824,191. In 2012, 1,028,267 Puerto Ricans cast their ballot against statehood.

Last year, running with no opposition, this alternative received slightly more than 500,000 votes, the lowest in the last 30 years. Given the strong historical opposition to statehood, the fact that the forces opposing statehood got only 3 percent of the vote is the clearest evidence that the real winner of this last plebiscite was the anti-statehood boycott.

Once the results were known here in Washington D.C., the almost unanimous reaction on Capitol Hill was that with those numbers, there was no legitimate case for statehood. But then came María and its consequences. With no democratic mandate, and an abysmal failure to fix the financial and economic crisis in the island and to overcome the destruction and post-hurricane debacle, the pro-statehood government is again playing the statehood card. It is unbelievable that with this record, DOJ rejection of the original ballot and its silence on the second, the lowest electoral participation in our history, the lowest total vote for statehood in the last 30 years, and the mismanagement of the fiscal and natural disasters, the Resident Commissioner and the pro-statehood Gov. Ricardo Rosselló are trying to create the illusion that there is a mandate for statehood.

For economic, identity and cultural reasons, statehood is a bad proposition for both Puerto Rico and the United States, and Puerto Ricans know that. Congress also knows that. It is time for Congress to clearly reject this fraudulent case of Puerto Rican statehood.

Acevedo-Vilá was governor of Puerto Rico (2005-2009) and represented Puerto Rico in Congress (Resident Commissioner 2001-2004).