Delusion of Puerto Rican statehood

The pro-statehood governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, invited the people of the island to vote in favor of statehood on a plebiscite held on June 11, 2017. It was a nonbinding vote, held after the U.S. Department of Justice rejected the first proposed ballot for not complying with the Constitution and federal law, and then kept silent on the ballot that was offered to the people. Showing a great deal of political maturity, Puerto Ricans massively declined the invitation. Even though our rate of participation in elections and past plebiscites has been between 60 percent and 80 percent, this time 77 percent of those entitled to vote decided to pass. 

The plebiscite was boycotted by the two major opposition parties and every important civic and political organization. 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 and promising millions in federal money if we become the 51st state. 

The pro-boycott forces spent zero dollars.

The outcome: With a participation rate of only 23 percent, statehood obtained 97 percent of the vote. That was the lowest participation ever in the five status plebiscites held in the island.

 Even in 1967 with a population of 1 million fewer than today, 200,000 more people voted in that plebiscite. 

But the real story is not in the rate of participation but in the loss of support for statehood. With 97 percent of the vote, 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.

Now, running with no opposition, with the statehood party in total control of the government structure and spending millions of public and private dollars promoting the vote and statehood, this alternative got only a little bit more that 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.

It is amazing that with this record, the rejection from the DOJ of the original ballot and its silence on the second one, the lowest electoral participation in our history and the lowest total vote for statehood in the last 30 years, Gov. Rosselló is 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 to move on and look for a different mutually beneficial alternative to solve the colonial status of Puerto Rico.

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

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