Last year’s referendum in Puerto Rico has been hailed as a “successful” statehood referendum, by those who advocate statehood. But when the majority of the population do not turn out to vote, it truly cannot be viewed as a success. The reason for the extremely, low voter turnout in Puerto Rico is because the majority on the island are not convinced that statehood is the answer. Yet, the Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo A. Rosselló, says that there is only one answer and that is statehood. He argues that statehood would provide more benefits, and that it would relieve Puerto Ricans of their second-class citizenship. While Puerto Rico may, conceivably, receive more federal funding, it would not necessarily solve the island’s bankrupt status. Look no further than the mounting pension deficit in the state of Illinois, which has been compared to Puerto Rico. To this day, Illinois is the only state that has been operating without a balanced and complete budget for almost two years. Furthermore, becoming a state does not automatically earn Puerto Ricans a “first-class” citizenship, and it may not ensure equal treatment in the face of a natural disaster, as was witnessed during the disastrous response in the wake of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
Puerto Rico needs a solutions outline, that would serve to delineate the benefits and downsides of all options, whether that is statehood, independence, or a free association with another nation as defined by the United Nations Committee on Decolonization. Such a major decision requires full knowledge of the potential gains and losses from each option. Mr. Rosselló’s demand for statehood, is not representative of the many, and it breeds distrust and a sense of illegitimacy of the process. Wishful-thinking on statehood as the savior, instead of critical-thinking on the inherent problems of Puerto Rico, and what solutions might best answer them, is a strategy best left for the crystal ball.
If we want to increase voter turnout, then we must create a transparent path with concrete arguments that articulate the consequences of each option, so that residents in Puerto Rico are able to make informed decisions. The long-term fate of their future is at stake, and the low voter turnout has shown that the lack of transparency has not inspired confidence.
A tunnel vision approach does not ameliorate voter turnout and fails to educate and inform, instead, it acts to push a short-sighted agenda without involving the constituents in the process. Anything short of transparency is a disservice to the people of Puerto Rico. It’s not only, a waste of time, effort, and money, but a waste of something much more valuable — trust. The future of Puerto Rico should not be decided by a single person or a single party. Transparency is more than just political-speak, it’s sound governance.