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“Do You Believe in Democracy and Equality?”

“Puerto Rico Statehood: Do You Believe in Democracy and Equality?” Julio A. Cabral Corrada asked in last week’s Cornell Review. He reminded readers that “my fellow Puerto Ricans and I do not live in a full democracy,” and then lays out the central philosophical problem for Americans:

This colonial and anachronistic state of affairs contradicts our nation’s fundamental democratic values. The principle of representative democracy simply does not apply to the 3.7 million Americans (more than the population of 23 states) currently residing in Puerto Rico.

This is not just a philosophical problem. Cabral Corrada goes on to say that this lack of representation means that the United states can refuse Puerto Rico the support that it gives states. He points out that this unequal treatment keeps Puerto Rico in a weak economic position.

This inequality has had a severe impact on our quality of life, as well as on Puerto Rico’s ability to develop economically. For example, since 1976, the Island’s unemployment rate has averaged 15.5 percent—while the U.S. national unemployment rate has averaged less than 6.5 percent. Our current poverty rate is 45.1 percent, more than twice that of Mississippi, the nation’s poorest state. In addition, Puerto Rico’s $18,689 income per capita is one-third the national average and half that of Mississippi.

The essay goes on to report the results of the November referendum (54% favor changing the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico; of those who voted for a preferred alternative relationship, 61% favored statehood) and calls for action.

“Now I ask you,” the essay concludes, “Do you believe in democracy and equality?”

One comment objected that Puerto Rico does not have full consensus on statehood, and this is true. There are those who would prefer independence, those who would rather not make changes, and those who want an unconstitutional special relationship which Congress has repeatedly refused to countenance.

Kenneth McClintock responded (also in the comments), “If you really believe statehood is in the minority, support HR 2000 which provides for a yes-or-no vote on statehood.”

We have reached the point at which it is simple enough to settle the question of Puerto Rico’s status: Congress should respect the vote and accept Puerto Rico’s petition for statehood, or a straight yes-or-no vote should take place to ensure that there is no uncertainty about the will of the people of Puerto Rico.

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