Monday, December 10, 2012

Puerto Rico's Bid for Statehood: A Millennial's View, Part One

The Latino Edge interviewed Victor M. Inglés Ferri from Guayama, Puerto Rico. He is a student at the Caribbean University, Ponce campus. We were seeking a Millennial student's view on the island's ambition to become the 51st state of America. While some Americans are outraged at such a goal, most feel it is the right time to welcome Puerto Rico into the fold.

TLE: Tell us why you strongly believe Puerto Rico should be allowed statehood?        

VIF: Puerto Rico is the most populated and oldest colony in the world. Since 1898, we have been a US territory and American citizens since 1917. Our soldiers have fought in every war America has been involved. However, we have been denied some of the most basic rights guaranteed to the states by the Constitution.

Puerto Rico has paid the price for American freedom and rights in blood. Those same rights we don’t have. It's time for the people in the mainland to acknowledge that officially, and give us the rights we have fought so hard for. The US Constitution mentions equality, and by the people, for the people. Puerto Ricans are their American brothers and sisters and its about time they start treating us like it. 

Besides being drafted the most, out of every state and U.S. territory, Puerto Ricans have the highest U.S. military enrollment rate out of any U.S. jurisdiction in the present. That means that we defend our country the most, compared to any other state. Still we do not have the Congress representation we deserve and can not vote for our President. Puertorican soldiers died for America. Yet, the United States treats us like second class citizens. We don't want statehood just so we can vote in the presidential elections, We want equality! We want equal treatment with the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as mainland Americans.  And those rights happen to include presidential voting rights. 

Right now, there are less than 4 million Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico and more than 4 million Puerto Ricans live in the United States. When you have a political status that scares away half of your population, it is time to reject that political status.  - Kenneth McClintock/Secretary of State, Puerto Rico

Although the Puerto Rican government has its own tax laws, its residents are also required to pay most U.S. federal taxes, with the major exception being the federal personal income tax. However, only under certain circumstances. Residents of Puerto Rico pay into Social Security just like everyone else does in the US, and are eligible for benefits upon retirement. Nevertheless, they are excluded from the Supplemental Security Income, and the island actually receives a small fraction of the Medicaid funding it would receive if it were a U.S. state. Medicare providers receive less-than-full state-like reimbursements for services rendered to beneficiaries in Puerto Rico, even though the latter paid fully into the system. We have contribute to our nation. Not only that, but the US makes more profit from us than we do from them.

In a poll conducted for Upper Michigans Source website, 85% of Americans who voted, support statehood for Puerto Rico. The other 15%  denies their own fellow Americans the *same* rights they sometimes take for granted in the first place.

We want the same rights, benefits and responsibilities that our families living in the states have. The real question is, why shouldn’t Puerto Rico be a state?

TLE: You mentioned that you are against independence and free association. Why?

VIF: We have been a US colony for so long that our own identity has changed in a way that has accommodated that of the mainland. Also, receiving the many financial aides provided by the US along with the minimum wage increases,  without the proper economical infrastructure to support it on its own has left the island totally dependent of the States. Independence and free association will simply not work for an island that has abandoned its original ways of self support like agriculture and labor intensive industry. On its own, Puerto Rico won’t be competitive enough to survive the fierce competition presented by those countries with more resources and much lower labor costs.

TLE:  How have these political issues affected your life in specific ways?

VIF: The actual political status served the island well in the past. With the economical help provided by the US, we have achieved much stronger political and economical stability than other countries in the region. Now, this status formula has become obsolete. It can’t do anything towards achieving greater goals like first class citizenship and those benefits and responsibilities that accompany it.    

TLE: Do you think that Congress will actually act on the status of Puerto Rico?     

VIF: The United States Congress has many reasons for not acting on the status issue of the island, most of them of economical nature. However, the Congress will be forced, indirectly, by international pressure and the continuous increase of the Latino influence in the mainland. A possible Democratic Party advantage may be an additional factor to act on the status. President Obama promised he would support statehood for Puerto Rico if there was a majority vote in favor. Currently, Congress is acting on it. The answer is yes.   

TLE: Did you vote on the November 6th referendum? What was your vote?    

VIF: Yes. I voted NO to the current status and YES for statehood.

TLE: There has been some criticism towards the PNP (Republican Party in Puerto Rico) regarding this referendum. People say that it was just a ploy to get voters to the ballots so that pro-statehood activists would vote for former governor Luis Fortuño. What what is your opinion about the referendum from that perception? Do you agree that these plebiscites are a persuasive way to understand the majority opinion of Puerto Ricans regarding their political status?

VIF: Some statehood supporters did not vote for Fortuño. The general elections and the referendum were two entirely separate issues. Statehood won and  Fortuño did not.  Perhaps it was a political strategy? The fact remains that statehood won. The plebiscite was clear. "Do you want Puerto Rico to keep their current status yes or no? If not, which status would you prefer? Statehood, Free Association or Independence?" Everyone voted for the political status they prefer. It was clear and representative of the majority. 

Please return tomorrow for the conclusion of this two-part series. - The Latino Edge. 

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