July 12, 2017
It will not solve the Commonwealth’s current $123 billion debt problem, and it has no official enforcement power on its own. But on June 12, after many failed past attempts, Puerto Ricans finally voted in favor of becoming a U.S. state.
Photo by Alan Kotok, CC
The vote was a landmark for a region currently happily not having to pay U.S. federal taxes. With the crushing debt load of $123 billion and the Commonwealth getting in deeper financial trouble every day, however, that the vote came out this way was not a surprise to some, who claimed it might be the only way out of Puerto Rico’s current dilemma.
Those who showed up at the polls did vote overwhelmingly for statehood, with 97% of those voting in favor of it. However, the equally historic low voter turnout of only 23%, on an island where citizens typically queue up with as many as 80% of eligible voters on other issues, tends to weaken the “landslide” nature of the result.
Despite the poor voter turnout, Ricardo Rosselló, the governor of Puerto Rico and a member of the pro-statehood-advocating New Progressive Party, was elated by the outcome. He plans to take the results of the vote to Washington for formal action to be taken.
Those opposing statehood included the Popular Democratic Party and its head, Héctor Ferrer. Prior to the vote, he claimed the ballot-measure language was intentionally set up to confuse, and he urged voters to boycott the election instead of going to the polls to decide the issue. Afterwards, he even went so far as to claim that the whole vote outcome had been rigged.
Based on the very poor voter turnout, Ferrer may have received his wish.
What happens next, other than that Rosselló will take the results to the U.S. Congress, is unclear. With it being difficult to overlook that 77% of Puerto Ricans did not even show up to state their preference on the issue – and with the U.S. Congress currently in disarray for so many other reasons – it is hard to imagine that Washington is going to respond quickly to what the current governor of Puerto Rico – and just under 23% of the Commonwealth’s voters – wants to have happen.
Another alternative for Puerto Rico would have been to vote for independence but that option has long proven to be popular with only a small percentage of the population.
Most independent Caribbean nations suffer from poverty, corruption and crime rates worse than Puerto Rico's currently high rates.
Without a cultural makeover to address the root causes of Puerto Rico's problems, the status quo is the mostly likely future scenario.