Thursday, August 17, 2017

[Editorial] No Candy in the Promesa Piñata

By on June 8, 2017

The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management & Economic Stability Act (Promesa) is more loaded with surprises than a piñata—except that in this party, we are beating the stuffing out of Puerto Rico with blindfolds on and there is no candy falling for our people. No, instead there are fiscal plans raining down austerity measures because Puerto Rico is broke—still, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s administration has reserved $5.5 million, with another $2 million yet to be identified, to hold a plebiscite for Puerto Rico’s self-determination. This newspaper asked an official working closely with the Financial Oversight & Management Board (FOMB) whether the plebiscite’s costs run contrary to the austerity sought in the government’s Fiscal Plan.

The reply, “The FOMB has no position on this,’’ suggests hypocrisy in the process.

It would be sad to see this referendum fail to deliver concrete results, one way or the other, because the people are in no mood to make sacrifices in household budgets when the government throws to the wind money it does not have.

A look at the history on status referendums suggests that little will come from the plebiscite held on June 11 if there is a meager turnout at the polls. The pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party and the Puerto Rican Independence Party are banking on a boycott of the process in hopes the U.S. Congress will ignore the results of a game being played by one player. Their conventional wisdom is driven by congressional inaction on the plebiscite held in 2012, which saw statehood obtaining 61.9% of the vote, shunned in the hallowed halls of Congress because more than 400,000 ballots by those opposing statehood were cast blank.

Such is the concern in the New Progressive Party (NPP) that a victory in a contest with their singular participation, which will be ignored by the detractors of Puerto Rico statehood on Capitol Hill, that the pro-statehood Rosselló administration invited the free association movement to aggressively get out the vote of their supporters. In essence, the NPP was forced to manufacture opposition.

After holding two plebiscites in 1993 and 1998, former Gov. Pedro Rosselló, who is the father of the sitting governor, criticized “the Republican Party for rhetoric that was supportive of statehood, but when the time came and they were in the majority, they did everything to oppose statehood for Puerto Rico…. The [U.S.] Senate is a most conservative institution. It resists change. And it has the mechanisms to do so.”

Pinatas are seen in Mesilla, N.M., on Jan. 31, 2004. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The elder Rosselló came to that conclusion after he was forced to hold a locally mandated process when the upper chamber of Congress failed to act on a bill for the self-determination of Puerto Rico, which had passed in the House of Representatives by the slimmest of margins. This inaction occurred despite a very aggressive lobbying effort by the former governor’s administration.

When the elder Rosselló-spearheaded plebiscite was held, the “none-of-the-above” vote prevailed, more as an exercise in protest by the people who repudiated holding the contest after the passing of Hurricane Georges in 1998 left the island in tatters. During an interview that this journalist held with the former two-term governor in 2002, he let on that the congressional doublespeak he encountered in his status crusade led him to believe statehood should be pursued through the federal courts. He pointed to the civil rights victory when Brown v. Board of Education, a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, helped overturn the “separate, but unequal” doctrine that had prevailed in Plessy v. Ferguson on segregation. Was the elder Rosselló right to look beyond Congress?

If the statehood movement overwhelmingly wins a contest in which 75% of the electorate participate—meaning 1.6 million people turn out to the polls to exercise their vote for Puerto Rico’s self-determination, as recent polls in the media suggest—you could see some traction building for Puerto Rico statehood on Capitol Hill.

If, on the other hand, a languid turnout for statehood is the final tally—say, fewer than 600,000 votes in a process that has the other main party boycotting it—Puerto Rico’s case will likely be shelved once again. And this contest will have been a costly ruse in times when Puerto Rico can hardly rub two nickels together.

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