Puerto Rico: status vote set as crime, unemployment rise

On Dec. 29 Puerto Rican governor Luis Fortuño signed a measure into law mandating a plebiscite on the island’s status, to be held on Nov. 6, the same day as the gubernatorial election. Voters will be asked two questions: whether they want to maintain the current political status, which is subject to the territorial clause of the US Constitution (Article IV, section 3); and whether as a permanent alternative they would prefer independence, incorporation into the US as a state, or the continuation of a “free associated state” status but no longer under the territorial clause. The referendum, which reflects the recommendations of a US presidential task force on Puerto Rico, is nonbinding; any changes would have to be approved by the US Congress and president.

The results of three previous plebiscites, in 1967, 1993 and 1998, were inconclusive. But opponents of the current status—principally Gov. Fortuño’s New Progressive Party (PNP), which is close to the US Republican Party, and the nationalist Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP)—expect that both statehood and independence supporters will vote “no” on the first question and that this will force the US government to confront the status question. The Popular Democratic Party (PPD), which is close to the US Democratic Party and wants to maintain the status quo, is critical both of the plebiscite and of the decision to hold it the same day as the gubernatorial election—which is expected to benefit Fortuño when he runs for a second term. PPD vice president HĂ©ctor Ferrer told the Spanish wire service EFE on Dec. 29 that the plebiscite was a maneuver to divert attention from problems like the rising crime rate and the increase in unemployment. (Primera Hora, Guaynabo, Dec. 29; EFE, Dec. 29)

With a population of just 3.7 million, this year Puerto Rico had more than 130,000 homicides, a record number. Unemployment has risen to 15.2%, according to official records, while unemployment among youths from 16 to 29 is now at 30%. The situation was aggravated by the imposition of an $800 tuition surcharge for students at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), the island’s main public institution of higher education. The increase in fees, backed by Fortuño, forced thousands of students out of the school into the job market. (Prensa Latina, Dec. 31; Prensa Latina, Dec. 27)

Militant strikes by UPR students in 2010 and 2011 forced some concessions from Fortuño but were not enough to stop the $800 surcharge. However, student organizations and unions representing UPR professors and other employees won an unexpected victory on Dec. 12 when a San Juan court ruled that the university had to allow public access to information on the real estate holdings it has accumulated since its founding in 1903. While claiming that it was unable to function without the tuition surcharge, the UPR has refused to provide allow public scrutiny of its assets. As of Dec. 13 the court had not ruled on whether the university would also have to divulge information on assets other than real estate. (Noticias 24/7, Puerto Rico, Dec. 13; Adital, Brazil, Dec. 13)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 1.

See our last post on Puerto Rico.

  1. Nonsense!
    Puerto Rico had more than 130,000 homicides in 2011? Really mother phockers? PR had 1,136 homicides (plus maybe 400 additional ones the Republican government’s police department don’t want to admit). Now, this is a shameful number, but to say 130,000 homicides is ludicrous and questions the entire article. The other non sensical aspect of this article is the NON fact that the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), which is close to the US Democratic Party, wants to maintain the status quo. Bull Sheat! The PPD does NOT want the darned status quo; we just want to develop the autonomous relationship to the fullest, like say Scotland in the United Kingom, without having to become a federated state or a sovereign BS banana republic. What governor Fortuño signed into law is a plebiscite to defeat the ideology that has ALWAYS won the plebiscites, by grouping the two adversary ideologies against the PPD. It’s that simple. What they haven’t been able to win on the ballot in the past, they are trying to steal with a new law. Had the governor signed a law to hold a STATEHOOD YES OR NO plebiscite, STATEHOOD would lose because the other two adversary ideologies would group together to defeat statehood. And the same would happen with an INDEPENDENCE YES or NO plebiscite…. independence would lose. WHAT PUERTO RICO AND THE U.S.A. NEED TO DO IS DEVELOP THE AUTONOMOUS STATE AS DEMANDED IN THE PLEBISCITES OF 1967, 1993 AND 1998. THAT IS, IF AND ONLY IF DEMOCRACY IS WORTH A RAT’S ASS.

    1. Correction on Puerto Rican homicides
      Thanks for catching the error on the homicides. “130,000” is indeed absurd; it’s the result of a typing error compounded with a proofreading error. The number our source gave was 1,130.

      While it is true that the PPD calls for increasing Puerto Rico’s sovereignty, it wants to maintain an association with the US, which is certainly the “status quo” in common usage of the term. There are divisions within the party on exactly what form this association should take.

    2. The PPD
      It is because of the PPD’s ideological duality and never agreeing on a true political status, one that is actually reckognized by the UN and outside of the territorial clause, that Puerto Rico hasnt been decolonized. Whe the referendum takes place, all will see how much puertorricans despise the territorial status.