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Island Leaves Status Issue Up To Washington, D.C.

by Neftali Fuster Gonzalez

December 20, 1998
©Copyright 1998 The San Juan Star

A father asked his son about the young man's plans for the future. Though already an adult, the son had showed no intention of leaving his father's home, where he was provided with everything he needed for a comfortable life. Although the young man was able to work and to contribute his fair share of the family's expenses, he was very reluctant to do so.

The pampered young man just wanted to continue to live off his father's work without any kind of duties or responsibilities toward the family which was providing his sustenance. His purpose in life was to keep his benefits without any duties or responsibilities.

The pampered son did not answer his benevolent father. By not answering, he decided not to decide.

That was precisely what happened in Puerto Rico on Dec. 13. Our voters were asked to decide their future, choosing between four different status options. Besides the four options, the ballot also contained a fifth column - which had not been included in any of the previous plebiscites - intended to provide an opportunity for free expression to those voters who are incapable of supporting any of the four petition choices on the ballot.

The plebiscite results are already known. The petition for statehood received almost unanimous support from the voters,who went to the polls to solve the perennial status problem. But the fact is that 50 percent of the voters decided not to decide.

Each of the status formulas included on the ballot - free association, statehood and independence - were viable options to end colonialism. Any of those three options were to be a message to the U.S. Congress, and to the world, about our determination to end the political inferiority of Puerto Rico.

After four centuries of colonialism under the Kingdom of Spain, and a century and three days after the signing of the Treaty of Paris on Dec. 10, 1898, we expected a decision in favor of decolonization. We hoped that Puerto Ricans would claim their place among the free peoples of the world, either by becoming the 51st state of our nation, or by becoming an associated or separate republic.

Each of the options on the plebiscite ballot was to confer dignity, liberty and pride on all Puerto Ricans. But each of the three status formulas implied the assumption of certain duties and responsibilities.

Unfortunately, 50 percent of the voters - like the pampered young man of our story - decided not to decide.

There were other factors involved in the plebiscite process, which should not be overlooked.

Edmund Burke, the great British politician, once said, "No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear." Certainly, fear was an element in the campaign. There was fear of losing the Spanish language, of property taxes, of being an incorporated territory. And above all, there was fear of assuming responsibilities.

Another factor in the plebiscite results was the strong desire of many voters to convey a message, not to Washington, but to La Fortaleza. Those voters perceive that they are not being heard, that their will and opinion is not taken into account at the moment of reaching decisions. The message of protest of those voters is a reminder of a fundamental premise in a democracy: that between the governors and those who are governed, there should be reciprocal communication.

The Dec. 13 plebiscite failed in its purpose of providing the U.S. Congress with clear guidance about or people's will. But it certainly left many lessons to be learned by our leaders.

The plebiscite process also made clear certain facts. One of those facts is that the New Progressive Party is the largest ideological force in Puerto Rico. In spite of the anti-statehood agenda of three television news programs, of El Nuevo Día, and the concerted efforts of labor unions, leftist student organizations and many activists with access to the news media, the NPP retained the voter percentage it had obtained in the 1993 plebiscite. And, as it has shown throughout its history, the NPP has great potential for increasing the size of its homogeneous electoral force.

Such is not the case with the Popular Democratic Party. The "none of the above" column received 785,000 votes. However, in the 1993 plebiscite, the commonwealth formula garnered 826,000 votes. Thus, there has been a reduction of more than 41,000 votes. In order to obtain the 50 percent of the vote for its column, the PDP had to turn itself into an amalgam - a "mogolla" - of the extreme left, of those voters who, for a number of reasons, felt aggrieved, and of ideological vagabonds.

The great loser in the plebiscite is the independence movement. In 1993, the independence option received 44 percent of the vote. On Sunday, it garnered a mere 3 percent.

In one of my recent columns, I said: "However, if no clear choice is to emerge from the plebiscite and - as the PDP leaders hope - the present stalemate continues, then Washington will decide for us."

Puerto Rico decided not to decide. The decision is now up to Washington.

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