Time to settle Puerto Rico’s status
Ockham’s razor is a principle of logic attributed to medieval philosopher and friar William of Ockham (or Occam), which states that one should not make more assumptions than the minimum needed; that amongst competing hypothesis, the simplest one tends to be the correct one.
In the case of the November 6, 2012 plebiscite held in Puerto Rico, this postulate is evident. Exercising their democratic right, the U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico voted on two fundamental questions to determine the future of their political status. The first question asked if the islanders wanted to maintain their current status. The second asked if, given a change of status, which alternative they would favor.
When asked if they “agree that Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of territorial status?” an overwhelming 54 percent voted NO, thus rejecting the current territorial/colonial status. With more than 78 percent of the registered voters casting a ballot, the “NO” won by a margin of 140,000 votes, receiving thousands of votes more than any elected official. It won in all 8 senatorial districts and 39 out of the 40 representative districts.
In the second question, statehood was favored by 61.11 percent of the voters, whereas Free Association received 33.34 percent of the votes, and Independence 5.55 percent.
For the first time ever, the citizens of Puerto Rico have agreed on the status issue above party lines, and have made a definite statement to move away from the current territorial status. The questions were clear, and the answers were clear.
Yet, proponents of the current status are using an alternative hypothesis, centering the conversation on the second question of the plebiscite, in hopes that the results of the first question will be ignored. With blatant disregard for the people’s expressed will, they try to argue that statehood did not actually win 61 percent of the vote because if you consider the ballots left empty and the ballots cast for other options, the sum of these “defeated” statehood. Pardon me? Counting empty ballots? Ockham’s razor has run amuck here. Instead of the simplest explanation or hypothesis being the correct one, they go for a justification dripping with assumptions, fuzzy math and misdirection.
Regardless of these questionable efforts by proponents of the current status, it is really the first question of the Puerto Rico plebiscite that merits most serious consideration. It aims at the key principles that are sewed into the fabric of the United States: democracy, liberty, and freedom. It also strikes at the notion that Puerto Ricans could not “get their act together” on the status question, or that they have never “rejected the current colonial status”.
In an effort to make sure every congressman has the pertinent evidence and elements of judgment, a delegation of more than 130 Puerto Ricans have traveled to the Washington, D.C. to deliver the certified results of the plebiscite, the sample ballot, and a call to action to all 542 offices in Congress. It is noteworthy that, far from being a homogeneous group, the delegation is composed of people that favor different status options, but have all come together to make the will of the people not only be heard, but also acted upon. This fact alone is unprecedented.
So, what should Congress do?
Here we invoke Ockham’s razor again, as well as the Declaration of Independence, which states that “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. Congress can choose to ignore the will of the people in Puerto Rico by elaborating some as-of-yet hypothesis, or by borrowing arguments from the proponents of the status quo. Alternatively, they can abide by the simple and elegant way in which the people of Puerto Rico have come together, have chosen to move away from the current status, and are therefore primed to accept a Congress-implemented self determination process with valid non-territorial options.
It is time to act and show the world why the U.S. is the standard-bearer for democracy in the world. It is time to respond immediately to the will of the citizens of Puerto Rico, having Congress lead the way with viable status options for this American territory.
The world is watching… the power is in your hands.
Nevares is assistant professor of Bioengineering and spokesperson for Boricua ¡Ahora Es!, a movement that sponsors a final non-colonial, non-territorial solution to the political status of Puerto Rico.