One of the most overused yet effective sayings ever has always been, “Focus on the forest, and not just one the tree,” in other words, don’t focus on the one small detail when there is a bigger problem that needs attention.
That type of detail obsessive thinking has basically dominated decades of Puerto Rican politics, and it is one of the reasons why I think the island has never progressed. You see, the “tree” (or “trees”) has always referred to the creation of three political parties who spend too much time on the specific status questions surrounding Puerto Rico: status quo commonwealth, statehood, and independence. The larger “forest,” which refers to the critical push to make Puerto Rico a legislative priority on the floor Congress, has always been ignored and brushed aside, because the three political parties have spent too much time and money bickering against each other than speaking as one united voice for all Puerto Ricans.
It looks like the “forest” is starting to get noticed. Case in point, this week New York Rep. José Serrano (D) said some very important things at a committee hearing in Congress, when Attorney General of the United States Eric Holder was talking about the Department of Justice’s budget and how $2.5 million is being considered for another plebiscite on the island.
Serrano gets it. The most important thing right now is to focus on the bigger issue: that Puerto Ricans no longer favor the current status quo commonwealth, and that the political limbo needs to stop. Now.
Like Serrano said, “After 115 years, it is time to resolve the political status of Puerto Rico. As I said it is of great interest to the 4 million who live on the island and to the 4+ plus million who live throughout the 50 states.”
I am wondering who else will join Serrano to push for that instead of pushing for specific status options. I am still waiting for New York’s Nydia Velázquez (D), Illinois’ Luis Gutiérrez (D), and Idaho’s Rául Labrador (R) to join forces with Serrano and create a “Gran Combo del Congreso” (which would sound so more cooler than “Gang of Eight”). These four elected officials of Puerto Rican descent can actually vote, unlike Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi. There is no reason that these voices in Congress cannot take the lead and speak for 8+ million Puerto Ricans living on the island and the mainland combined.
Right now, all 8+ million Puerto Ricans should be working in getting a binding “one-time and that’s it” plebiscite that gives voters two options: statehood or independence. The time for fuzzy status options that play to the political interests of different parties is over. I truly believe that if we as Puerto Ricans do not put Puerto Rico first, we will be failing ourselves.
So to the status quo—the island’s pro-commonwealth party—it is time to change, and change now. The current system no longer works in the 21st century. It is colonial in nature. Stop defending it, I am sure Muñoz won’t mind.
To the pro-statehood advocates, don’t focus on statehood until you focus on a binding two-option vote. You are more than welcome to campaign for statehood AFTER this very vote is formalized and ready to be enacted. Then you can campaign all you want, but right now, pushing for statehood is only old-school short-sighted politics.
To the independence supporters, wake up. Transform your narrative, and quickly, before you vanish from the dialogue. This is no longer the 60s, there are many who still believe in an independent Puerto Rico but want to see it placed within a modern and democratic system. Imagine if you took the lead to make this vote binding and portray a united Puerto Rico. Imagine if you were proactive instead of reactive. That would get attention.
This is not complicated. It has only gotten complicated because the island’s political parties have generated a status-driven atmosphere that continues to chop away at the trees. If that is the path we choose, soon enough, there will be no forest because all the trees would disappear.
There is still a chance to save the forest. Call your elected officials right now, and demand that Puerto Rico become a priority. 115 years is enough.
Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77 on Twitter) founded LatinoRebels.com (part of Latino Rebels, LLC) in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last 12 months, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS’ Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, Forbes, and The New York Times.