Our future depends on realistic options

By William Butler Salazar

(Published June23, 2001 by the San Juan Star)

Many of Puerto Rico’s outstanding citizens of the 20th century contributed to construct the framework of the system that Puerto Rico now enjoys. Compared to most countries in size and density, and to many in Latin America much larger, Puerto Rico is a model in democracy. Voter turnout is high and ethical. Education, health and social services permeate all sectors of the island. No Latin American country can surpass Puerto Rico’s fiscal honesty, legal integrity, personal security, human rights standards and freedom of press. Democracy is a working reality. These founding fathers built solid foundations upon which Puerto Rico has steadily grown. The US Congress appears not displeased with the present situation and, if the pot is left to simmer, clever political support groups could, over the years, improve on the present day package.

As rated within the Century 21 world, Puerto Rico is doing quite well. What’s wrong with “if it ain’t broken, don’t change it” precept? The problem lies with all of us. Human nature loves change. There are also people on the outside looking in who promote change for Puerto Rico to satisfy their own selfish political goals. Change will come and the options are well defined. The end result is in the hands of the solid citizenry who must rise quickly to the occasion to seek flowers and not remain silent like the bird’s other wing which received a bullet straight to its heart.

Little change has evolved over the past 200 years when it comes to the Statehood Process. Fifty colonies/territories/republics have become states. Five became states in the 20th century. What would it take to add state #51? Not a heck of a lot, as long as it fits the basic prerequisites followed by all other states prior to statehood: be a result of war, migration or purchase. There’s been no other way, and the USA has proven to be a country of obstinate traditions.

The War of Revolution brought in 22 states between 1788 and 1821 while the Louisiana Purchase added two during this same period. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had provided the framework for the territorial system and for over a century served well the purposes of expansion. Intensive emigration during the following years added 17 states before the end of the 19th century dropped to a close. Treaties as a result of war with Mexico yielded Texas and California and part of Wyoming while W. Virginia was cut out of Virginia.  The USA entered the 20th century with 45 states.

Oklahoma became a state in 1907, followed by the last two contiguous territories, New Mexico and Arizona, added in 1912. Three territories remained, Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, all non-contiguous and sparsely populated. These two factors as well as Congress’ uncertainty about the indigenous population in these territories complicated any bid for statehood. Of these three remaining territories, Alaska was the first, in 1916, to introduce a Bill for statehood in Congress. It failed to pass.

The three remaining territories had an equal shot at statehood, that is, until 1940. Army and Navy personnel flooded Alaska and Hawaii during World War II. Thousands stayed, settled and forever changed the ethnic mix of the peoples. A 1946 referendum, which yielded 60% of the vote in favor of statehood, led to the formation of the Alaskan Statehood Association where a key player was Bob Bartlett. During 14 years as Alaska’s delegate to Congress he developed bonding friendship with key congressional leaders, a major factor in gaining the needed political support. John Burns, Hawaii’s last delegate to Congress, led the march to statehood, granted on March 16, 1959.

These two are the only states admitted into the Union during the past 90 years. Bartlett and Burns united to capitalize on the fact that Hawaii was Republican and Alaska Democratic. They put together a package that put together the needed votes in Congress. Little has changed over the years in the political arena. The Senate and House are now, have been for some time, and prospects are that they will remain closely divided between Republicans and Democrats. Each party will fight for each seat in Congress, bad news for Puerto Rico for no matter how members of Congress considers the Island’s political tendencies, at least half will oppose a Bill offering statehood for Puerto Rico. To have promoted the concept of statehood for Puerto Rico, considering the immense odds against it ever occurring, is an unforgivable political sin detrimental to the preservation and improvement of the standard of living and welfare of the peoples.

History has demonstrated repeatedly that most radical changes that have occurred in this world were initiated by small motivated groups who dedicated time, tears, sweat and even their lives to promote their ideas. The silent majority traditionally remains silent and is buried. Where were the statehooders and status-quo’ers carrying USA flags in the parade in New York City? Where were the floats showing off the system that has done wonders for Puerto Rico?

Pressure is on the USA to rid itself of its status as a colonial power. Colonialism runs contrary to the US game plan for the 21st. century. The hundred dollar question facing congress is how to honorably divest itself of its major colonial thorn. It will take hard work by talented minds to maintain the status quo. Where are these people? Are they going to sit on the sidelines and allow a foreign power dictate their future? And to make maters worse, the severing of  Puerto Rico’s strong ties to the US and obtaining its independence is the overwhelming objective of the Forum of Sao Paolo. They have formed a solid and very motivated base on the island which will be supported both inspirationally and financially from their new fabulously wealthy base in Venezuela.

And to make matters worse, the United States of America, #1 toughie in the world, runs scared. Why? When the number 3 man in Cuba, Alarcon, petitioned for a visa to participate in a rally in Puerto Rico, the USA turned him down. Why? Let him come! What in the devil are we scared of? Can’t US state security track him? By denying him entry the US falls into Fidel’s trap since the real intent of his petition was to have it denied. The US tends to fall into precedents set down by the dictatorship in Cuba.

President Bush was compelled to order the Navy out of Vieques but instead of quieting the political scene, this action has added a ton of fuel to the fire stoked by the “Peace for Vieques” group who, their adrenalin enhanced with such unexpectedly rapid success, will shift their attention to a cause on the big Island that suits their need for press coverage.

Just like Tito Trinidad. Tito can’t fight, win, be awarded a new Title, and return to Cupey to take the breeze. Fresh from victory, he plans his next move, or King plans it. The promoter in the local political arena is in Havana. Flush from his overwhelming victory in Venezuela, Fidel, like Tito, needs a bigger better match. And he gets no higher thrill than outsmarting Uncle Sam. In his last match the big prize won was Eliancito. His eyes are now on Puerto Rico. He has assembled a team that also includes China and all the bad guys in the Middle East. He is a scheming, tenacious aggressor. His heart and eyes are on his next crown. He is convinced he will win and he will throw every punch in the book until he wins by a knockout.

It is time for concerned citizens to concentrate on realistic options that will provide future generations a life as good or better than the present and forget about dancing either on cloud fifty-one or on the cloud with the big bad wolf.


William Butler Salazar

June 14, 2001


Bill Butler is an author, engineer and ocean navigator.