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NiLP Guest Commentary

The 2017 Puerto Rico Status Plebiscite: A Tale of Large-Scale Electoral Fraud?

By Basilio Serrano
The NiLP Report (June 11, 2017)

On Saturday, May 20, 2017, I decided to attend a reception and rally for Puerto Rican former political prisoner Oscar López Rivera being held in his hometown and birthplace; San Sebastián, Puerto Rico. San Sebastián is best known as El Pepino. It is where I was born and lived the first years of my life.It is an impressive, beautiful, historic town that was founded in 1752. The people are known as Pepinianos, and we all seem to be related and/or we accept that we are all related. I have family-members that are López, or Rivera, Hernández, Ríos, Toledo, and so on.

The drive from where I live in Carolina took more than two hours and throughout I listened to the local radio. Regardless of which station I selected, the plebiscite messages were constant. All the messages were pro-annexation because the statehood party is the only one participating. The Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP) had proposed and controlled the plebiscite from the very beginning. All the other political parties and organizations have decided to boycott the non-binding referendum on the future status of the Puerto Rico archipelago. The general boycott is designed to protest the monopolistic control by the PNP.

Initially the plebiscite asked voters to select independence, statehood, or an associated relationship with the US; it did not offer voters the opportunity to select the status quo - colonial condition, (Estado Libre Asociado, ELA). ELA (with changes) still has wide support among the electorate. This is especially true for members of the Partido Popular Democrático (PPD) who differ among themselves but in essence are totally opposed to annexation vía statehood.

The PPD, ironically, contacted US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to request his intervention in the definition of the status options. He responded by asking for the inclusion of the status quo and by threatening to withhold funds ($2.5 milliob) promised under the Obama administration that would be used to educate the populace on the options. The PNP-controlled government responded by including a definition of the status quo that was unsatisfactory to the PPD and gave Sessions five-days to respond to the changes.

Initially, it was believed that Sessions simply ignored the PNP request and the re-definitions. However, El Nuevo Día newspaper reported yesterday, on June 10th, that the Attorney General's office really asked for a postponement of the plebiscite, probably to study the situation more closely. The PNP ignored the request and bull-dozed forward with the questionable plebiscite probably because they had invested millions in ads and because they feared that the redefinitions of the status would trigger an end the boycott probably resulting in a reduced percentage of pro-statehood votes, probably below 40%. With the boycott, the annexationists expect a 90% pro-statehood vote.

The following entities, among others, are calling for a boycott of the unilaterally imposed plebiscite:

  • The Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño (PIP) withdrew from participation because they opposed the inclusion of the current colonial status, among other reasons.
  • The Partido Popular Democrático (PPD) withdrew because they were denied the opportunity to participate in defining the status that they seek.
  • The Partido del Pueblo Trabajador (PPT) withdrew because they understand the process to be illegitimate, and, in a May 29 press conference called the plebiscite deceitful.
  • Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano (MINH) boycotted for various reasons but most importantly becauae of their support of an Asamblea Constitucional de Estatus. MINH is calling for a Constitutional Assembly to resolve the status issue as opposed to a plebiscite that often degenerates into a popularity contest fraught with corrupt procedures to secure votes.
  • Former governors Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, Sila Calderón, Alejandro García Padilla, Rafael Hernández Colón, are all members of PPD and understandably called for a boycott.
  • Former gubernatorial candidate and attorney Alexandra Lúgaro called for a boycott. The self-proclaimed independence supporter received more than 11% of the votes cast in the 2016 general elections. She has closed ranks with PIP and other groups calling the plebiscite irresponsible.
  • The very popular Mayor of San Juan, a PPD member but one who calls for sovereignty for Puerto Rico, Carmen Yulín Cruz-Soto, also called for a boycott.

I estimate that taken together the boycotters of the plebiscite are, in fact, representative of the majority. However, it will be a majority that will not be counted. Their count, if any, will be reduced to a tiny minority.

To entice non-PNP supporters to vote and give the plebiscite legitimacy, the organizers have turned to two obscure groups that lawyer/journalist Carlos Gallisá described as the "invented opposition." Gallisá, in his radio program, Fuego Cruzado, implied that out of desperation, the PNP identified these two groups as legitimate representatives of the independentistas. One is Marcharemos. The other is Movimiento Amplio Soberanista (MAS), which supposedly represents those who support the concept of free association. The invented opposition, however, appears to be in name only since none of the ads that I heard on the radio or watched on TV were paid by them or presented their points of view.

I attended the reception and rally for Oscar López-Rivera. Hundreds of supporters jammed the oversized assembly hall. López was among his closest in El Pepino. Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who is also from San Sebastián, was not present, but as the only Puerto Rican member of Congress to openly and aggressively advocates for the independence of Puerto Rico he did everything possible to secure freedom for López-Rivera.

On my way back to Carolina, the radioblitzkrieg on behalf of annexation through statehood continued. The plebiscite that was scheduled to coincide with The National Puerto Rican Parade in New York had turned into an electoral fiasco. It was planned on the day of the Parade because the annexationists thought the Populares (PPD supporters) who often make the pilgrimage to New York for the Parade would make the PNP chances of victory possible by their absence. The PNP haad not envisioned a boycott that would contribute to the guarantees of a major, if false and not credible, endorsement of annexation.

In the meantime, millions of public dollars are wasted on this single campaign. Every radio station, TV station, and newspaper were urging the people to vote for Estadidad. No reference was made to any other status possibility. One advertisement often ends by stating that it is paid by a Federal Plebiscite Commission in an attempt to suggest that the vote is endorsed by the Attorney General and/or Congress. The ad also implies that the 2.5 million federal dollars were available by the federa; government for the campaign.

It seems as if this plebiscite will make the notoriously corrupt elections in Chicago of the past look amateurish. Millions of dollars wasted instead of being invested to the future of Puerto Rico in the education of our children or the students of the University of Puerto Rico.

Basilio Serrano, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus, SUNY- College @ Old Westbury. He is the author of Puerto Rican Pioneers in Jazz - 1900-1939 - Bomba Beats to Latin Jazz (2015). Dr. Serrano can be reached at serranob@oldwestbury.edu.


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