Monday, May 18, 2009

The New Status Plebiscites: What is the Problem?

According to the press, in the next few days the Resident Commissioner in Washington, Pedro Pierluisi, will present to Congress a bill that would allow for the celebration of a new plebiscite on the status of Puerto Rico. In contrast to previous plebiscites, the proposed legislation would require two different electoral processes. In the first one, electors would be asked whether they desire (or not) to continue the current territorial status. However, if the current status is rejected, a second plebiscite in which electors would choose among the alternatives recognized by the United Nations (integration, free association, and independence), would take place.

We are already familiar with the most obvious critiques to this proposal: that Pierluisi does not have the required votes in Congress; that the U.S. would never commit to respect the result of a process in which statehood is one of the alternatives; that plesbicites are not the right mechanism to deal with the status issue; that this plebiscite is an electoral ambush designed to eliminate the commonwealth option from the ballot in order to create an artificial majority in favor of statehood. The fundamental problem with Pierluisi's proposal, however, is that it assumes that colonialism is a legitimate political option.

In other words, the proposal recognizes the right of the people to decide 'freely and democratically' if they want to continue a colonial relationship (to remain as a territory). Such a position contradicts both freedom and democracy: both concepts, in addition to being incompatible with colonialism, find their limit in their own negation. By way of explanation, the concept of 'freedom' does not include the right to decide not to be free, because that right supposes the negation of liberty; to reject self-government through voting does not constitute a democratic exercise because it would result in democracy's abolition. Furthermore, an electoral process in which colonialism appears as a valid alternative, as one of the options that would be 'respected' by the empire, could hardly be characterized as part of an exercise of decolonization.

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