But the Puerto Ricans will have one weapon that the Tennesseans didnt. As PNP leader and former Gov. Carlos Romero Barceló told local newspapers, Congressional leaders will have to support [statehood] in order to avoid being accused of bigotry against Hispanics.
In other words, the Puerto Ricans wont hesitate to denounce as racists anyone who resists their demand. Anyone who thinks such a public relations strategy is far-fetched should recall the battle over seating Roland Burris (D), then-Gov. Rod Blagojevichs (D) pick as the Senator from Illinois.
Why would Puerto Rican statehood leaders use such strong-arm tactics to force their way into the Union? One reason is that Puerto Ricos government is deeply in debt and its economy is weighed down by a bloated public employment sector. Its PNP-led government is desperate. It recently had to furlough 30,000 government workers, and it hopes for a bailout from the U.S. Treasury that it could not hope to get as a commonwealth.
Language in the referendum bills rationale is clear: The economic model under the unincorporated territory [e.g. Commonwealth] political system has collapsed and the government has not been able to guarantee the right to work of thousands of public employees who now find themselves in the unemployment line after being laid off.
Fortunately, there is an honest, democratic alternative to resolve the issue of Puerto Ricos status. Why not have Congress authorize the commonwealth to elect delegates and hold a constitutional convention that would reflect Puerto Ricos entire political spectrum? Then the convention could debate and reach a consensus for charting the islands future to submit to Congress.
Roberto G. DePosada is the former president of the Latino Coalition and a senior adviser to the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders.