On Sunday, August 19th Puerto Rico will vote on a referendum to amend parts of its local constitution. One amendment is to limit the right to bail on six different counts of homicide. The other amendment is to reduce the number of legislators from 78 to 56. Many on the island are uncertain of the true intentions behind the referendum, as both rise from the ruins of failed public policies by the two main political parties (PNP and PPD), who now seek to push forward these amendments with the consent and approval of the island’s electorate.
The first amendment is a disingenuous attempt at solving Puerto Rico’s suffocating crime and homicide rates, without tackling any of the much more serious deficiencies that have characterized the island’s judicial system, such as the rate of unsolved crimes/homicides solved (barely 36% of homicide cases in the past decade have even been presented to a judge) and arrests per homicide (only 43% of homicides result in a suspect being arrested [source]).
This amendment has sparked a heated debate between people advocating, mostly through manipulation of people’s fears to vote YES, and the burgeoning grassroots movement that has started a campaign to vote NO. By the limiting the right to bail the whole concept of being innocent until proven guilty comes under serious threat and with the police department’s poor reputation of framing or falsely incriminating innocent people, many are up in arms over the matter.
The second, although less discussed, represents just as much an attack on fundamental principles of democracy and democratic process. The island’s political landscape has been dominated by the two mainstream parties, that much like the US have elbowed out any true opposition from ever participating in the policy or legislative process.
After extremely low public approval ratings for the local Legislature and it’s deeds, a referendum was held a few years ago to eliminate the island’s bicameral system and transition to a unicameral legislative system. The unicameral system won by majority, yet both of the biggest parties completely ignored the referendum’s results.
This spurred the creation and the way for the blossoming of alternative parties, such as the PPP, PPT and MUS, but under the threat of opening up the Senate and House to an actual democratic process and not the exclusive club that they have become, both parties came together (a rarity) and redacted the amendment to reduce the amount of legislators. All while legislators are considering passing laws to raise their salaries and in no way deal with the abysmal inefficiency that defines the current legislature.
Both amendments are a smokescreen before the elections, as they serve to dilute the public discourse on any real subject matter or issues and to polarize public opinion, as well as a number of yet unknown intentions lying underneath.
Help those campaigning against the referendum by checking out the following links and/or spreading the word! We need to elevate the dialogue and seriously confront the problems Puerto Rico faces, which are being used to manipulate puertorricans into limiting their own rights and democracy.
Join us tomorrow at 10 am for the "NO" car caravan – starting at Ponce de Leon Ave, opposite the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Pierdas at 10 am and ending in the town of Loiza. We might lack money, but we still have our dignity – and that's all we need to take to the streets and defend our right to bail, because we are all innocent until proven guilty.
No es lo mismo (It’s not the same)