"I think the lesson to be learned is that Guam can't afford to continue increasing its debt to the point that we're begging to become a state." – Victoria Leon Guerrero, co-chair, Independence task force
Members of Guam's Commission on Decolonization are looking carefully at Puerto Rico's recent political status plebiscite as a cautionary tale for Guam's self-determination process moving forward.
On June 12, close to 500,000 Puerto Rico residents voted in favor of statehood, making it the fifth time in the commonwealth's history they've stated a desire to join the United States as the union's newest state.
Nearly half a million votes were cast for statehood, about 7,600 for free association/independence and nearly 6,700 for the current territorial status, according to The Washington Post. Voter turnout was just 23 percent, leading opponents to question the validity of a vote that several political parties had urged their supporters to boycott, The Washington Post reported.
Congress has final say
The U.S. Congress has final say in any changes to Puerto Rico’s political status.
"Every political party except for the Partido Nuevo Progresista, our pro-statehood party, boycotted the plebiscite. This was the fifth time in our colonial relationship with the U.S. that voters chose statehood, and obviously it's gotten us nowhere," stated Timothy Robledo, a member of the international Puerto Rican rights group Comité Boricua en la Diaspora.
Unlike Guam's prospective plebiscite, which will feature three options — independence, statehood or free association with the U.S. — Puerto Rico's plebiscite presented options for statehood, free association/independence or status quo.
Puerto Rico's vote occurred while the island reels from its current $74 billion crisis.
"When Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who is pro-statehood, announced the plebiscite, he said it was a way to end colonial status by including just two options: independence and statehood. But the U.S. said it would not fund nor back the plebiscite unless status quo was included," Robledo said. "Not only has the U.S. still refused to endorse the process, but the cost of holding the plebiscite may have exceeded $8 million — not feasible for our current crisis."
It's because of Puerto Rico's debt crisis that Congress is less likely to approve it joining the union, more than any other time in its colonial relationship, said Guam Independence Task Force co-chair Victoria Leon Guerrero.
"I think the lesson to be learned is that Guam can't afford to continue increasing its debt to the point that we're begging to become a state," she said.
Puerto Rico's governor in the coming weeks will appeal to Congress to acknowledge the results of the plebiscite — but the chances Congress will agree to the commonwealth becoming a state are thin.
'What is or isn't possible for Guam'
"Puerto Rico, as the largest and also geographically closest colony of the U.S., in many ways will set the limits of what is or isn't possible for Guam in its own quest for decolonization," said Michael Lujan Bevacqua, co-chair of the Independence task force. "In the unlikely case that Puerto Rico becomes a state, it may help Guam should it choose to become formally included in the union. But regardless of what happens, should there be sustained efforts in Washington, D.C., for some sort of political status change for the island, it will increase the chances of Guam receiving some assistance or attention."
Robledo and Bevacqua shared a similar conclusion that fellow colonies, such as Puerto Rico and Guam, need to openly communicate about ongoing efforts to decolonize.
"The most frustrating part about all of our status and our histories with the United States is that we don't know each other's stories, and we are literally on opposite sides of the globe, which limits our interactions and the sharing of knowledge," Robledo said.