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This Sunday, Puerto Ricans will vote — in a nonbinding referendum -- on whether or not they want to become the 51st state of the U.S.
Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but they can't vote for president.
The island is in financial turmoil, owing more than $120 billion in total to creditors and pensioners, and resulting in hiring freezes, school closures and cuts in health care benefits.
We met three Puerto Ricans living here in Boston to talk about the crisis facing the island.
They seemed to agree that something needs to be done in Puerto Rico -- which they call the commonwealth -- but weren't sure this nonbinding referendum is the answer.
Juan Carlos Morales, 47, managing partner at Surfside Capital and co-founder of the Latino Legacy Fund at The Boston Foundation
Eneida Roman, 45, attorney at Roman Law
Ivys Fernandez-Pastrana, 46, attorney and team leader at Boston Medical Center
Bob Oakes: If you could vote, how would you vote in the referendum?
Morales: I would honestly vote none of the above. I think we are ready for the next-generation commonwealth, which hasn’t been defined.
Fernandez-Pastrana: I agree with Carlos, I wouldn't vote. It’s pretty much a very expensive survey that is not going to solve anything at all. We are in a crisis. Schools are being closed in Puerto Rico, hospitals -- so many things happening. And we are spending $5 million on Survey Monkey, pretty much.
Roman: A lot of Puerto Ricans feel that they’re not really given a viable option. The original commonwealth was good in the 1950s when it was established, but the economic realities right now are very different, so we would need some sort of redefinition of the policies that are in place.
Oakes: In the middle of the debt crisis, what are friends and relatives telling you about what life is like?
Morales: What I’m hearing constantly is that the wealth gap issue is trending towards very troubling levels. If you have money in Puerto Rico, you're making more money. And if you are in an underprivileged class, things are beginning to look even weaker — particularly outside of the metropolitan area where you have incredibly high unemployment rates.
Roman: Even the people who are doing OK will tell you that the situation is dire. This is a phenomenon that in the almost 20 years I’ve been here, I had never witnessed. I go back all the time. ... There’s always been this positivity in the attitude of Puerto Ricans that everything is going to be fine, everything's great — and it has changed. I have seen it. Everything's expensive, everything has to be imported into the island.
Morales: Labor shortages are real. We’re losing doctors. ... To get an appointment for a specialty doctor, it’s a problem, it's a challenge.
Fernandez-Pastrana: There are people in Puerto Rico with BAs, with master’s degrees, who are just selling newspapers to at least have some money at the end of the week to buy food.
Oakes: Do any of you think that Puerto Rico will ever become the 51st state, and does it feel to you that the U.S. Congress isn’t paying enough attention to Puerto Rico?
Morales: You know when I see this being resolved? When the Hispanicisation of America takes place and you have Hispanics representing more 50 percent of the vote, which will be what, 80 years from now? Then they’ll say, "You know, it might not be that bad to have a Spanish-speaking 51st state." But until then?
Roman: I honestly don’t see it either. I think we just need to focus on improving the current commonwealth as it is so that it's sustainable.
Fernandez-Pastrana: I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime. And Puerto Rico has never been a priority to the U.S., and I don’t see why that will change in the near future.
This segment aired on June 9, 2017.
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