Español There exists in the minds of many a vision of independence for Puerto Rico that creates a natural aversion to the idea. When you discuss the idea of independence with people in Puerto Rico, they see the Dominican Republic, Haiti, or Cuba. This isn’t to say that these are bad countries necessarily, but there is no denying the poverty and corruption that exists, nor the oppression of the Cuban communist regime against its own people. These are reasonable fears based on real world evidence.
Yet the reality of Puerto Rico today is not a pretty picture either. Violence and corruption go hand in hand with dirty local politics, a collapsing economy, and troublesome infrastructure. This all occurs despite the close association with the United States. The fear is that without the United States there will be no one to turn to when our own government becomes abusive, and nowhere to get the needed money to push the economy forward.
The answer to all of these questions and concerns is staring us right in the face, although it is usually only visible when we look in the mirror. The answer is us. Puerto Rico has not fallen into a third world banana republic style government because it is independent; it has done so because the people of Puerto Rico have allowed it.
This is the critical and frightening aspect of independence and liberty; we, not government or an outside force, are responsible for how our government performs or fails to perform. While I am no fan of President Barack Obama, his phrase “we are the people we have been waiting for,” is absolutely appropriate in this case.
Regardless of status, we must become the people we aspire our countrymen to be. We must assume the responsibility of ensuring the long term stability of our country, whether it be the United States or Puerto Rico. It is up to us and no others, to rid government of corruption, control spending, stand up to unions, and fight back against crime and criminal organizations.
It is up to us to demand that our elected leaders be open and complete in reporting how our money is spent and why. It is on our shoulders to demand that the roads be fixed, water and power systems function as they are intended, and that corruption be fought and those responsible be prosecuted, instead of waiting for a higher authority to step in and fix it for us.
There is an extraordinary loyalty to family and community in Puerto Rico that is to be admired. However, that same commitment to loyalty, must cede to a new commitment to what is right. If you know your political party is doing something wrong, you need to be the one to report it. When you see someone stand up for what’s right, you must rally to their cause and show them support, so they are not ostracized by the institution. Instead of a commitment to government, country, or even family, we must find and secure a commitment in a higher ideal.
The idea that there is a right and there is a wrong. Taking what isn’t yours is wrong. Using your political office for personal gain is wrong. Allowing utilities to be cut off on weekends so that you can earn extra overtime is wrong. Demonizing the rich, while ignoring the greed of the professionally poor and unions is wrong. Taxing one group of people more than another is wrong. Failing to respect private property, or taking property for the profit of others, is wrong. Giving political favors to who fund your political campaign is just as wrong as taking a bribe.
The precise structure of a government becomes almost irrelevant when the people have allegiance to a higher ideal than government. While, naturally, some forms of government provide better protection for rights than others, even democracy can be used to take rights away from entire groups of people; just ask smokers, blacks, gays, and Japanese Americans during World War II.
So often people talk of improving society through education, but an education in what? Our education system, which is among the best funded in the world, consistently fails to teach children basics like reading, writing, and arithmetic, much less the how to live in a free society. We fail to teach our children about personal responsibility or the fundamentals of right and wrong. This is not religious morality that I’m referring to either, although outside of the tendency for morality to be used to discriminate against certain groups and personal choice, morality is an excellent place to start.
Government does not need to regulate personal choice in order to create a better society. It needs to regulate itself. Power, however, inhibits self-regulation, and so the responsibility falls on the people. The people must stay well informed. The people must demand of their leaders, including those of their own political persuasion, the same level of integrity they expect of the leaders of the opposing party, or even more.
We are the people we have been waiting for; we are the founders and the patriots; we are the men and women that future generations will read about and admire. We, today, must assume the responsibility that comes with liberty and exercise the authority that freedom requires. We must do this to shape our country and our world into the kind of place we can be proud to show our children and say, “I built this.”