Why the Murder of ‘Macho’ Camacho Underscores the Case for Puerto Rican Statehood

The boxing champ's shooting death is just the latest reminder of the U.S. commonwealth's plague of violence

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image: Hector Camacho celebrates after defeating Roberto Duran at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, N.J., July 22, 1996.
Al Bello / Getty Images

Hector Camacho celebrates after defeating Roberto Duran at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, N.J., July 22, 1996.

Puerto Rican boxing legend Hector “Macho” Camacho died on Saturday after his family decided to take him off life support. Camacho — the onetime world lightweight champion who knocked out icons like Sugar Ray Leonard but whose life outside the ring could be as sordid as his career inside it was glorious — had been brain-dead since last Tuesday night, Nov. 20, when he was shot in the head outside a bar in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. It was the most high-profile reminder yet that Puerto Rico has a violent-crime plague on its hands: its murder rate today is 23 per 100,000 people, about five times that of the U.S., the worst homicide tally the island has ever suffered.

Not surprisingly, Puerto Rico is dealing with a raft of other social crises, from a 45% poverty rate to 15% unemployment to a median annual income of less than $15,000, well below the U.S. poverty line. Little wonder that more Puerto Ricans (who are U.S. citizens) now live in the U.S. than in Puerto Rico, or that Puerto Rican voters ousted Governor Luis Fortuño on Nov. 6 and narrowly elected a new one, Alejandro García Padilla. But more important, they also announced, in a nonbinding referendum, that they no longer want Puerto Rico to be a U.S. commonwealth, the territorial status that the island — which the U.S. wrested from Spain in 1898 — has held since 1952. On the question of what to be instead, by a 65%-to-35% margin, voters signaled their preference to become the 51st state in the union.

(MORE: Puerto Rico: Consulting the People)

Puerto Rico’s statehood bid has to be approved by the U.S. Congress, and there are a host of reasons why it should be granted. The brutal demise of Camacho reflects perhaps the most urgent: making Puerto Rico the 51st state would not only help the island of 4 million people pull out of its violent tailspin; it could also help the U.S. create a more modern law-enforcement model inside Latin America and the Caribbean, where public insecurity is possibly an even heavier drag on development today than poverty and inequality are.

U.S. statehood is no guarantee of first-world law and order. (See last summer’s murder spree in Chicago.) And U.S. federal agencies like the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) admittedly have more presence in Puerto Rico than they do in other parts of Latin America. But Puerto Rico’s local police, according to a scathing 2011 U.S. Justice Department report, are as corrupt, incompetent and abusive as most Latin American constabularies. Statehood might offer a better chance of forging the more reliable cop culture enjoyed by the vast majority of people in the 50 U.S. states. (Expect Hollywood, in fact, to be ready with pilot scripts for Puerto Rico Five-One if statehood goes through; San Juan’s got gorgeous location potential, and it’s cheaper to film there than in Honolulu.)

Why would statehood make much difference? Because Washington would make sure it does, especially given the more potent representation and integration Puerto Rico would gain there. To Washington, it’s one thing for some faraway U.S. territory, which many U.S. Congressmen couldn’t find on a map if their lives depended on it, to log the kind of carnage you read about in Juárez, Mexico. It’s another thing if it’s one of the stars above the stripes that’s pushing up the U.S.’s down-trending national crime stats. Juárez, where law enforcement is a travesty, has the highest murder rate of any city in the world; but El Paso, Texas, just across the Rio Grande, has one of the lowest. It’s a good bet that although Puerto Rico sits in the same Caribbean basin as countries like Honduras, which has the world’s worst national murder rate, statehood would give Washington more impetus to help turn San Juan into a Caribbean El Paso.

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That in turn could have an impact on the rest of the Caribbean, if not the rest of Latin America. Granted, having first-world law enforcement on the north side of the U.S.-Mexico border hasn’t done a lot to improve things on the other side, in Chihuahua or Baja California. But Puerto Rico is part of Latin America’s bone marrow; if a more modern and professional police presence were more robustly promoted there, it could spread like healthy red-blood cells to neighbors like the Dominican Republic and Haiti, maybe beyond them. The bottom line is that it can’t hurt, especially since the Caribbean is a perennial transit lounge for South American drug shipments. Having more U.S.-caliber law enforcement in the thick of it would be a benefit. (It would likewise benefit Latin America if people in the U.S. reduced their reckless demand for illegal drugs.)

Another bottom line is that commonwealth status — a “political and economic twilight zone,” as Angelo Falcón, head of the National Institute for Latino Policy in New York City, put it to me when President Obama visited the island last year — doesn’t work for Puerto Rico in the 21st century. And its worsening troubles are becoming a bigger source of shame for the U.S. The murder of Camacho, 50, gunned down with a friend, who was also was killed, while sitting in a car where cops found nine packets of cocaine, is just the latest shocker. So far no arrests have been made, and don’t hold your breath waiting for any. Statehood won’t change that overnight. But keeping Puerto Rico a faraway territory most likely won’t change anything.

MORE: The Campaign for Puerto Rico

124 comments
AlbertoMedina
AlbertoMedina

People who are involved in the drug world, as Camacho clearly was, are usually bound to meet a sad and violent end no matter where they are. Perhaps someone should remind the author that it's in the United States, not in Puerto Rico or any other place with "Latin American constabularies," where nearly every month some madman opens fire at a church, school, office building, or movie theater and guns down a dozen truly innocent people.

sucorazon20101
sucorazon20101

Puerto Ricans are the worst sort of people after Dominicans in the world !!

Why on earth US needs these anti-socials ion the US is any body's guess.

RandyTorres
RandyTorres

With all due respect those are some pretty flimsy reasons for granting PR statehood, based on a MINORITY of votes.  Your election results  nunbers are off by about 20%.  The reality is the majority of Puerto Ricans did NOT vote for statehood. It ain't happening regardless so all you guys in Deliverance country can rest easy.

LuisR.SaavǝdraRomán
LuisR.SaavǝdraRomán

Policy change on the War on Drugs will have to come first from DC. The feds would prevent any change in PR drug policy if there were to be any drastic change in it. If the US government can already do that in other countries imagine how much more it could in its own territory lol.

USA1969
USA1969

I don't know  Tim but, somehow this makes no sense. Your "note" (because this is a note, not a news article) mixes the death of a prominent puertirican "drug-addict" boxer with politics. This note is like: "Hey, US of A don't let that people into our party, I heard they're bad. But, if you want to let'em in, you'll have to fix'em cause they're broken.... look at how they killed a prominent boxer ... that's an outcry for god sake... do you want that?"

On that basis Tim you're making a case to expel maybe 20 states including Illinois, California, New Jersey, New York, Florida, Texas, etc. from statehood until they're fixed... cause, you know... these states are not exactly a "role model" and Washington has not done such a good job "fixing'em".

On the other hand, maybe that's what PR needed to make a drastic policy change... you know... the death of prominent "drug-addict" boxer is a lot more significant than those other who have been real victims of the ongoing drug war and crime in the island... I'm being sarcastic!!!!  but, maybe that's what Tim wanted to write about.

raphaelfromthebarrio
raphaelfromthebarrio

Puerto Rico's referendum had two parts.First question: Do you favor the current territorial political condition, yes or no. Results: 54% voted NO, 46% Yes and 3.57% casted blank votes. Meaning, a vast mayority of puertorrican soveregnty followers, statehooders and independence advocates voted they do not favor the current political status, plain and simple. This is probably the most important vote ever, since the US Navy bombarded San Juan and invaded the island in 1898 has the people of Puerto Rico expressed a majority vote against the status quo. The second part of the referendum asked, what "non territorial" political status you prefer between statehood, independence and a sovereign commonwealth, this part purposely excluded the option of those who favor status quo. The commonwealth supporters, split by the middle between status quo and a more sovereign commonwealth voted that way in the referendum. One half voted for more sovereign powers and the other part submitted blank votes. Plain facts are the following: Statehood recieved 824,195 votes (44%); Sovereign Commonwealth 449,679 votes (24%); Blank Votes (Status Quo) 480,918 (24%); Independence 74,812 (4%). Statehood had only one option for its followers and obtained 44% of votes. Status Quo and Sovereign Commonwealth alone, casted more support than statehood, 48%, and when added the Independence vote, it was a landslide against statehood, or viewed in the correct light, a majority vote for self government against statehood. As a matter of fact, the party that supports commonwealth won the elections by a .08% margin for the executive power, much less than the difference of victory of those who favor self government versus statehood, which won by a robust 8%. Support for self governemt trascends patisan lines.The undisputed fact is that to impose statehood with a minority vote or a simple majority is an invitation to civil war. Timor is an example of this. On the other hand, Alaska and Hawaii were annexated after natives were reduced to tourists in their oww soil and imported population made the decision for them.Contrary to those states, Puerto Rico is a defined caribbean hispanic nation, with a very active independence movement that has reminded US Congress and the President more than once, that liberty is not a matter of numbers.

JoseRaulzxc
JoseRaulzxc

Well, not so far away. Puerto Rico its closer to Washington DC than California, Washington State and others. The real problem its that Washington dont look to the caribbean because most of the US citicens dont know that a commonwearth named Puerto Rico with 4 millions US citicents, its  part of the nation. They view PR like a holliwood Banana Republic and most of the people in the US dont know that actually here in PR we paid Fica Tax (medicare, medicaid, social security), Futa Tax, Sale Tax, and others. in others words, we paid for the money that we receive from these sources. In addition with statehood the amount of funds send to PR vis a vis the amount that PR receive from US will be reduced due to the addition of the IRS Income Tax to the federal taxes that we already paid. In other words, statehood its a a good business for the US. If you want to know the real Puerto Rico, come and visit us and you will see by yourself a place that its very very far away from a Holliwood Banana Republic.

rearroyo58
rearroyo58

One would expect that a "bureau chief" of a prestigious publication like Time magazine would use such a valuable opportunity to write a well researched and thought out opinion that would  shed light on a extremely complex problem such as the political status of Puerto Rico.

Mr.Padgett's attempt to link the murder of a notorious boxer that happened to have Puerto Rican ancestry with the colonial situation  of Puerto Rico.without bringing any  solid arguments for his position is absurd and a waste of valuable editorial space.

Shame on you, Mr. Padgett

LuisR.SaavǝdraRomán
LuisR.SaavǝdraRomán

Okay one little correction, if a state, PR's income would be about 25k, not 18k, which is about 6k less than the next poorest state. Why is that? Because its GDP is about 97Bill but its GNP is about 63Bill, and the GNP counts all the profits that American companies make in PR as "Rest of the world" and not national. Which only proves how inserted PR's economy is already within the US. A quick search in the Census website will show you this. 

It is a bit ridiculous to suggest that statehood somehow imports a first world police force. The police force is already pretty much Americanized. Where I do see a difference is that there will be more accountability which will hopefully dwarf corruption on the long run.

BobSheepleherder
BobSheepleherder

This would be a good test case to see if the US can deal with even a small Latin American problem. It can't be any worse than some of the inner city, cum-third-world-mini-nations, that effectively exist in some of our major cities right now.

LuisAlequin
LuisAlequin

Blank votes do not count,its like going inside a voting booth and not pulling the lever,who gets the vote? It is as though no one voted.

tma_sierrahills
tma_sierrahills

This reads like a parody meant to portray a grotesquely politically correct or otherwise motivated bureau chief who knows nothing about: (1) the real world; (2 ) the natural resource limits of the United States, especially when it comes to our being able to pull countless third-word peoples, countlessly multiplying, out of centuries of poverty; (3) inherent differences among different populations upon the earth; (4) how fashionable utopian intentions almost always end up just getting more people dead; and (5) possibly what happens when journalists lose all pretense of objectivity and go flamingly native. 

I am not completely unsympathetic to third-world peoples seemingly forever mired in poverty, crime, corruption and violence, and seemingly forever said to be just on the verge of progressing out of those problems, but I have more respect for them than demonstrated by the liberal mainstream media. They are humans just like we are. They need to solve their own problems just like we do. Ultimately they will have to. We are not gods. They are not our children. Since we can't transform their lives, let's at least give them a little respect.  

teakwiz
teakwiz

Is this the same "Time Magazine" where Richard Stengel is the Managing Editor??? Did Richard hire this guy?

its_Joby
its_Joby

Why on earth would PR have to become a state first to import "modern, professional" policing techniques? Does the author think PR is some backwater banana republic governed by a military junta? The island IS ALREADY under U.S. jurisdiction and federal law enforcement has just as much sway there as anywhere else in the U.S. This is an example of a mindset where anything remotely "Latin American" must by definition be third-world, impoverished and corrupt.

Furthermore, it's a ridiculous notion that instilling PR with that "modern and professional" U.S. police presence, apparently only beholden in latitudes north of Texas and Florida, would spread, Iraq-freedom style, to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the rest of the Caribbean. This article is uninformed armchair sociology at its worst, and it sets a bad name for someone purported to be TIME's "Miami and Latin America bureau chief"

kandw101
kandw101

He was brain dead BEFORE the bullet.      IMO

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

The presence and influence of the US government is already as extensive as in any state.  More cogently, anybody who has spent any time at all asking Puerto Ricans about the statehood issue would know that there are almost equal and strong factions for statehood, independence, and status quo.    The arguments for statehood in this article are irrelevant for the most part.

latinorebels
latinorebels

@sergpr de acuerdo gracias :) @Carlosedicion @24rjc

RamonOlivencia
RamonOlivencia

If PR wanted to have less crime then it should look out to Cuba, which has the hemisphere´s lowest rate. After all, even though PR´s crime rate is high, it is still less than St. Louis, DC or Detroit, which are all under US jurisdiction. On the other hand, the author misses the point that the way the pro-statehooders got 65% of the vote was because the protest or blank votes accounted to over 55% of those voting; in other words, statehood actually only received 45% of the vote.

latinorebels
latinorebels

@boricuatimes we have our ways of finding things :) we also now have a PDF of the original column, it was really done in poor taste

latinorebels
latinorebels

@boricuatimes agreed or at least @eldiariony should have a quick response explaining why it pulled the piece, if it indeed did

raphaelfromthebarrio
raphaelfromthebarrio

Great, to stop high crime rates and drug trafficking to the US, statehood (annexation) should be imposed to Puerto Rico, border provinces of Mexico and maybe other Caribbean nations like Jamaica and Dominican Republic. Bad joke aside, it should be stressed that annexxation to US was not favored in the referendum of November 2012. So called statehood had 44% of the vote and sovereign and status quo votes (blank votes promoted by Commonwealth supporters) resulted in over 55%. A US Congress publication called The Hill labelled the pro statehood results as a "statistical fiction". The economic situation and crime statistics show that pro statehood elected governments are highly corrupt and uncapable of governing the colonial structure of Puerto Rico. More than forty members of the prior cabinet or executive branch of the Roselló government are currently serving time in federal penitenciaries. A more than a handfull of the recently defeated Fortuńo government expect the same. You see, statehood as viewed by these people, is a culmination of corruption. What should be done by the US is to state a defined public policy in dealing with its 100 year old colony in the caribbean. I believe that when crafting a new immigration statute dealing with granting citizenship to some of the 11 million hispanics within the US borders, it should grasp the opportunity to define the way it will deal with a transition to sovereignty to the people of Puerto Rico.The brittish did it some years ago before defining its policy regading Hon Kong and other colonial territories in the caribbean. Annexation to USA is a demagogic burden imposed by the Cold War era where Pueto Rico was used as "window to economic progress" to other nations in the caribbean, meaning that it was best to be with the USA than with left leaning governments, etc. It's time to abandon rethoric and to work in an effective policy to the best interest of both parties involved.  

latinorebels
latinorebels

@boricuatimes oh, wait did @eldiariony pull that story? Why did they pull it? We can't find it.

latinorebels
latinorebels

@boricuatimes @eldiariony we are reading it now thanks!

latinorebels
latinorebels

@sergpr menos el encabezado @Carlosedicion @24rjc

chrisandlorin
chrisandlorin

Puerto Rico should NOT be made a state, it should be made part of an existing state like Florida.  No way in heck should it get 2 senators.

latinorebels
latinorebels

@boricuatimes we know, right? worst headline ever

viewfinder
viewfinder

Wow! To be this ignorant and to "sell" oneself as a connoisseur by being the TIME's Miami & Latin America bureau chief is a shame. I'm a Puerto Rican, born and raise in Puerto Rico and still living in the island and that entitles me, as anyone who lives here, to point out that, in order to expose this topic responsibly, you need to inform yourself, you need to read, and interview Puerto Ricans here so you can collect enough information to make a strong argument and a valid opinion. Otherwise, you end being irresponsible, fake, a clown. That being said let me inform you that our current status allows and forces the US to do already what you claim will happen once we become a state. We are a territory of the US, therefor US is obligated to guard our coasts and to protect them from outsiders and US Federal laws violators. Do they do that? In theory? yes. In practice? It is questionable. Puerto Rico is not a drug producer neither an arm producer. Drugs and arms gets in and out the country through the coasts, the ports and airports that are "guarded" by the US. Then, who's the REAL responsible of our situation here? Is it the Commonwealth? Is it the Police of Puerto Rico, who follows US police forces strategies and which is trained by the US police forces? And that leads me to ask you again, who is the REAL responsible for our "corrupt" police? Is it the Commonwealth and the neeeed of statehood? Or is it the US?

If you are really that concerned and worried about PR's crime and poverty situation, instead of using Macho Camacho's death as your podium or stage to cry for justice and statehood and "all the first-world law and order', you claim the US is and have, for PR, you should, after reading a lot, go to your President and your Congressmen and ask them to do -but really do- what they have to and are obligated to do to give PR the protection and the "first-world law and order" we need and we are supposed to have. 

Do not forget: we ARE territory of the US, they already have the ways, if they want to.

Have a nice day, mister!

conrazon
conrazon

@Calle13Oficial @time @latinorebels @altlatino who's writing the op-Ed? Cc: @TimPadgett2

conrazon
conrazon

@Calle13Oficial @time @latinorebels who's gonna write the OP-ED?

rvargas64
rvargas64

@TIME @TIMEWorld I really enjoyed reading this article.he sold me on statehood.I would really like to help my country come out of poverty

jamoreno
jamoreno

I fail to see the logic in the argument.  If the US has any interest in Latin America and in helping Puerto Rico get rid of the crime spree, it can do so within the current relationship between PR and the US.  Reinforced surveillance of the PR coast and ports for drug entry to the US is a good place to start.  The "US caliber law enforcement" in Puerto Rico is something that may be done if the US Government wants to do it as well as robustly promote the development of a more modern and professional police force.  Bottom line is that to deal with crime PR may use the help but is not necessary to become a state.  Is naïve to think the Congress will consider such proposal amidst the questionable results of a ill conceived plebiscite.

KaluCarmenCarmona
KaluCarmenCarmona

Are you really TIME'S Latin American chief?????  Your article is the dumbest one I ever read.I respect your opinion but stateghood has nothing to do with the violent culture we've inherited from you... the people of the US.  Shame on you Mr. .... Journalist???????  Ahora en buen castellano  Sr. .... Periodista????? ...   Su articulo es un asco, un desastre.  Informese, conozca, investigue.  Respeto su opinion pero... que demonios tiene que ver la estadidad con la  violencia???? 

El_Nate
El_Nate

@Calle13Oficial @TIME wow que desastre de articulo! 45% tasa de pobreza? Q carajo es eso?

JoseOlmos
JoseOlmos

According to your argument high crime is a good reason to give statehood to PR. Well... LETS TRIGGER A CRIME WAVE. WHAT A GREAT IDEA.... NOT!!!

JoseOlmos
JoseOlmos

The central comment 0f giving such heavy weight to crime as a core reason to grant statehood to PR is absurd. As a puertorrican living in PR and after serving 27 years in the Army I believe that core reason to give statehood to PR is one of Civil Rights. The Civil Right of the UNITED STATES CITIZENS living in PR have been trampled by a Congress that is willing to send the sons and daughters of this Nation to foreign countries to die or come back injured to impose the interest of the country and "Democracy" while denying 4 Million islander the right to FULL CITIZENSHIP. After 114 years of relationship with the US and loyal service and contribution to all areas of the Nation it is time to give statehood to PR. The US Citizens in PR demand the right to contribute to the Nation as any other citizen while receiving the benefits they have earned.

sucorazon20101
sucorazon20101

@its_Joby PR is as bad as Haiti and Dominican Republic !!

Pls don't BS here.

Having these beggars in the US is enough, on top of that these entitlement comments makes it unbearable.

Presence of Puerto Ricans/Dominicans/haitianos in a neighborhood means very high crime, high welfare, drugs and prostitution.

PR has the highest rate of INCEST !!

rikisaac
rikisaac

@formerlyjames You could see that the people that is against statehood are well organised and well paid too. Puerto Rico as a state would receive more funds to fight poverty, crime and health. The political party that promotes the Commonwealth ( they called state free and asociated a lie invented by them) just want to stay in power so they can help their friends to stay rich. They just lie about all the statistics and have people monitoring the web so they can spread their lies.

JoseRaulzxc
JoseRaulzxc

Mira mentiroso para que entiendas bien, si votabas Si en la primera pregunta lo logico es que no votaras en la segunda como lo pidio Hernandes Colon y el propio Alejandro. Seria contradictorio votar que quieres seguir con el estatus actual y luego decir en la segunda pregunta que quieres algo distinto a lo actual. Son los que no se contradicen los que no votaron en la segunda pregunta ya que querian seguir como estan.

kandw101
kandw101

@RamonOlivencia Yea, look at cuba. Communist and hardline dictatorship countries usually don't have a citizenry crime problem because the criminals know they will go away or be locked away forever without due process. In other words, you get your b alls handed to you. The crimes are usually committed by the gov't and are free from prosecution.

JosuePerez
JosuePerez

@raphaelfromthebarrio the sateyehood won ..if u answer yes in the first question .is no need to answer the second question..that was the confussion.ok..so stop ur lie statehood won ok..

JoseRaulzxc
JoseRaulzxc

Mira mentiroso para que entiendas bien, si votabas Si en la primera preguntalo logico es que no votaras en la segunda como lo pidio Hernandes Colon y elpropio Alejandro. Seria contradictorio votar que quieres seguir con el estatusactual y luego decir en la segunda pregunta que quieres algo distinto a loactual. Son los que no se contradicen los que no votaron en la segunda preguntaya que querian seguir como estan.

rikisaac
rikisaac

@raphaelfromthebarrio You could see that the people that is against statehood are well organised and well paid too. Puerto Rico as a state would receive more funds to fight poverty, crime and health. The political party that promotes the Commonwealth ( they called state free and asociated a lie invented by them) just want to stay in power so they can help their friends to stay rich. They just lie about all the statistics and have people monitoring the web so they can spread their lies.

KenHorowitz
KenHorowitz

@rikisaac Didn't the founder of the statehood party, Luis A. Ferre, willingly and knowingly sign the constitution that created that "lie?" But he takes none of the blame, right?

KenHorowitz
KenHorowitz

@rikisaac Didn't the founder of the statehood party, Luis A.Ferre, willingly and knowingly sign the constitution that created that "lie?"