Puerto Ricans' bid for statehood mired in politics
ANGEL CASTILLO JR., Florida VoicesWhile Puerto Ricans living in Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere were voting for president of the United States on Tuesday, those living on the island were deciding that they want Puerto Rico to become the 51st state.
Published: November 11, 2012
Published: November 11, 2012
But, at the same time, the island's voters also put in charge of their local government a governor and a political party who do not support statehood.
Governor Luis G. Fortuño, who supported statehood for Puerto Rico and Mitt Romney for president, narrowly lost his bid for a second term to challenger Alejandro Garcia. Fortuño has been the president of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (called "PNP" from its Spanish initials).
Garcia's party, the Popular Democratic Party ("PPD," likewise, from its Spanish initials), opposes statehood. In the elections, it gained control of both chambers of the Puerto Rico Legislature and elected 47 mayors in the 78 municipal governments. Among the losers was the longtime pro-statehood PNP mayor of San Juan, Jorge Santini.
Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens since 1917. However, those who live on the island cannot vote for president. Neither does the Spanish-speaking Caribbean island of four million have voting representatives in the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives.
The more than 1.8 million voters who cast ballots on Election Day (almost 78 percent of those eligible) turned the island's government upside down. In the process they also threw the possible statehood of the island into doubt because of their somewhat ambiguous choices at the voting booth.
In the first part of a non-binding referendum, 54 percent of the voters said they did not wish to retain the island's current status as a territory (euphemistically called a "commonwealth") of the United States. And 46 percent said they preferred keeping the current status, instituted in 1952. More than 64,000 voters skipped the question.
Regardless of how they voted on the first question, the voters were then asked to choose from three alternatives. Just over 61 percent (803,849) voted for statehood. A new proposed status called "sovereign free association" with the U.S. was the choice of just over 33 percent (438,358). And just over 5.5 percent (72,901) supported complete national independence for Puerto Rico.
However, 469,148 voters abstained and left the second question blank. This omission led statehood opponent Luis Delgado to assert that those deliberate non-votes, when added to those who voted for independence or for sovereign free association, showed that in reality a majority of the voters had expressed opposition to statehood.
Governor-elect Garcia immediately said that in spite of the referendum results he would do nothing to promote statehood in Washington.
Puerto Rico's resident commissioner, Pedro R. Pierluisi, a member of Fortuño's PNP and a nonvoting member of the U.S. House of Representatives, was the only prominent official supporting statehood who won re-election. He said he would soon be trying to negotiate statehood terms with the Obama Administration and Congress.
A simple majority vote in both houses of Congress and the President's signature are necessary for statehood. However, because Puerto Ricans historically identify with the Democratic Party, the Republican-controlled House may not support that change in status.
For the moment, as during the 114 years since Puerto Rico was invaded by U.S. troops during the Spanish-American War in 1898, Puerto Rico remains the property of the United States of America.
Angel Castillo, Jr., a former reporter and editor for the New York Times and The Miami Herald, practices employment law in Miami. He can be reached at email@example.com.