Puerto Rico Could Become 51st State

Puerto Rico’s new Progressive Party has voted unanimously to introduce legislation in Congress which could make their country the 51st member of the United States.  Presently, the country is a United States Commonwealth.

On November 6th, the citizens of Puerto Rico were asked to vote on the referendum concerning status quo, U.S. statehood, or something else.

There were two questions on the ballot.  The first question was whether they were satisfied with the country’s present relationship with the United States.  52.4% said they were not.

The second question asked if voters wished to become a U.S. state, an independent country, or a freely associated sovereign state; a type of independence in close alliance with the United States.  On this question, statehood did receive the largest number of votes.  However, 480,000 ballots were left blank on question number two, giving statehood only 44.9% of the total number of votes cast.

Wednesday, The Puerto Rico Status Resolution Act was introduced to the House of Representatives.  It must first be passed by the Natural Resources committee before it can go to a full vote.

The measure will simply ask: “Do you want Puerto Rico to be admitted as a state of the United States?”  If it passes, the president is directed to introduce legislation within 180 days requesting Puerto Rico’s statehood, “on an equal footing” with the other 50 states.

“The government of the United States is a champion of democracy and self-determination, and it has to adhere to these principles with respect to its own citizens,” Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi said after introducing the bill. “Puerto Rico has been called the shiny star of the Caribbean, and it’s time that our state shines, together with the other states, on the flag of the United States of America.”

The United States and Puerto Rico have enjoyed a firm relationship for over a century.  Since 1967, there have been four referendums introduced to the government of the commonwealth.  Many of those who have been campaigning for statehood are “tired of the plebiscite requirement”.  They are asking for a “yes”, or “no” vote.

President Obama is uncertain of the results of the November 6 ballot questions.

In March, Mr. Obama introduced a 2.5 million dollar proposal, which would allow a U.S. sanctioned vote that would allow Puerto Ricans to decide their future.

Pierluisi said his bill is “distinct” but “consistent” with the president’s proposal and serves as a model of how the vote called for by the president can be structured.

There is, and has been, divisiveness among the Puerto Rican voters.  The current commonwealth arrangement gives them some protection from the United States, while continuing to retain a certain autonomy.  Others say that the country is no more than a United States possession, and the American Congress can change their situation at any time.

The island country became a U.S. possession at the end of the ‘Spanish-American War’ in 1898.  Puerto Rican’s residents became U.S. citizens in 1917, and Puerto Rico was granted a larger degree of autonomous rule under commonwealth status in 1952.

James Turnage

The Guardian Express

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