Friday, January 17, 2014

Puerto Rico: US Congress Expected to Fund Referendum on Statehood, Alternatives

According to EFE, the US House of Representatives’ approval of a budgetary line item to provide funding for a referendum supervised by Washington on Puerto Rico’s legal status is considered historic by pro-statehood parties in the island.

It is expected that the Senate will approve the budget bill in the next few days.

Pedro Pierluisi, whose opposition party, the New Progressive Party (NPP), is in favor of making Puerto Rico the 51st state, said that late Wednesday evening (January 15) the House approved the allocation of $2.5 million to organize the referendum. 

The funding has no deadline or time limit and is subject to the requirement that the funds also be used to inform and educate the Puerto Rican public about the different options among which they will be allowed to choose.

The referendum will consult Puerto Ricans about their opinions on the island’s relationship with Washington and will be conditional upon the US Department of Justice approving the results of the referendum, so that it can be guaranteed that the phrasing of the questions adheres to the Constitution.

COMMENT: Incumbent Governor Alejandro García Padilla, who is also the leader of Puerto Rico’s other main party, the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), favors maintaining the island’s status as a Free Associated State, or Commonwealth, of the US.

The US invaded Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War.

Island residents were granted US citizenship in 1917, but they cannot vote in presidential elections, though Puerto Ricans living in the continental United States can.

Since 1952, the island has been a Free Associated State of the United States, an unincorporated territory with broad internal autonomy.

Fifty-four percent of Puerto Rican voters supported a change in status in a non-binding referendum coinciding with the November 2012 gubernatorial election.

The ballot consisted of two questions.

Sixty-one percent of those who answered the second question favored statehood over the other two choices: enhanced commonwealth status – the PPD’s proposal – or independence.

More than 460,000 Puerto Ricans who voted on the first status question did not respond to the second question, thus nullifying the results.

Pierluisi is of the opinion that the only possible options for Puerto Rico’s future status are US statehood or independence.

One can only hope that the incumbent governor, who opposes statehood, and the NPP, who is in favor of statehood, will ensure that the referendum is objectively implemented, although given the fact that Washington, DC has rendered lobbying a global art-form, a truly fair referendum is unlikely.

From a law enforcement standpoint, the fact that Puerto Rico has a crime rate DOUBLE that of Chicago, IL—the highest crime rate in the US Mainland—and a homicide clearance rate of only 25% suggests that making Puerto Rico the 51st state would be an unwise decision.

With all of the US’ challenges under the Obama Administration, adding Puerto Rico as the 51st state would simply exasperate Washington’s already overloaded political agenda.

Of course, given the fact that 75% of the Latin vote cast their vote for President Obama in the last presidential election, suggests that it is in the Democratic Party’s best interest to see Puerto Rico becoming the 51st state.