Puerto Rico: America's Fifty-First State?

Puerto Rico: America's Fifty-First State?
Puerto Ricans celebrating in San Juan. (Image Courtesy of AP)

While Americans were deciding who was going to be their president, Puerto Ricans were deciding the fate of their relationship with the United States. The 2012 Puerto Rican ballot had a two-part referendum question that asked residents of the island if 1) they wanted to change or maintain the island's relationship with the US, and 2) if they did want change did they want to become a state, a sovereign entity, or an independent country. Fifty four percent said they wanted to relationship to change, and of that 54 percent, 61 percent said that they wanted to become a state, 33 percent a sovereign entity, and five percent was for independence. Is that enough though to get Puerto Rico statehood though?

Firstly, I think a vote for statehood or independence should require 100 percent of the island's population of voting age. When you break down the numbers, it appears that around 1.8 million people voted in the election, but 500,000 chose NOT to answer the second part of the referendum. Of those who voted on the second part,  61.13 percent (805,155) of voters chose to change Puerto Rico's status to statehood, 33.32 percent (438,896) of voters chose free association, and 5.54 percent (72,978) of voters chose independence. Many people appeared to want change, but they did not know what change. There had been complaints earlier this year that many people did not completely understand the choices on the ballot. I don't know if the 'majority' that voted for statehood will hold when the paperwork gets filled out.

Secondly, the fate of the statehood vote depends on who is in charge of Puerto Rico politics. Let's not forget that statehood means electoral votes. DC, despite being in the continental US, has been denied statehood due to its liberal leanings that would give those electoral votes to the Democrats. Puerto Rico just elected a democratic governor and has only had TWO republican governors in its entire history of affiliation with the US. I don't think that with a republican controlled House of Representatives that Puerto Rico's statehood papers will get approved considering the Republicans just lost the presidency. They are definitely gunning for it in 2016, and they're not going to take any chances by giving electoral votes to a new liberal leaning state.

Lastly, I'm surprised Puerto Rico made a decision. The island has had a similar referendum three times before, and they always choose to keep the relationship between them and the US the same. It's not a strong, clear majority for statehood, but it's a decision. I'd always hoped that when it came time to make that decision that it would be for independence, but the island is in a delicate state after the last Republican governor, Luis Fortuño, imposed severe austerity measures across the island that included slashing government size and stopping collective bargaining rights for government employees. Maybe statehood was seen as a way to regain government assistance from the United States.

If the vote for statehood passes, I hope Puerto Ricans realize that they're going to lose a lot of their cultural identity. Puerto Rico is not supposed to be a state. It went from Spanish colonial rule to American colonial rule. Fear is what stops them from giving independence a chance. Being Puerto Rican myself, the main argument I heard against independence while growing up was that we didn't want to have a Fidel Castro-like situation in Puerto Rico. That's not a given. We have the ability to create our own destiny as an independent country. We don't have to follow in Cuba's footsteps. I just want to see one flag fly over Puerto Rico, and I know I'm not the only one.


What Independence Means for Puerto Rico

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