Will Puerto Rico Be America’s 51st State?
By DAVID ROYSTON PATTERSON
Published: November 24, 2012
ONE of the little-noticed results of the Nov. 6 elections was a plebiscite held in Puerto Rico on the island’s relationship with the United States. The outcome was murky, much like the last century’s worth of political history between Washington and San Juan, and the mainland’s confused or disinterested attitude toward Puerto Rico that abetted it.
Ricardo Arduengo/Associated Press
Ever since the United States invaded Puerto Rico in 1898 and then was handed the island by Spain as part of the settlement for the Spanish-American War, the island’s people — American citizens since the passage of the Jones Act in 1917 — have been continuously put in situations where they are simultaneously auditioning for statehood, agitating for independence, and making the very best of living in limbo.
Despite what my name suggests, I am Puerto Rican. I grew up with a mother from the island and a Scots-Irish father in a small town in rural North Carolina, at a time when there were so few Hispanics in the area that my mom liked to go to a Mexican restaurant just to speak some Spanish. That was 20-odd years ago. The local Latino population has grown so much since then that my mom, who retired two years ago, was able to work for a decade as a translator for the local school system.
I was used to being “discovered” as Puerto Rican. Sometimes when this happened, I’d be called upon to explain things. In fourth grade, that meant being assigned to give the class — half black kids, and half white kids — a show-and-tell presentation on Puerto Rico and its strange status as a self-ruling commonwealth, with its own governor and legislature, the American president as its head of state, but whose residents lack a vote in national presidential elections or voting representation in Congress despite being American citizens.
I was asked, “Do you eat a lot of tacos?” The answer, “Probably not any more than you do.” I was also asked, by one of the two dark-haired girls that I had a crush on, this one a doctor’s daughter, “Why don’t we just sell it?”
Even fourth graders can be left speechless. It later occurred to me that I should have answered: “You can’t just sell it. It’s not your beach house!”
If Puerto Rico were our beach house, we’d pay more attention to it.
It has long been conventional wisdom among many Puerto Ricans that the status quo will hold because neither of the American national parties has decided that converting the island into a state would benefit them politically. Paired with this is the conventional wisdom that the Republican Party doesn’t actually want nearly four million more Hispanic voters, and their corresponding electoral votes, at play in national elections. (Both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum did pronounce themselves pro-statehood when courting votes — and fund-raising dollars — on the island during last year’s Republican primaries.)
When Spain granted Puerto Rico to the United States in 1898, President William McKinley initiated a project that he defined as “benevolent assimilation” on an island filled with people who already had a strong identity of their own and who, of course, primarily spoke Spanish.
Some of the same people who had resisted rule by Spain, and who had even achieved an extremely brief autonomy — nine months — for the island before the American Navy’s arrival, continued to resist rule by the United States. Among them was a family member — the poet, journalist and statesman Luis Muñoz Rivera. It was during the Spanish reign that he had written, “Annexionism had always seemed to me absurd, depressing and inconceivable.” Though Mr. Muñoz Rivera continued to make the case for autonomy, he was also essential in the creation of some useful accommodations to American rule, like the Jones Act.
Luis Muñoz Rivera’s son, Luis Muñoz Marín, was the first democratically elected governor of Puerto Rico — and my grandmother’s first cousin. He was also a poet and a journalist, and collaborated closely with the United States Congress to have the island declared a commonwealth in 1952. I often think of two lines from his poetry, “I have broken the rainbow across my heart/as one breaks a useless sword against a knee,” especially when I encounter idealists who have summoned the will to force large, dramatic, practical accomplishments.
In 1949, Mr. Muñoz Marín told American officials, less poetically, that Puerto Rico was looking for “a new kind of statehood,” and that matters were evolving “more like phonetics develop than like Esperanto is constructed.”
And this story of language and its confusions continues. The Nov. 6 referendum consisted of two parts, the first of which requested a yes-or-no vote on the question “Do you agree that Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of territorial status?” The second part instructed voters to “please mark which of the following nonterritorial options would you prefer.” Three choices were offered; statehood, independence or “sovereign free associated state.”
Each option had a definition attached to it, in both Spanish and English, and an icon associated with it: the number 51 emblazoned on a star, the word “libre” framed by a map of the island, and the silhouette of a gray kingbird, respectively. Statehood and independence are familiar concepts, but it’s worth quoting the definition of the less familiar sovereign free associated state: “Puerto Rico should adopt a status outside of the Territory Clause of the Constitution of the United States that recognizes the sovereignty of the people of Puerto Rico,” the ballot explained, “based on a free and voluntary political association, the specific terms of which shall be agreed upon between the United States and Puerto Rico as sovereign nations.”
On the first part of the plebiscite, 54 percent of those who voted disagreed with the “present form of territorial status.” On the second, 61 percent voted for statehood, 5 percent for independence, and 33 percent for sovereign free associated state. The current commonwealth status was not listed as an option.
Enough voters left the second part blank — some as a protest against the exclusion of the commonwealth option — that one could credibly argue that only 45 percent of the people voted for statehood. Indeed, a recent article in The Hill quoted an unnamed Capitol Hill staff member as saying that some in Congress considered the 61 percent vote for statehood to be a “statistical fiction.”
This is a common attitude in Puerto Rico as well. My cousin Vicky in San Juan — a politically sophisticated liberal and a good-humored pro-commonwealth patriot — called the plebiscite “una trampa” (a trap). In Vicky’s view — and many others’ — the departing governor, Luis Fortuño, who is pro-statehood, put the plebiscite on the ballot in an effort to draw his voters to the polls.
PEDRO Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner, who acts as the island’s representative to the executive branch and in Congress — where he can vote in committee, though not on the House floor — says that action is needed.
On Nov. 14, he gave a speech on the House floor offering a compelling defense of both the process and the results of the Nov. 6 plebiscite. Mr. Pierluisi, who is pro-statehood, correctly called the island’s current status “colonial in nature” and made a forceful argument against those who would dismiss the election’s outcome. “Some wish to downplay the results of the plebiscite by citing the voters who left the second question blank, but this argument does not withstand scrutiny,” he said. “In our democracy, outcomes are determined by ballots properly cast. Power rests with the citizen who votes, not the one who stays home or refuses to choose from among the options provided.”
I had a long conversation with Mr. Pierluisi the day after he spoke on the House floor. He insists that either Congress or the Obama administration should respect the plebiscite and take action — perhaps by creating another, improved plebiscite that includes both the current commonwealth status as an option, and clearer, fuller explanations of what the alternatives would mean.
He hopes public pressure, including from other Hispanic voters, and possibly international prodding, encourages Congress or the White House to act. “If Congress doesn’t do anything with this,” he told me, “I don’t rule out going to the United Nations or the Organization of American States.” Mr. Pierluisi won’t do so immediately, he said, “because I have to believe in Congress doing its job.”
One of Luis Muñoz Rivera’s best-known poems, “Paréntesis,” ends: “I will not fall; but if I were to fall, amid the roar/ will tumble down, blessing/ the cause in which I melted my entire life;/ my face always turned to my past/ and, like a good soldier,/ wrapped in a shred of my flag.”
Puerto Rico’s history still exists in Mr. Muñoz Rivera’s parenthesis. And I don’t think we’re doing any better in a national discussion about Puerto Rico than we were doing in Mrs. Grant’s fourth grade class.
The congressman is right. American citizens — the people of Puerto Rico — have spoken. They deserve another, clearer, definitive ballot — and soon.
Once those results are in, let’s all figure out what to do about it.
David Royston Patterson is a literary agent at Foundry Literary + Media in New York.
Puerto Rico vote endorses statehood with asterisk
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Ricans have supported U.S. statehood in a vote that jubilant members of the pro-statehood party say is the strongest sign yet that the Caribbean island territory is on the road to losing its second-class status.
But Tuesday’s vote comes with an asterisk and an imposing political reality: The island remains bitterly divided over its relationship to the United States and many question the validity of this week’s referendum.
Nearly a half million voters chose to leave a portion of the ballot blank. And voters also ousted the pro-statehood governor, eliminating one of the main advocates for a cause that would need the approval of the U.S. Congress.
‘‘Statehood won a victory without precedent but it’s an artificial victory,’’ said Angel Israel Rivera Ortiz, a political science professor at the University of Puerto Rico. ‘‘It reflects a divided and confused electorate that is not clear on where it’s going.’’
President Barack Obama had said he would support the will of the Puerto Rican people on the question of the island’s relationship to the U.S., referred to simply on the island as its ‘‘status,’’ and this week’s referendum was intended to be the barometer.
But the results aren’t so clear cut. It was a two-part ballot that first asked all voters if they favor the current status as a U.S. territory. Regardless of the answer, all voters then had the opportunity to choose in the second question from three options: statehood, independence or ‘‘sovereign free association,’’ which would grant more autonomy to the island of nearly 4 million people.
More than 900,000 voters, or 54 percent, responded ‘‘no’’ to the first question, saying they were not content with the current status.
On the second question, only about 1.3 million voters made a choice. Of those, nearly 800,000, or 61 percent of those expressing an opinion, chose statehood — the first majority after three previous referendums on the issue over the past 45 years. Some 437,000 backed sovereign free association and 72,560 chose independence. Nearly 500,000, however, left that question blank.
‘‘We made history with this plebiscite,’’ said Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, the island’s representative in Congress and a member of both the pro-statehood New Progressive Party and the Democratic Party.
The certified results will be sent to the White House and the congressional leadership, and it would be up to them to begin the process of possibly admitting Puerto Rico into the union.
‘‘The ball is now in Congress’ court and Congress will have to react to this result,’’ Pierluisi said. ‘‘This is a clear result that says ‘no’ to the current status.’’
Gov. Luis Fortuno, a member of the pro-statehood party who is also a Republican, welcomed the results and said he was hopeful that Congress would take up the cause.
But Fortuno won’t be around to lead the fight: Voters turned him out of office after one term, and gave the governship to Alejandro Garcia Padilla of the Popular Democratic Party, which wants Puerto Rico to remain a semi-autonomous U.S. commonwealth.
Garcia has pledged to hold a constitutional assembly in 2014 to address the island’s status, followed by another referendum with support from Congress.
Margarita Nolasco, the vice president of the Puerto Rican Senate from the pro-statehood party, said she feared the commonwealth forces would seek to undermine the plebiscite.
‘‘At the beginning of the last century, statehood appeared to be an impossible dream,’’ Nolasco said. ‘‘After a century of battles and electoral defeats, statehood just became the political force of majority that Puerto Ricans prefer.’’
Besides pointing to the defeat of the governor, albeit by a margin of less than 1 percent, skeptics point to other signs that statehood is not ascendant in Puerto Rico.
Luis Delgado Rodriguez, who leads a group that supports sovereign free association, noted all the voters who left the second question blank, raising questions about their preference. He said those voters, coupled with those who support independence and sovereign free association, add up to more than those who favored statehood.
‘‘This represents an overwhelming majority against statehood,’’ he said.
The results are also murky because everyone could vote in the second round no matter how they marked the first question — and the choice of ‘‘sovereign free association’’ is not the same as the current status. So people could have voted for both no change in the first round and any of the choices in the second. Nearly 65,000 left the first question blank.
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‘‘With that kind of message, Congress is not going to do anything, and neither is President Obama,’’ Rivera said.
Puerto Rico has been a territory for 114 years and its people have been U.S. citizens since 1917. Residents of the island cannot vote in the U.S. presidential election, have no representation in the Senate and only limited representation in the House of Representatives.
It’s a situation that frustrates many, as does the long-simmering political uncertainty. Independence was once the dominant political movement on the island but no longer: Only 6 percent of voters opted to sever ties from the U.S., a prospect that scared voters like 31-year-old Jose Ramos.
‘‘I prefer that the United States helps us, because to stand on our own two feet, no,’’ said the father of three. ‘‘I don’t want this to become a republic. That scares me.’’
Divided vote in Puerto Rico clouds a win for statehood
Associated Press November 08, 2012
Yet, the island remains bitterly divided over its relationship to the United States and many question the validity of this week’s referendum.
In addition, voters ousted the pro-statehood governor, eliminating a key advocate for a cause that would need the approval of the US Congress.
President Obama had said he would support the will of the Puerto Rican people on the question of the island’s relationship to the United States.
But the results aren’t so clear-cut. It was a two-part ballot that first asked all voters if they favor the current status as a territory. Regardless of the answer, all voters then got to choose in the second question from three options: statehood, independence or ‘‘sovereign free association,’’ which would grant more autonomy to the island of nearly 4 million people.
About 54 percent of the voters responded ‘no’ to the first question, saying they were not content with the current status; and 61 percent chose statehood — a bigger percentage, and the first majority, than in the previous three referendums on this issue over the past 45 years.
The certified results will be sent to the White House and the congressional leadership, and it will be up to them to begin the process of admitting Puerto Rico into the union.
Solving woes at the polls difficult with array of voting systems in US
WASHINGTON — Even as President Obama was about to give his victory speech early Wednesday, dozens of Florida voters waited in line to cast ballots more than five hours after the polls officially closed. Thousands of people in Virginia, Tennessee, and elsewhere also had to vote in overtime.
‘‘I want to thank every American who participated in this election, whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time,’’ Obama said. ‘‘By the way, we have to fix that.’’
Easier said than done.
There’s no single entity that sets the rules for voting in this country. Congress and the states enact overall election laws, but in most places it comes down to county or even city officials to actually run them. And those local systems are prone to problems.
There were examples in California of polls not opening on time because election workers overslept. In Ohio, Florida, and elsewhere, there weren’t enough voting machines to accommodate large crowds. In other places the devices malfunctioned or jammed.
At least 19 polling places in Hawaii ran out of paper ballots. In Pennsylvania, poll workers gave incorrect information to hundreds of voters about whether they needed photo identification (most didn’t)
November 07, 2012
“In an overshadowed Election Day contest, Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood in a nonbinding referendum, marking the first time such an initiative garnered a majority,” CNN reports.
“Puerto Ricans were asked about their desires in two parts. First, by a 54% to 46% margin, voters rejected their current status as a U.S. commonwealth. In a separate question, 61% chose statehood as the alternative, compared with 33% for the semi-autonomous “sovereign free association” and 6% for outright independence.”
Fox News: “But Tuesday’s vote comes with an asterisk and an imposing political reality: The island remains bitterly divided over its relationship to the United States and many question the validity of this week’s referendum.”
A Puerto Rican Reader Explains Why He’s Pro-Statehood
NOTE: PLEASE say if you DON’T want your name and/or email address published when sending VDARE email.
From: Augosto Perez (e-mail him)
Re: Joe Guzzardi’s Column: USA Libre! Why Can’t All Americans Vote On Puerto Rican Statehood
I’m a pro-statehood, registered Republican. If Puerto Rico became a state, the language of commercial and public government transactions would be English for practical, not ideological, reasons.
As to the political makeup of the island’s electorate, that may be a more fickle subject. Economically, most Puerto Ricans are conservative. Socially, like many from warm climates, they’re tolerant, even permissive.
For all the stateside wailing and screaming about “culture,” Puerto Rico has already been Anglicized through decades of media pressure. [Puerto Ricans More Americanized Than Some Allentonians Realize, by David Vaida, Allentown Morning Call, April 25, 2000]
Statehood would be justice delayed for Puerto Rico. Since the Korean War, island natives have been over-represented on a per-capita basis on America’s war casualty list. [As its War Sacrifices Rise, Puerto Rico Debates U.S. Tie, by Brian Bender, Boston Globe, February 4, 2006]
I’m certain that even statehood’s most ardent opponents will agree that statehood is preferable to granting amnesty to more than 12 million illegal aliens who do not and never will consider themselves American.
Puerto Rico Votes For Statehood
The 51st state? The most overlooked vote of 2012.
Puerto Ricans voted Tuesday to adjust the relationship between the territory and the United States and pursue statehood, advancing the quest of many on the island to become the nation’s 51st state.
In a two-part referendum, voters supported abandoning the status quo and embracing statehood — the first time such an effort has received a majority.
President Barack Obama pledged in 2011 to respect “a clear decision” of the people of Puerto Rico on statehood. It is unclear if the 60 percent margin on Tuesday meets that test.
Under Article IV the Constitution, Congress would have to approve statehood for the territory — though it is not clear where congressional leaders stand on the issue.
A White House spokesperson, in addition to spokespeople for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House John Boehner, did not respond to a request for comment early Wednesday.
Question 2: So now what?
As a someone who lived in PR as a child I am shocked. I never thought this would happen. Now I get to hear people who spent a week in PR on vacation tell me what PR is like. Or hear others claim PR will only vote Democrat despite the fact their current Governor is Republican and have had Republican Governors in the past. This will be fun.I don’t mind PR becoming the 51st state since they already are well integrated into American society. However, can we just leave the flags with 50 stars? It’ll be damn expensive to make all new ones. 😀 Also the PR needs to up their average income before they officially become part of the union.
Puerto Rico Statehood Around The Corner–Or Is It?
(Muchos no saben lo que escriben y dicen el resultado no es claro, pero la realidad es que el resultado es mas claro y contundente que la eleccionde AGP, y si se acepta a AGP hay que aceptar el resultado del Plebiscito.)
For the first time since 1959, the United States is likely very soon to have another state added to the Union–Puerto Rico–or is it?
Puerto Rico has had special commonwealth status since 1952,and had rejected statehood by narrow margins a few times over the years, but on Election,Day, the voters chose to ask for statehood, which should be automatic next year under ordinary circumstances.
This would require a new 51 star flag; the addition of probably five House members; and two US Senators, based on the fact that the island has about 3.7 million population, and each Congressional district is about 750,000 population, making for a 440 member House of Representatives.
It probably means that both Senators and most of the five House members will be Democrats, at least initially, but also based on the overwhelming Puerto Rican vote for President Obama in New York, Florida, Illinois, and elsewhere, where Puerto Ricans have settled.
Puerto Rico would be the second island nation after Hawaii, which would not be part of the American mainland, and by its population size, would have greater input than Hawaii, with its two House members, and Alaska, with its one state wide Congressman.
The plebiscite vote was non binding, and came with the unusual defeat of the statehood Governor and loss of control of both houses for his party, and the victory of the pro Commonwealth party, which wishes to leave Puerto Rican status as it has been for the past half century.
So because of the contradictory results, it could be that Congress will ignore the results and leave things well enough alone!