Puerto Rico Voters Declare They Want U.S. Statehood. Now What?
(Bloomberg) -- On an election night in Puerto Rico full of cliffhangers and razor thin margins, one vote seemed a bit more clear: a majority in the U.S. territory wants the island to be a full-fledged state.
A non-binding referendum on the sidelines of the governor’s race found that 52% of voters want statehood versus 48% who are against it.
Some 590,000 people voted in favor of statehood -- more votes than any gubernatorial candidate received including pro-statehood front-runner Pedro Pierluisi.
“This is a clear sign that statehood is larger than any one particular party,” said Jenniffer Gonzalez, the island’s non-voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives who won reelection Tuesday. “This is a clear message that the people of Puerto Rico want equality.”
A four-point advantage is not a landslide, but it’s a clear indicator of the island’s aspirations, Gonzalez said.
Of the six statehood referendums held in Puerto Rico since 1967, this is the only one that hasn’t been boycotted. (While statehood won 97% of the vote during a 2017 referendum, that was amid low turnout and opposition protests.) The wording in Tuesday’s vote was also unambiguous -- similar to referendums that paved the way for Hawaii and Alaska to become states in 1959, she said.
The local vote, however, is the easy part. It’s up to Washington -- long reluctant to budge on the issue -- to move the issue forward.
Before Tuesday’s general election, statehood promoters hoped a Democratic sweep of the White House and Senate might open the door for statehood.
But with the U.S. political outlook still uncertain, Gonzalez said she’s going to lobby whichever party ends up in power. While she’s the head of Puerto Rico’s Republican Party, she is a staunch supporter of Pierluisi, who is also a Democrat.
Statehood transcends party affiliation because it is, fundamentally, a civil rights issue, she said. Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million residents are U.S. citizens subject to U.S. laws, but cannot vote for president and have no vote in the U.S. legislature.
“When the most powerful country in the world protects democracy around the globe but has a colony in its own neighborhood that it treats differently -- that it discriminates against when it comes to laws and regulations -- then something’s not right,” she said.
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