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Puerto Rico to Vote for Possible Statehood Yet Again

By La Prensa Staff

Puerto Ricans still living on the island territory won’t help decide the U.S. president, but their own futures could drastically change with next week’s November general election. Statehood is on the ballot for the sixth time—but this time, the outcome could actually mean something.

Puerto Ricans go to the polls to decide their next governor—and will be asked a simple yes or no ballot question: "Should Puerto Rico be immediately admitted into the Union as a state?" 

Of course, that won’t automatically grant statehood. There is a long process from there. If the referendum is approved, the governor would appoint a seven-member commission to represent the island territory in matters and negotiations related to achieving statehood, develop a transition plan, then present that plan to Congress and the President. But the ballot measure cannot compel Congress to act on statehood for Puerto Rico, making the vote non-binding.

On the flip side, voting "no" on the referendum would mean that a seven-member commission would be appointed to negotiate with the federal government for the free association or independence of Puerto Rico. There would be no additional federal aid for the bankrupt island.

However, organizers contend this is the best chance they’ve ever had at achieving statehood. A few political stars would have to align first. Pro-statehood gubernatorial candidate Pedro Pierluisi must win the election, as his opponent opposes statehood. If Democrats also take control of the U.S. Congress, the Caribbean island might have a shot at becoming a state.

Puerto Rican voters also approved statehood referendums in 2012 and 2017. But nothing happened in the direction of adding a 51st star to the American flag following those votes, except more disaster for the territory of 3.2 million people. Since that last vote, Puerto Rico’s billion dollar debt crisis, devastation caused by hurricanes, earthquakes, and the mass exodus of more than 500,000 residents to the mainland have all put a national spotlight on the territory’s tough relationship with the U.S.

If granted statehood, Puerto Rico would be eligible for two senators and five representatives—enough to tip the scales of power in Congress. That’s enough to spark in-fighting by Democrats and Republicans.

“Nationally, there is this impression that Puerto Rico is Democrat, and that those two additional seats would allow the Democrats to control the Senate. This has created a window of opportunity for us in the Democratic Party,” William Villafane, a local senator and the referendum coordinator for the pro-statehood New Progressive Party told Bloomberg News. “In reality, I think Puerto Rico would be a swing state or a battle ground state.”

Then add the island territory’s financial distress. With a poverty rate of 43 percent, Puerto Rico would be the poorest state—even far behind Mississippi at 20 percent. Puerto Rico also would be the most financially distressed, racking up $74 billion in debt before imploding into bankruptcy three years ago. That issue is still in court as the territory figures out how to cut its debts and fix a destitute pension system that owes current and future retirees a staggering $50 billion.

With a poverty rate of 43%, Puerto Rico would be the poorest U.S. state — far behind Mississippi at 20%. It would also be the most financially distressed. Puerto Rico and its agencies racked up $74 billion of debt before collapsing into bankruptcy in 2017. It’s still in court working out how to cut its debts and fix a broke pension system that owes current and future retirees $50 billion.

If granted statehood, Puerto Rico would be the first to join the Union since Alaska and Hawaii in 1959.

 

 

 
Copyright © 1989 to 2020 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 10/27/20 14:44:35 -0800.

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