Puerto Ricans interested in U.S. statehood for first time in history
On Election Day, as Massachusetts voters deliberated on questions about wide ranging issues such as marijuana, euthanasia, and gay marriage, Puerto Ricans considered a different question. Should Puerto Rico become the 51st state? The results of the 2012 referendum are surprising.
Although Puerto Ricans had the opportunity to pursue statehood at four different times in the last 45 years, ballot measures supporting statehood have never received a majority of votes.
Puerto Rico essentially became an American colony in 1989, when the island was removed from Spanish control during the Spanish American War in 1898. Residents were not considered American citizens until 1917.
Even after Puerto Ricans were given citizenship, the island was not granted statehood. With a rural, Spanish-speaking culture, the island is different from the rest of the U.S. and has been given little freedom by Washington.
Throughout the last century, Puerto Rican terrorist groups staged a number of high profile attacks on the U.S. government to express its desire for independence from America.
In a particularly brazen attack, a group of Puerto Rican nationalists attacked Congress in 1954, shooting five congressmen.
Although the violence has ended, the U.S. and Puerto Rico continue to have a strange relationship.
Puerto Ricans pay many federal taxes, with the exception of the federal personal income tax, but are ineligible to vote for the president, a situation that has turned the island into a political backwater in spite of high participation by island voters.
Until President Barack Obama’s visit in 2011, no sitting U.S. president since President John F. Kennedy, in 1961, had visited the island.
President Obama’s visit was motivated by the large number of Puerto Rican voters living on the mainland. Puerto Rico has been hit hard by the global economic meltdown, and the people feel their concerns are increasingly ignored.
Whether Puerto Rico will become a state depends on Congress, the only body that can approve new states. Politicians on both ends of the political spectrum have endorsed the idea of Puerto Rican statehood.
But if the issue comes before Congress, statehood could be blocked by conservatives in the Republican dominated House of Representatives.
With the loss of an election fresh in mind, Republicans may not support the idea of adding almost four million new voters to the mix, especially when those voters will likely support the Democratic Party.
The U.S. may have economic problems, but compared with other countries, its national economy is still thriving. By achieving statehood, the Puerto Rican economy will benefit, and the citizens will gain a say in the national government.
Puerto Rico may soon become a partisan issue, but in the end, if the people of Puerto Rico have spoken then Congress and the president will likely follow their lead. Get ready for a 51st state.
Eamon McCarthy Earls is a Collegian contributor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.