Memo From Middle America | Puerto Rico May Vote For Statehood. We Should Tell It (Politely) To Go Away
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The 2012 presidential election is almost here.  But there’s another election we should keep our eyes on: the Puerto Rico status referendum, also scheduled for November 6th.

Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island which has been a U.S. territory since 1898. In English its official designation is the “Commonwealth of Puerto Rico”. But in Spanish, its official designation isn’t a translation of “commonwealth”—it’s Estado Libre Associado de Puerto Rico, literally translated “Associated Free State of Puerto Rico.” I’d guess this is a sop to Puerto Rican pride.

I’ve repeatedly argued on that Puerto Rico is a distinct society and ought to be independent. See

Joe Guzzardi, who spent his youth in Puerto Rico, agrees—and quite rightly argues that Americans should 

be asked whether they want Puerto Rico, and its debts, in their Union.

On November 6, Puerto Rico is also electing its governor, its Resident Commissioner (the territory’s non-voting representative in Congress) and other offices.

There are six candidates for governor. The two front-runners:

The other four parties running gubernatorial candidates: the Puerto Rican Independence Party, (pro-independence) the Movimiento Unión Soberanista, (pro-independence) the Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico Party (no position on political status) and the Working People’s Party (no position on political status).

In the Resident Commissioner contest, incumbent Pedro Pierluisi, also of incumbent governor Fortuno’s PNP, is pitted against five challengers.

Governor Fortuno (who is white, like most of the Latin American elite) is also a Republican and a Romney supporter.  Fortuno[Pictured right]

Interestingly, there are both Republicans and Democrats in the PNP. Thus Fortuno and Resident Commissioner Pierluisi belong to the PNP, but Fortuno is a Republican and Pierluisi is a Democrat. They both support Puerto Rican statehood.

The status referendum has been criticized, even by members of the PNP party which set it up, for its incoherence.

The ballot consists of two parts (here—the entire text will be given in both Spanish and English).

The first question:

Do you agree that Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of territorial status?

To which the voter answers

Sí /Yes No /No

Then the voter goes to the next segment, where he must choose between three options:

  • Statehood
  • Independence
  • “Sovereign Free Associated State”.

Wait, isn’t Puerto Rico already, in its Spanish-language designation, an “Associated Free State”?

Well, according to the ballot

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 Sovereign Free Associated State would be 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. Such agreement would provide the scope of the jurisdictional powers that the People of Puerto Rico agree to confer to the United States and retain all other jurisdictional powers and authorities.

That’s still somewhat, probably intentionally, vague. But it appears to be less than independence (defined on the ballot as being “fully independent from the United States”) and less than statehood (defined as “admitted as a state of the United States of America”).

Voters who favor the status quo, or something still not amounting to independence or statehood, are going to vote Yes to the first question and for “sovereign free associated state” on the second one. Those favoring statehood or independence would vote No on the first question and respectively, “statehood” or “independence” on the second question.

But it’s theoretically possible that “Yes” (= continued Commonwealth status) will win the first segment and “statehood” will win the second. Some critics think this is just a way to get some sort of vote for statehood; others think it’s incompetence.

This is Puerto Rico’s fourth status referendum. The statehood option got 39.0% in 1967, 46.3% in 1993 and 46.6% in 1998.

If the statehood option wins this time, the government of Puerto Rico is expected, through its Resident Commissioner, to petition the U.S. Congress for statehood. It would have to pass both houses of Congress and be signed by the president.

Of course, Congress could reject the petition. And the president (whoever he is) could veto it. So what are Obama and Romney saying they will do?

On his visit to Puerto Rico this past June, President Obama stated:

When the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision, my administration will stand by you.

Obama makes a quick political visit to Puerto Rico CNN, June 11th, 2012 

What does Obama mean by “a clear decision”? Judging by earlier comments, he might mean that a vote for statehood must be a solid majority. On a 2011 White House “Latino Webcast”, President Obama was asked about Puerto Rico voting for statehood and explained that

If it split down the middle or 51-49, I think Congress’ inclination is going to be not to change, but rather to maintain status quo until there is greater indication there is support for change.

Obama’s Honest Answer on Puerto Rico Statehood by Jean Vidal, Politic365, Oct. 6th, 2012

That would indicate Obama believes that a 51% pro-statehood vote in one referendum is not enough to justify it.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, seems determined to have Puerto Rico become the 51st state. Interviewed March 16, 2012 by Enrique Cruz of the Noti-Uno radio station in San Juan on, he said


CRUZ: Yesterday your opponent Rick Santorum stated that while he does not oppose statehood for Puerto Rico, the primary language of communication of the 51st state of Puerto Rico—English, not Spanish, must be the principal language spoken on the island. How do you view this issue if elected president? Should Puerto Rico change the communications of government, legislative assembly, judicial branch, schools, from Spanish to English if it wants to become a state? Do you think that a Spanish-speaking state will officially turn the United States into a bilingual nation?

ROMNEY: I believe that the people of Puerto Rico should be able to determine by vote whether they want to become a state. And if 50% plus one person says they want to become a state, then I will work to help Puerto Rico become a state. I’m not looking for other conditions or other changes—uh—Puerto Rico already has English and Spanish as official languages.

I support the concept of Puerto Rico becoming a state if its people wish to become a state.

To put this in context, Romney said last January, during the primary campaign:

I believe English should be the official language of the United States. I also believe that in our schools, we should teach kids in English.

And as governor, he promoted English immersion in Massachusetts.

The ProEnglish page on Romney is generally favorable. But ProEnglish gives Romney a B grade basically because of his position on Puerto Rican statehood.

Ironically, in the Noti-Uno interview, interviewer Cruz was much more aware of the specific problems involved in making Puerto Rico a U.S. state. Romney just tossed everything aside in favor of statehood. His 50% + one vote sets a lower threshold than Obama, whose approach is frankly more measured.

Of course, Romney has gotten himself into a hopeless contradiction on the language issue. He was duly skewered by Jose Delgado, Washington correspondent for the island’s paper el Nuevo Día (Earlier this year, Delgado gave me a pretty fair shake reporting on one of my articles urging Puerto Rican independence).

For the record, only 15% of Puerto Ricans told the 2010 Census they can speak English “very well.” Here’s how Juan Figueroa of Travel Web Directory describes the situation:

In Puerto Rico 90% of the population speak Spanish all the time unless they don't have any other choice. 

Governor Luis Fortuno spoke at this year’s Republican National Convention (see video here). And, in a typical piece of clumsy Hispandering, the convention managers had Fortuno’s blonde wife, Luce, introduce Ann Romney (see video here).

At the convention, Fortuno reported in an interview that Romney had looked him in the eye and promised that, if Puerto Rico voted for statehood, Romney would be on board and provide leadership in the matter. (Watch it here: Puerto Rico’s governor: Romney ‘looked me in the eye,’ promised statehood [VIDEO] the Daily Caller, Aug. 29th, 2012)

How will the referendum turn out? According to a recent poll reported, 51% favor the Yes answer (= remain a Commonwealth), 39% oppose. In the second segment, 44% are for statehood, 42% for sovereign free associated state, 4% for independence.

In other words, exactly the confused response that I noted was possible above. [Puerto Rico vuelve a votar sobre su estatus con respecto a Estados Unidos, Nov. 1st, 2012]

But if the statehood option can claim any sort of a victory, I think the political momentum will be strong. Either a President Obama or a President Romney could try to ram it through Congress quickly.

My conclusion: Not so fast, bipartisan political class. The American people of the fifty states must have a say in the matter.

American citizen Allan Wall (email him) recently moved back to the U.S.A. after many years residing in Mexico. Allan's wife is Mexican, and their two sons are bilingual.  In 2005, Allan served a tour of duty in Iraq with the Texas Army National Guard. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his articles are archived here ; his News With Views columns are archived here; and his website is here.

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