Should Puerto Rico, essentially a U.S colony, become the 51st state, maintain its current status quo, or become independent? The island's political status has always been a perennial issue, one which has provoked much heated debate and sharp divisions in Puerto Rican society. HR 2499, known as the "Puerto Rico Democracy Act," is the latest attempt introduced by Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierlusi to once again address this issue. It calls for two-step referendum every eight years. The first would simply ask eligible voters (including Puerto Ricans living in the mainland U.S) whether they wish to keep the island's current status as a commonwealth (Estado Libre Asociado) or to choose another political direction. If the latter receives the majority of the votes, a second referendum would then ask voters to choose among the following options: statehood, independence, current commonwealth status or "sovereignty in association with the U.S."
Should statehood receive the majority of the votes, Congress must vote on whether to allow Puerto Rico to become the 51st state. HR 2499 was passed in the House of Representatives, by a vote of 223-169 this past April 29th, but it has been stalled in the Senate. Critics consider this latest attempt to favor statehood supporters. This is the argument of some U.S politicians of Puerto Rican descent, such as Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-NY), who are against HR 2499. On the other hand, Rep. José Serrano (D-NY) supports this initiative, saying: "I support it because for the first time in 112 years the people of Puerto Rico will have an opportunity to express themselves."
Contrary to what Rep. Serrano was quoted as saying, the island has had plebiscites in 1967, 1993 and 1998 allowing citizens to decide on the political status of Puerto Rico. Unless island residents get just two options, independence or statehood, I do not see an overwhelming majority wanting to see Puerto Rico become the 51st state. Culture and economics are two of the reasons why most Puerto Ricans prefer to keep the status quo. Spanish is the predominant language spoken, and residents do not pay any federal taxes on income earned inside the island. After all is said and done, there is simply a lack of interest and desire amongst most of the electorate to change Puerto Rico's current political status.
(Image obtained from www.endi.com)