Remember When the U.S. Wanted to Figure Out Puerto Rico? That’s Still Happening

Puerto Rico may have voted in favor of statehood, but its future status remains unclear.

Pro-statehood New Progressive Party supporters waves a U.S. flag at the party's closing election campaign rally in San Juan, Puerto Rico last November.
National Journal
Marina Koren
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Marina Koren
Aug. 26, 2013, 3 a.m.

As Hawaii marks the 54th an­niversary of its state­hood this month, we’re re­minded that the fu­ture of one of the coun­try’s ter­rit­or­ies re­mains in flux. Last Novem­ber, Pu­erto Ric­ans voted in a plebis­cite — the fourth of its kind since 1967 — in fa­vor of state­hood for the first time ever.

Des­pite the res­ults, con­ver­sa­tions about the fu­ture of what some call Amer­ica’s last colony have petered out. Con­gress held a hear­ing on Pu­erto Rico’s status at the be­gin­ning of this month, with sen­at­ors call­ing for a change, any change.

“After 115 years, it is clearly time for Pu­erto Rico to de­term­ine what polit­ic­al path it will take,” Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said at the hear­ing, re­fer­ring to 1898, the year Spain ceded Pu­erto Rico to the United States. “The cur­rent status un­der­mines our na­tion’s mor­al stand­ing around the world.”

What’s keep­ing Pu­erto Rico in polit­ic­al limbo?

While more vot­ing is sure to come, law­makers from the is­land and the main­land have yet to fig­ure out what to ask Pu­erto Ric­ans on the bal­lot. The Sen­ate com­mit­tee lead­ers read last year’s res­ults as Pu­erto Ric­ans re­ject­ing the cur­rent status, but some ques­tion the valid­ity of the vot­ing out­come. The first ques­tion on the bal­lot asked voters if they favored U.S. ter­rit­ory status; 54 per­cent said they didn’t. The second asked voters to choose from three op­tions: state­hood, in­de­pend­ence, or sov­er­eign free as­so­ci­ation — a status that would give Pu­erto Rico more autonomy than it cur­rently has.

Sixty-one per­cent chose state­hood, but 26 per­cent of voters left the bal­lot blank. Pu­erto Rico Gov. Ale­jandro Gar­cia Pa­dilla be­lieves this shrank sup­port for state­hood to 44 per­cent. He calls for something like the cur­rent com­mon­wealth status, not full-fledged state­hood, but at this month’s hear­ing he didn’t provide de­tails on how that would work.

Mean­while, Res­id­ent Com­mis­sion­er Pedro Pier­lu­isi, the is­land’s non­vot­ing mem­ber of Con­gress and a state­hood sup­port­er, is push­ing for a fed­er­ally com­mis­sioned “yes” or “no” vote to de­cide Pu­erto Rico’s fu­ture once and for all, just like the one for Hawaii 54 years ago. Pier­lu­isi’s party, the New Pro­gress­ive Party, filed a law­suit this sum­mer against Pa­dilla, claim­ing the gov­ernor was try­ing to dis­suade law­makers on the main­land from sup­port­ing state­hood.

Wyden says an “en­hanced com­mon­wealth” such as the one Pa­dilla is pro­pos­ing is not an op­tion. Pa­dilla coun­ters that neither is state­hood, say­ing that last year’s vote was “an elect­or­al pro­cess rigged in fa­vor of state­hood” be­cause it didn’t in­clude a range of dif­fer­ent op­tions, a pro­cess known as self-de­term­in­a­tion. While he hasn’t said as much, un­der Pa­dilla’s stand­ards, the bal­lot that helped de­term­ine Hawaii’s fu­ture in 1959 would be con­sidered a fraud.

Al­though it doesn’t mat­ter now, the Hawaii­an plebis­cite vote was once ques­tioned too. “It pre­ten­ded that Hawaii did not have to go through a self-de­term­in­a­tion,” says Jonath­an Osorio, a Hawaii­an stud­ies pro­fess­or at Uni­versity of Hawaii (Manoa). “We were not giv­en the full range of op­tions.”

U.S. law­makers are anxious to re­define Pu­erto Rico’s status. But the tug-of-war between its lead­ers, com­bined with un­cer­tainty about past state-com­mis­sioned votes and fid­get­ing over po­ten­tial fed­er­al ones, sug­gest that the is­land will have to keep wait­ing.

What We're Following See More »
STAKES ARE HIGH
Debate Could Sway One-Third of Voters
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 34% of registered voters think the three presidential debates would be extremely or quite important in helping them decide whom to support for president. About 11% of voters are considered 'debate persuadables'—that is, they think the debates are important and are either third-party voters or only loosely committed to either major-party candidate."

Source:
YOU DON’T BRING ME FLOWERS ANYMORE
Gennifer Flowers May Not Appear After All
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

Will he or won't he? That's the question surrounding Donald Trump and his on-again, off-again threats to bring onetime Bill Clinton paramour Gennifer Flowers to the debate as his guest. An assistant to flowers initially said she'd be there, but Trump campaign chief Kellyanne Conway "said on ABC’s 'This Week' that the Trump campaign had not invited Flowers to the debate, but she didn’t rule out the possibility of Flowers being in the audience."

Source:
HAS BEEN OFF OF NEWSCASTS FOR A WEEK
For First Debate, Holt Called on NBC Experts for Prep
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

NBC's Lester Holt hasn't hosted the "Nightly News" since Tuesday, as he's prepped for moderating the first presidential debate tonight—and the first of his career. He's called on a host of NBC talent to help him, namely NBC News and MSNBC chairman Andy Lack; NBC News president Deborah Turness; the news division's senior vice president of editorial, Janelle Rodriguez; "Nightly News" producer Sam Singal, "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd, senior political editor Mark Murray and political editor Carrie Dann. But during the debate itself, the only person in Holt's earpiece will be longtime debate producer Marty Slutsky.

Source:
WHITE HOUSE PROMISES VETO
House Votes to Bar Cash Payments to Iran
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The House passed legislation late Thursday that would prohibit the federal government from making any cash payments to Iran, in protest of President Obama's recently discovered decision to pay Iran $1.7 billion in cash in January. And while the White House has said Obama would veto the bill, 16 Democrats joined with Republicans to pass the measure, 254-163."

Source:
NO SURPRISE
Trump Eschewing Briefing Materials in Debate Prep
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

In contrast to Hillary Clinton's meticulous debate practice sessions, Donald Trump "is largely shun­ning tra­di­tion­al de­bate pre­par­a­tions, but has been watch­ing video of…Clin­ton’s best and worst de­bate mo­ments, look­ing for her vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies.” Trump “has paid only curs­ory at­ten­tion to brief­ing ma­ter­i­als. He has re­fused to use lecterns in mock de­bate ses­sions des­pite the ur­ging of his ad­visers. He prefers spit­balling ideas with his team rather than hon­ing them in­to crisp, two-minute an­swers.”

Source:
×