November 6th was a crazy day- we saw a Presidential re-election, new marijuana legalization laws, and Karl Rove lose it on Fox News. Behind all the action however, over a thousand miles away from Washington D.C. a little island in the Atlantic was making it’s voice heard.
For the first time in history, a majority Puerto Rican citizens voted in favor of attaining statehood in a non-binding referendum.
And while this vote may seem minor to those of us living stateside, for Puerto Ricans everywhere this was a historical moment.
The referendum asked Puerto Ricans two questions regarding their feelings towards statehood.
The first question asked if they were pleased with Puerto Rico’s current status as a United States Commonwealth. Fifty- four percent of voters said they were unsatisfied with the current status.
The second question posed solutions to commonwealth-hood, listing statehood, sovereign free association and independence as options.
For the first time ever, 61% of Puerto Ricans selected statehood as a preferable option over the other two choices.
Looking at how some people responded to the historic news via Twitter and and Facebook, there seems to be some confusion as to what this vote means.
To clarify, Puerto Rico is NOT a state- this vote simply indicated the will and desire of the Puerto Rican people to become part of our Union. But how likely is this to happen?
Well, if it is to happen, there are two major hurdles that must be cleared before we start making changes to the American flag.
First, there must be clear internal support for the change with in Puerto Rico, which may now be lacking with the election of new Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla in office. Padilla does not support statehood, and with supporting former Governor Fortuno out, it may be difficult to find a cohesive political force within the island to bring change.
Political science professor at the University of Puerto, Rico Angel Israel Rivera Ortiz told the Huffington Post the referendum results were an artificial victory saying,”It reflects a divided and confused electorate that is not clear on where its going.”
The second, and probably most daunting hurdle, is the U.S. Congress. For any change in statehood to be made Congress would have to debate the referendum, who would then begin the process of considering a status change for the island.
“The ball is now in Congress’ court and Congress will have to react to this result,” Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi told said. “This is a clear result that says `no’ to the current status.”
There has always been contraversy surrounding the inclusion of Puerto Rico in the Union. The most recent upset came in 2011 when then Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum argued that Puerto Ricans speak english before becoming a state.
In the 117 year of its status as a commonwealth, portions of Puerto Ricans have advocated for statehood, but failed. So after many years of dissaproval, what accounts for this swift attitude change?
According to CNN, economic struggles and a diminishing population have impressed upon citizens the importance of statehood. In recent years an increasing numbers of citizens are leaving the island for the mainland- to date fifty-eight percent of Puerto Ricans live in the United States.
“I think people just came to realize that the current relationship simply does not create the number of jobs that we need,” Puerto Rico Secretary of State said.
So after 117 years is it time for us to add a new star to our flag? It’s up to Congress now- and which such a divided House it is not likely that we will be welcoming Puerto Rico into our union anytime soon.