An MSNBC interview with Rosie Perez touched on several political questions, including the status of Puerto Rico. The question came up in the context of the national party platforms when the interviewer asked if Perez is happy with the way the Democratic and Republican parties have treated Puerto Rico.
“Puerto Ricans are United States citizens,” Perez said, “and I think that the issue of statehood or independence needs to be addressed and needs to be resolved. And right now, on the island, the majority of people want statehood. Why isn’t that addressed? Why is that not respected?”
That’s a good question. The 2012 referendum on status brought out a large majority of Puerto Rico’s voters to answer two questions.
First, voters were asked whether they wanted to continue to be a territory.
54% said no.
Then, people were asked — regardless of what they had voted in the first question — what option they would prefer as a permanent status. 61% of those who voted on this questions said they would choose statehood.
The White House announced that they considered this a “clear” answer to the question, but the waters quickly got muddied. After many hearings on the subject, the federal government finally set aside funding for one last referendum on Puerto Rico’s status.
This will be the first federally-sponsored vote on status in Puerto Rico. Unlike the earlier votes, this one will include only options that the United States can accept. “Enhanced commonwealth,” an option the current Puerto Rico government wants to see on the ballot, has already been rejected many times by the U.S. government. Puerto Rico’s current “commonwealth” status is, as the Supreme Court just reminded us, just another word for territory.
Essentially, Puerto Rico has a choice between statehood and independence.
Why has this vote not yet been conducted? Governor Garcia Padilla announced that the vote would be held in 2016, but the debt crisis has, perhaps, allowed him to ignore the vote. Funding is available, so the economic issues are not really preventing the vote.
The new governor who takes office next year will have the opportunity to hold the final referendum and have the status question settled once and for all.