Bernie Sanders to Give Independence to Puerto Rico?

Headlines on Puerto Rico in the run-up to the Democratic primary include a strange claim: Bernie Sanders will offer Puerto Rico independence.

Read any of these stories and you’ll find that they say just this: Sanders wants to see a final referendum, and he wants to include independence as an option on that ballot.

Clinton, like Pedro Pierluisi, Resident Commissioner for Puerto Rico, wants an up or down vote on statehood. However, the only official decision on the ballot options so far is that they must all be viable options, as determined by the Department of Justice.

The DOJ has already said that statehood, independence (with or without a Free Associated State relationship like that of Palau), or continuing as a territory are all the available options. There has been controversy over the idea of including the essentially mythical “enhanced commonwealth” option, but the U.S. government has refused to consider that over and over for many years, and the chances of there being a change are slim to none.

So Sanders is not exactly offering something new and exciting to Puerto Rico. Independence has been on every ballot in every status referendum so far. It got just about 5% last time, and has never gotten much more traction than that.

These headlines say more about headline writing than they do about Bernie Sanders or Puerto Rico. When you have something that isn’t really news — like the idea of including independence on the status referendum ballot again, as has been done in every single referendum so far — then you have to come up with a headline that makes it sound like news.

Last time Puerto Rican voters were offered a choice of independence, nationhood in free association with the U.S., and statehood, statehood received 61% of the vote. Political machinations have kept Congress from acting on that vote. We believe that an up or down vote to confirm statehood’s win in 2012 makes sense.

But providing independence as an option again is unlikely to make any difference in the outcome.

What we need is action. The federally-sponsored referendum has already been approved and funded. It’s time to take action on the status question, put Puerto Rico on an equal footing with the States, and get down to increasing prosperity in Puerto Rico.

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