Calle 13’s René Pérez, perhaps better known as “Residente,” had a conversation with Deomcratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “After being a colony for 120 years, why hasn’t the United States granted Puerto Rico independence?” Residente asked.
Sanders answered that it would not be his job as president to decide about Puerto Rico’s status. This would be up to the people of Puerto Rico, he said. Previous remarks from Sanders have suggested that he is unaware that funding for a federally-sponsored referendum has already been set aside, including opportunities for education before the vote is held. Residente asked about the question of education, though.
Sanders said that the referendum should not be hurried, and that people should have the opportunity to hear both sides of the argument — independence and statehood — should be heard before the vote is taken.
Residente also asked whether Sanders would give the people of Puerto Rico the right to vote for president in the future. Sanders pointed out that statehood would automatically give the people of Puerto Rico the right to vote. “With current status,” he said, “you do not have the right to vote.”
This is true. In the United States, it is not the people who choose a president but the states. Puerto Ricans who move to a state immediately have the right to vote. People from states who move to Puerto Rico immediately lose that right.
But the answer that Puerto Rico should decide its status is not satisfying. Puerto Rico chose statehood in 2012: 54% of all votes on the question of whether Puerto Rico should keep the current territorial status said no. The majority — the majority of a vote which brought out more than 78% of registered voters, far more than we usually see in the states — clearly said that they did not want to continue as a territory.
61% of those who chose a status option chose statehood. Again, a clear majority chose statehood. Only 5% chose independence. Only 33% chose Sovereign Free Associated State.
834,1914 people voted for statehood on the second question. 828,077 voted to maintain territory status on the first question. By any standard, more people voted for statehood than to continue the current territorial status.
So saying that Puerto Rico should decide is not a strong statement. Puerto Rico’s decision must be supported by the president.