The demise of the Puerto Rican statehood movement

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Despite its 2012 electoral loss and recurring internal power-struggles, Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP) is probably in better shape than it has ever been. Its fundraising capabilities are unmatched; its pro-statehood stance is preferred over the current Commonwealth status by a plurality of Puerto Ricans; it has controlled both legislative chambers for much of the last two-and-a-half decades; and it holds a supermajority in the Supreme Court that is guaranteed to last decades. Despite this, in previous years it has experienced serious obstacles to its ideological legitimacy.

Though the statehood option garnered a seemingly whopping 61 percent in the 2012 status referendum, when factoring in the number of protested blank votes cast, results reveals that only 44 percent of the electorate supported the statehood option. Poll results from October 2011 poll showed a 41 percent with only 37 percent of the population claimed that the status issue should be resolved “urgently.” 49 percent of PNP voters stated that they were satisfied with the current Commonwealth status. These numbers – which remain similar to their 1968 levels – prove the statehood movement’s historic inability to obtain an absolute majority of Puerto Ricans’ favor.

{mosads}PNP leaders know this, and in two separate status referendums in 1998 and in 2012, have attempted to re-configure referendum questions in order to split or exclude the pro-Commonwealth vote, in effect attempting to create a false pro-statehood majority. Nevertheless, and despite the 2012 referendum portraying the majority desired by the PNP, the results have gone largely ignored by the U.S. Congress. The referendum was a flop.

The PNP have been struggling hard for decades in an attempt to produce a clear pro-statehood majority. But even if it were to luck out and squeak past the 50 percent mark, that might not be enough. President Barack Obama stated, for example, that a supermajority would be required for Congress to act on a pro-Statehood vote. “If it split down the middle or 51-49,” stated Obama, “I think Congress’ inclination is going to be not to change, but rather to maintain status quo until there is greater indication there is support for change.” Likewise, Rick Santorum, runner-up in the 2012 G.O.P. presidential primaries similarly stated that “50 percent plus one” would not be enough to demonstrate a desire for statehood.

A number of influential stateside conservative groups have also began to clamor for the G.O.P. and its candidates to adopt an English-only stance on Puerto Rican statehood. U.S. English stated, “should the Puerto Rican people choose to become a state, they must consent to becoming a primarily English speaking state”. “When it comes to language,” stated the National Capital Tea Party, “if Puerto Rico petitions to become the 51st U.S. state, Congress and the president must require it to adopt English as the only official and primary language of day-to-day government operations including all laws, official records, and government proceedings”. Though 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney claimed to be open towards a Spanish-speaking state, he received flack from his party ranks for flip-flopping on the issue.

Congressional interest will not spike anytime soon, as data concerning U.S. public opinion on the matter demonstrate. In 2012 Angus Reid published an instigative poll that revealed that only 21 percent of Americans supported converting Puerto Rico into the 51st state. Congress has simply failed to express any interest in the matter, especially during moment, as prolonged economic hardships and increased pressures to cut spending further add to the improbabilities. Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood, non-voting Representative in the federal House, Pedro Pierluisi, has presented bills HR 2000, HR 2499 and HR 727, each with the intention to resolve the status issue or bring about statehood; all of which flopped.

The PNP continues to command a large electorate, becoming an institutionalized component of Puerto Ricans’ everyday lives and political culture. It is a political machine obsessed with self-preservation, capitalizing off of the the mythical dream of statehood that fools so many. But when the ideological justification is put to the side, what remains is a hollow apparatus beant on patronage and power; a special club that guarantees jobs for party activists and contracts for major donors. Though occasionally the PNP will submit a token bill to Congress or suggest a local referendum in order to appease their followers, statehood remains nothing more than a myth.

Gallardo is a municipal legislator and is based out of Puerto Rico. He has an M.P.A. from Valdosta State University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Puerto Rico. You can connect with him on Twitter or Facebook at @LuisGallardoPR or

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