State Watch

Puerto Rico Senate chief proposes statehood vote in 2020

The Puerto Rico Senate president proposed a bill Tuesday that would add a statehood vote to the ballot for the general election in November.

Sen. Thomas Rivera Schatz introduced the bill, dubbed the “Law for the Final Solution to the Political Status of Puerto Rico,” according to local daily El Nuevo Día.

His bill would provide a simple yes-no option to answer to the question “Should Puerto Rico be immediately admitted within the Union as a state?”

Having a yes-no question is likely to anger those who support maintaining the current status as a commonwealth or free associated state.

A “yes” vote would trigger the Puerto Rican government’s formal request to Congress for admittance as the 51st state; a “no” vote would compel the governor to start a process of independence from the United States as a free associated state or as a fully independent state.

The last U.S. territory to gain independence was the South Pacific Republic of Palau, which formally became an independent country in 1994, although it is still a free associated state, meaning that defense and certain public services are administered by the United States.

Puerto Rico voted in 2012 and 2017 to become a state, but those referendums were declared nonbinding by the federal government, the former because nearly half a million voters left their ballots blank and the latter because the wording on the ballot did not receive prior approval from the Department of Justice.

The 2017 referendum was also criticized because only 23 percent of voters participated, amid a call to boycott by opposition parties, although 97 percent of voters chose statehood.

Both referendums included options to maintain the current system, in place since Puerto Rico enacted its constitution in 1952.

Still, Puerto Ricans in 2016 voted for candidates who ran on statehood, promising that it would become a cornerstone to fix the territory’s ailing economy.

A series of political scandals forced the resignation last year of former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, an avid proponent of statehood who won in 2016, but other prominent statehooders such as Rivera Schatz remain in power.

Rosselló and Rivera Schatz are members of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party on the island, but at a national level, the Senate president is a Republican and the former governor is a Democrat.

Rivera Schatz’s measure would appoint Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced — who isn’t affiliated with a party at the national level — and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R) as representatives to the federal government for the plebiscite.

Vázquez and González-Colón would be tasked with getting Department of Justice approval for the November vote to avoid a repetition of the stunted 2017 referendum.


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