Many years have passed with Puerto Ricans debating on the issue of whether the island should become a state or it should remain a territory of the United States. Due to different opinions among the citizens of this country and the political parties in the country, various referendums have been held to determine the best option for the island. From the observations of these referendums, Puerto Rico should not become a state. There has not been a majority of Puerto Ricans who have shown their desires to becoming a state in the United States in the four referendums that have been held. Also, the economy of Puerto Rico is not stable, and since America does not have such amount needed to fix the instability in Puerto Rico economy, and then it should remain a commonwealth.
The first referendum in Puerto Rico Island was held in 1967. This was the only time that the United State Congress allowed a referendum on the status of the island. In order to test the political interests of the Puerto Ricans, the Legislative Assembly passed a local plebiscite Act that authorized a vote on the Status of Puerto Rico. The Puerto Ricans were given three options: Commonwealth option, Independence option, and statehood option. The commonwealth option won by 60.4% (425,132) of the total vote cast. It was followed by statehood option with 39.0% (274,312) of the total vote and eventually independence option with 0.6 % (4,248) of the total vote. The total electoral turnout for this referendum was 66% (Cohen, 2015). From the first referendum, it was very clear that the Puerto Ricans were willing to remain a commonwealth.
In 1993, the Puerto Rican Government organized a subsequent plebiscite. The role of the United State Congress was more significant in this referendum than it was in 1967. Again from the results of the referendum, the Commonwealth option won with 48.6% (826,326) of the total vote. It was followed closely by the statehood option that managed 46.3% (788,296%) of the total votes. Finally, independence option gained the least amount of vote 4.4% (75,620) of the total votes. The total electoral votes turn out increased from 66% to 74%. This plebiscite indicated a strong improvement in the support of statehood for Puerto Rico and the support for commonwealth option seemed to decrease.
The last locally organized referendum in Puerto Rico took place on 13th December 1998. This time, another category of the option was added where the voters could choose none of the above if they were not comfortable with any of the three options provided. Surprisingly, the option for None of the above won this referendum with 50.3 % (787,900) of the total vote cast. It was followed by Statehood option with 46.49% (728,157). Independence option scored 2.54% (39,838), and Commonwealth option achieved the least number of votes 0.06% (993) which was less than one-tenth of one percent of the total vote (Cohen, 2015). The total electoral turnout decreased from 74% in 1993 to 71% in 1998. This referendum indicated that the Puerto Ricans were not ready to accept any of the presented options.
The 2012 referendum in Puerto Rico was quite different from the previous three plebiscites. The voters were presented with two questions. The first one required the voter to choose either to maintain the existing status under the United States territorial clause or a non-territorial. The second question required the voters to choose the best option amongst statehood, free association, and independence if a non-territorial option was wanted. The option for none of the above was removed in this referendum. The Statehood option received the highest votes with 61.3%. It was followed by free association with 33.2% and eventually independence 5.5%. The total electoral turnout increased from 71% in 1998 to 79% (Cohen, 2015). This referendum was challenged by the presence of 500,000 blank ballots that were ignored and which the opposers of the statehood declared they represented None of the above options.
The three major political parties in Puerto Rico; Popular Democratic Party (PPD), The New Progressive Party (PNP) and the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PNP) have different opinions towards the statehood, commonwealth and independence options. PPD is the party in power with the current government in Puerto Rico, and it supports that Puerto Rico should remain a commonwealth territory (Gonzalez, 2013). This party aligns with the Democratic Party when it comes to the politics in the United States. The New Progressive Party (PNP) supports statehood option. It is headed by Pedro Pierluisi, a resident commissioner. When it comes to US politics, PNP has members from both Democratic and Republic Party. The Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) has always pushed for independence, but it has never come close to its rivals the PNP and PPD.
The option presented to Puerto Ricans of remaining a commonwealth has the advantage of preservation of the cultural heritage of the island. Most of the Puerto Ricans prefer to use their motherland language. The teachers at Puerto Rica have even resisted teaching English in school an indication of strong support for being a commonwealth. More so, when Governor Fortuno proposed making Puerto Rico a fully bilingual island he lost the reelection in 2012. Conversely, accepting the statehood option has the advantage of improving the economic state of Puerto Rico just as it happened in Hawaii and Alaska in 1959 (Gonzalez, 2013). Statehood option becomes the easiest and the fastest way if the island is aiming t regain its economic status soon.
If Puerto Rico opts to become the 51st state of the United States, it will face the disadvantage of being the poorest nation with $24,000 per capita income. The economic condition of Puerto Rico is unstable hence United States will have a hard time attempting to fund this economy so as to put it on par with other states. Since the United States is experiencing budgeting problems, making Puerto Rico another state will only exacerbate the problem. The unemployment problem in Puerto Rico is currently 14% that is extremely high as compared to the average US unemployment rate of 5.6%. Furthermore, Puerto Rico has a debt of more than $70 billion that would contribute to a more budgeting problem of $18 trillion that United States is facing (Gonzalez, 2013). Due to this problem and the consideration of the culture of the Puerto Ricans the island should consider improving its economy first before becoming a state in the United States.
From a retrospective look at the willingness of Puerto Rican and my critical analysis of the various referendums in Puerto Rico, the island should remain a commonwealth. Also, the Puerto Ricans should consider of how they see themselves before opting for a statehood option to avoid devaluing their cultural heritage. This is because if the Puerto Ricans can come together and regain their values of freedom and republican rule that they used to throw off their colonizers, then the issue of statehood should not be a bother anymore. With such cooperation, Puerto Rico can stand as a nation without dependence on any other external source of any form of aid. The island can improve its economic state to better positions.
Cohen, M. (2015, March 2). A debate on Puerto Rican Statehood. The Stanford Daily. Retrieved June 21, 2015, from http://www.stanforddaily.com/2015/03/02/a-debate-on-puerto-rican-statehood/
Gonzalez, R. (2013, July 25). Puerto Rico's Status Debate Continues As Island Marks 61 Years As A Commonwealth. Latino voices. Retrieved June 21, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/25/puerto-rico-status-debate_n_3651755.html
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