Group of Democratic Members of Congress, including the leader of the majority in the House of Representatives, on Thursday proposed a mandatory plebiscite to decide whether Puerto Rico should become a state or gain some independence.
The draft proposal, published at an online press conference, obliges Congress to accept Puerto Rico into the United States if voters on the island approve it. But even if the plan were approved by the House of Representatives led by Democrats, this proposal seems to have little chance Senatewhere Republicans have long opposed statehood.
Voters could also choose full independence or independence from free associations, the terms of which will be determined after talks on foreign affairs, U.S. citizenship and the use of the U.S. dollar, said Florida MP Darren Soto.
If there is no majority, a second round of voting will be held between the two best alternatives.
The measure, which has not yet been introduced, was the result of months of talks between federal lawmakers who had long disagreed over what Puerto Rico’s political status should be.
“Reaching this point was a difficult process. Is it perfection? No, ”said Arizona MP Raoul Grichalva, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee, which oversees affairs in the United States.
Leader of the majority in the House of Representatives in the House of Representatives Rep. Stanie Hoer Maryland said all participants had to compromise, but he promised to advance the bill.
In Puerto Rico, seven unilateral non-binding referendums have been held, referendums on the issue, but this will be the first that does not imply a possible continuation of the current status as a U.S. Commonwealth.
In previous referendums, there was no overwhelming majority for or against statehood. The latter took place during the November 2020 general election, in which 53% voted for statehood and 47% against, with just over half of registered voters.
Being U.S. territory, Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizenship but are not eligible to vote in general elections; they have a representative in Congress with limited voting rights, and they get less money from some federal programs than people in the U.S. states.
“No one can deny that Puerto Rico’s current status is undemocratic,” said Governor Pedro Pierluisi, whose New Progressive Party has long sought to make the island the 51st state.
The main opposition People’s Democratic Party supports the status quo and has not yet officially commented on the proposed plebiscite.
Supporters said the next step is to hold public hearings in Puerto Rico on the proposed bill before it is introduced. Pierluisi said that if approved, the plebiscite will take place on November 5, 2023.
The proposal comes at a time when Puerto Rico is trying to come out of a protracted bankruptcy and recover from the devastation suffered by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Dissatisfaction with the two main parties of Puerto Rico is also growing and corruption scandals in the government continue. The November 2020 election was the first time that the two main parties in the territory did not get 40% of the vote. Pierluisi won with only 33% of the vote.
“I know we are all skeptical of the political dynamics in Puerto Rico,” said U.S. spokeswoman Nidia Velazquez of New York, who supports the new proposal.