Why Puerto Rican House Members Are Divided Over Puerto Rican Statehood

Given the intense politics within Puerto Rico over statehood v. commonwealth status, it is rare to find journalistic stories that capture well the positions in this debate. This long essay from Ben Jacobs at the DC Examiner is one of the best efforts to do so I’ve read recently. A strength of the piece is the way it links the political dynamics within Puerto Rico to the surprising politics within the mainland political parties, particularly the Democratic Party.

Here’s a couple small excerpts, but those interested in the issue should read the full piece;

So, what’s the holdup? Some of the most ardent opposition to Puerto Rican statehood comes from the Left.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the debate over Puerto Rico’s status has become a primarily intra-Democratic fight, one that doesn’t fall along neat ideological lines and divides the four Democrats of Puerto Rican heritage within the caucus. Darren Soto of Florida and Ritchie Torres of New York support it, while Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nydia Velazquez, both of New York, oppose the proposals….

Instead, the battlefield shifted to two competing bills on Capitol Hill. The first would grant Puerto Rico statehood after one final, binding referendum, along the same model through which Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the union in the 1950s. The second is more amorphous. It is entitled the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act and would create a “semi-permanent” status convention to which Puerto Ricans would elect delegates in order to negotiate with a congressional commission on the island’s future. The results would be subject to a ranked-choice referendum in which every option except the status quo would be on the ballot and would purportedly bind Congress to the result….

However, opponents of the statehood bill see the vote as illegitimate, a ploy by statehood supporters that did not offer the full range of options to vote. In an April hearing on the topic held by the House Committee on Natural Resources, Velazquez argued, “This should be about a process that respects the will of the people, not try to stack the deck or use millions of dollars to skew the outcome.”…

A convention process, in contrast, would allow a broad, free-ranging discussion about a variety of status options ranging from statehood to independence. “Self-determination in Puerto Rico shouldn’t come down to a simple ballot referendum,” tweeted Ocasio-Cortez on May 5, calling it “a process that states use to resolve questions like dog racing or cannabis & are easily challenged. Determination of status, citizenship, and decolonization merit a constitutional convention.” The problem is that there really are not a lot of options available.


Comments are closed.