Puerto Rico ‘commonwealthers’ quickly opposed the bill by 35 U.S. House of Representatives members Wednesday for a referendum on statehood and a transition to the status if Puerto Ricans vote for it.
For example, the “commonwealth” party’s most reliable spokeswoman in the House, Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), said that the bill, which provides for a ‘Statehood: Yes or No’ referendum, “fabricates a superficial majority in favor of statehood.” (She did not explain how it would ‘fabricate’ a majority for statehood instead ‘fabricating’ a majority against the status.)
But “commonwealth” party leaders repeatedly asked Congress for a statehood referendum bill as recently as three years ago.
At the time, party leaders were opposing a bill for a vote on the islands’ current status and, if a majority opposed it, a choice among various options for the territory. These were statehood, independence, and nationhood in a non-binding association with the U.S. in the bill initially, and the current territory status, popularly — but misleadingly — known as “commonwealth,” as well as the other options in the bill after an amendment.
“Commonwealth” party President Hector Ferrér asked a U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing May 19, 2010 “…why not propose a straight Yes or No vote on statehood?”
Speaking for the party, Ferrér also testified to a U.S. House Natural Resources Committee hearing June 24, 2009, “I propose only one simple plebiscite. Let the people of Puerto Rico decide, Statehood: Yes or No.”
Ferrér was not alone in the party in calling for a Statehood: Yes or No vote like that proposed by the bill introduced in the House Wednesday. “Commonwealth” party Senate Leader Jose Dalmau urged the Natural Resources Committee in the June 2009 hearing “… put in the bill, Statehood: Yes or No … present to the people of Puerto Rico and the Congress, Statehood: Yes or No.”
And current party president Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla is also said to have urged a Statehood: Yes or No vote.
But Ferrér is the only party leader who has publicly stuck with the position since nearly three dozen members of Congress accepted the challenge Wednesday.
Other party leaders — like leaders of all of Puerto Rico’s political status factions — think that support for statehood will increase in the islands if the U.S. Congress clarifies that equality is an option for the territory by authorizing an insular vote on statehood.
A major argument against statehood made by commonwealthers in particular is that a racist United States would never grant statehood to Puerto Rico because of Puerto Ricans’ Hispanic culture. This argument would be shattered if Congress authorizes a vote in Puerto Rico on statehood.
Puerto Rican doubts about the availability of equality within the United States stem from Federal decisions and statements during the first quarter of a century after the United States took Puerto Rico from Spain in 1898. The message was that the territory would not necessarily become a State.
Prior to this, statehood was the clear ultimate status for U.S. territories.
The reason for the statements regarding statehood and Puerto Rico primarily related to the Philippine Islands, however, rather than to Puerto Rico. The United States also took the Philippines (and Guam) from Spain through the Spanish-American War.
Federal officials felt that Filipinos were too different culturally from most Americans at the time to make the Philippines a State. They did not have the same concerns about Puerto Ricans. But they feared that confirming that Puerto Rico could become a State would lead to demands for statehood from the Philippines as well and make it difficult to explain rejecting the Philippines while accepting Puerto Rico.
The Philippines became an independent nation in 1946, during the administration of President Harry S Truman. Truman and every president since has said that statehood is an option for Puerto Rico.
But, although Congress has indirectly agreed and the U.S. House has stated that statehood is an option for Puerto Rico three times, the Congress as a whole has never clearly said so.
Statehood has far more support in Puerto Rico than any of the islands’ other status options. “Commonwealth” party leaders fear that the support will mushroom if Congress as a whole clarifies that statehood is an option for the territory.