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Statehood for Puerto Rico in 2017?

Puerto Rico has been a territory of the United States for more than a century, longer than any other territory has had to wait for statehood. Statehood supporters in Puerto Rico think this may be the year for a change in Puerto Rico’s status.

There are some significant reasons cited for this belief.

  • There is less division among leaders. The Resident Commissioner and the governor-elect are from the same party and both strongly support statehood, which hasn’t been the case for many years. What’s more, Congress and the President — as well as the Resident Commissioner — are all Republicans. This may make it much easier to gain consensus in 2017 than it was last year.
  • There are funds for a new federally-sponsored referendum. These funds were available last year, but Governor Garcia Padilla did not use them. Some observers suggest that he did not do so simply because he was sure that statehood would win and he did not favor statehood. Others point out that the ruling party was not able to come up with a definition of “commonwealth” that the Department of justice would accept.
  • The idea of “enhanced commonwealth” has been debunked. The ballot for the first federally-sponsored plebiscite must by law include only options that the DOJ agrees are constitutional, and there is broad agreement that “enhanced commonwealth” is not a viable option.  The Sanchez Valle decision by the Supreme Court and changes within the “commonwealth” party in Puerto Rico have made it clear that the dream of “enhanced commonwealth” is a dream and not a reality.
  • President-elect Trump may take a businessman’s view. Some observers suggest that a businessman would view Puerto Rico’s situation differently from a politician. Rather than focusing on a desire to punish poor fiscal management or fears that Puerto Rico might change the composition of the Congress, a businessman could see a choice property available at seriously devalued rates. President-elect Trump, these people suggest, may see the opportunities in Puerto Rico and be ready to act on that awareness.
  • There is greater awareness of Puerto Rico’s plight in the states. Puerto Rico was in the news repeatedly in 2016. From the Zika crisis to the debt crisis to celebrity speak-outs, Americans as a whole had the opportunity to learn about the civil rights issue of Puerto Rico’s territorial status. Americans are concerned about civil rights, and are more likely to support Puerto Rico’s statehood when they know more about it.

Independence is also a viable option for the ballot in the upcoming referendum, but it is an unpopular choice in Puerto Rico. If the Island gains a permanent political status this year, statehood is the most likely option.

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