US House approves Puerto Rico status referendum bill

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] voted 223-169 [roll call] Thursday to approve legislation calling for a referendum on the status of Puerto Rico [BBC backgrounder]. The Puerto Rico Democracy Act [HR 2499 text, PDF] was introduced by Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (D) [official website], Puerto Rico's nonvoting delegate to the House, and had 181 co-sponsors, including nearly 60 Republicans. The bill would establish a two-step referendum. The first step would ask voters in Puerto Rico, and those born on the island now living in the mainland US, whether they wanted to change the status of the island. If the option to change the island's status won, a second referendum would be held, giving voters the option of statehood, independence, "sovereignty in association with the United States," or maintaining the present status. Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuno (R) [official website, in Spanish], along with the leaders of the territorial legislature, have expressed their support [CNS report] for the bill and eventual statehood. Representative Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) [official website] described the bill [press release] as "disgraceful," and "designed to push the statehood agenda, regardless of whether that agenda is ... popular among the people." The vote would be non-binding, and any change to Puerto Rico's status would still require Congressional approval [AP report]. The bill still requires approval of the US Senate.

In 2008, the New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico [campaign website, in Spanish], a pro-statehood party whose members primarily affiliate with the US Republican Party, won local elections by a wide margin, winning the offices of governor and resident commissioner and an absolute majority in the territorial legislature. In 2007, The UN Special Committee on Decolonization [official website] called on the US [press release] to quickly resolve the island's political status and release political prisoners. Puerto Ricans last voted on the status of the island in 1998 [results], with the "None of the Above" option winning 50.3 percent, statehood garnering 46.5 percent of the vote, and independence only 2.5 percent. Referendums were also held in 1993 and 1967 [results], in which maintaining the current political status won over statehood, and independence placed at a distant third. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated US territory, and its current political status was adopted in 1952, after Congress approved the Puerto Rican Constitution [text]. The constitution established the island as a US commonwealth, causing the UN General Assembly to remove [Resolution 748 text, PDF] the island's categorization as a "non-self governing territory." Puerto Ricans have been US citizens since 1917, and the island has been under US control since 1898.

 

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