For the second time in five years devastating infrastructure failure in Puerto Rico after a hurricane raised the issue of the governmental status of the Caribbean island, a U.S. territory whose residents cannot vote for the president or for voting members of Congress.
More than 1 million customers were without electricity, and almost half of the customers of a major water board had no running water in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona. The island’s fragile power grid and infrastructure is the result of a lack of political power due to insufficient government representation, critics say.
This year, House Democrats introduced a bill that would give Puerto Rico residents who are U.S. citizens a self-determination vote. Proposed changes include statehood or independence.
What is the government status of Puerto Rico?
Puerto Rico, taken over by the United States from Spain in 1898 after the Spanish-American War, is a commonwealth or self-governing state, subject to the authority of Congress. Citizens can vote in presidential elections, but not in general elections. The island has a non-voting member of Congress, but no voting representatives or senators like states have.
Unlike, residents of Washington, DC, which has also been named as a candidate for state, do not have voting members in Congress, but can vote for the president. The district has three electoral votes.
Puerto Rico has given its residents the opportunity to express their views on the island’s governmental status, with various non-binding votes on its relationship with the United States. In a 2020 ballot that asked a single question about the state of the state, 52.3% of voters said they would prefer Puerto Rico to become a state. In three previous non-binding plebiscites between 1967 and 1998, a majority of Puerto Rican voters favored remaining commonwealth. Other residents were in favor of outright independence.
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What does it mean for Puerto Rico not to be a state?
Puerto Ricans are still dealing with the effects of the powerful Hurricane Maria, which ravaged the island five years ago this week. That has exacerbated the recovery from Hurricane Fiona and provides a new reminder of Puerto Rico’s drawbacks under the current system of government, according to those who favor a change in status.
The island’s failing electrical grid “has become the poster child for the decline of the colonial system, its institutions and a highly vulnerable population,” said Cecilio Ortiz García, co-founder of the University of Puerto’s National Institute of Energy and Island Sustainability. rico.
The federal response after Maria was viewed by critics as slow compared to aid delivered after similar disasters in US states.
Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, Puerto Rico’s non-voting congressional representative and advocate for statehood, sees “a direct link” between Puerto Rico’s governmental status and its frayed infrastructure.
“Puerto Rico, as a territory of the United States, has to comply with a lot of federal laws, but we don’t get the same resources as a state,” she told NPR. “And that means that this economic situation on the island, where you have a poverty rate of 47%, is higher than any other state. Once Puerto Rico becomes a state, it will allow the island to sustain our economy.” normalize, as it happened with Hawaii and Alaska many, many years ago.”
What is being done to change the status of Puerto Rico?
During the current session of Congress, representatives and senators introduced bills that would give Puerto Rico a chance to reconsider its status with the US. At least one house law, introduced last year, would give Puerto Rico the status of a state of its own.
Puerto Rican lawmakers and its governor, Pedro Pierluisi, a Democrat, were in Washington last week to force Congress to pass the Puerto Rico Status Act, which calls for a binding vote in 2023 by residents of Puerto Rico on the status of the island.
“It is time to end colonialism in America. It is time to end Puerto Rico’s territorial relationship with the United States,” Pierluisi said in Washington.
What is the probability that Puerto Rico’s status will change?
Gonzalez-Colon, a Republican, expresses high hopes for congressional approval of the self-determination bill, citing approval by a congressional committee and the support of some Republicans. But in light of history and the current opposition, it sets a high bar.
The issue of sovereignty for Puerto Rico highlights key party divisions. Granting statehood to Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. — both of which are expected to lean politically democratic — has been advocated by some Democratic activists as a way of balancing what’s in the Senate and Electoral College as a Republican structurally. advantage is considered.
Many Republicans oppose a state, some say it is a Democratic ploy to increase the party’s power in Congress. sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the GOP Senate leader, said in 2020 that a Puerto Rican state would not happen if he was the Senate majority leader.
Possibility of state? Could DC, Puerto Rico become the next US states? Here’s what Congress is considering:
And in a 2020 interview, then-U.S. Senator Martha McSally, a Republican from Arizona, explained GOP concerns: “They’re going to make DC and Puerto Rico a state and get four new Democratic senators. We’d never get the Senate back again. “
Contributors: Amanda Perez Painted, Grace Hauck, Adrianna Rodriguez and Chelsey Cox, USA TODAY