Tags: puerto | rico | 51st | state

Puerto Rico Statehood: How Will America Add a 51st State?

Thursday, 08 Nov 2012 02:22 PM

By Peter Moses

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Puerto Ricans went to the polls this past Tuesday but not to cast votes for the presidency. As a territory, they don’t have the right to vote in presidential elections. But they did pass a referendum on statehood, which could end up creating a groundswell in the United States to make the island the 51st state.

As a territory, Puerto Ricans are Americans, hold U.S. passports, and use the dollar as its sole currency. But there are looming questions about the next steps and whether Puerto Ricans will ever become full-fledged Americans.

What is Puerto Rico’s status right now?

The vacation paradise is a territory and a commonwealth, and has been one since 1917. As a territory, Puerto Ricans have the same basic rights as any American, but do not have the right to vote in presidential elections. Currently, because Puerto Rico is a territory, residents pay no federal taxes at all. Businesses also don’t pay corporate taxes.

Is this the first time Puerto Rico has sought to become a state?

No, in fact this is the fourth time Puerto Ricans voted to ask to join the nation. The other times were 1967, 1993 and 1998. There have also been movements in Puerto Rico to gain full independence as a sovereign nation, sometimes resorting to terrorism on U.S. soil. The most infamous incident took place on Jan. 24, 1975, when New York City’s historic Fraunces Tavern was the scene of a horrific bombing that left four men dead. The group Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN) took credit for the attack.

What happened the other times voters there requested full statehood?

Washington decided to keep the status quo and did not confer statehood.

What’s next?

President Barack Obama has promised Puerto Rico if the referendum passed he would try and shepherd the request through Congress to allow the lawmakers to vote.

That’s all?

Well, it’s a really complicated issue. First off, both the House and Senate would need to approve Puerto Rico as a state. That’s not a given by any means. Another hurdle is islanders would be expected to make English the primary language, something that might take years to work out since 85 percent of Puerto Ricans speak very little to no English.

Any other obstacles?
Sure, Puerto Rico, like many Caribbean islands, has been hard hit by recessions and a seemingly never-ending series of devastating hurricanes. Some lawmakers might vote against statehood because of possible economic burdens statehood might confer on the United States. Add to that on Election Day, Puerto Rico rejected pro-statehood governor Luis Fortuño in favor of Alejandro Garcia Padilla, who wants the island to retain its current status.

Do Puerto Ricans serve in the military?
Yes, and have been doing so in every war and conflict since World War I.

Does the United States have other territories?
Yes, Midway Islands, Guam, and American Samoa in the Pacific and the U.S. Virgin Islands are among the nine territories under American control.

If the bid were to prove to be successful, what repercussions would there be in Washington?
The answer to that is still up in the air. What is clear is that like any other state, Puerto Rico would elect two U.S. senators, changing the number of that body from 100 to 102. As to the House of Representatives, nobody knows whether Puerto Rico would cannibalize seats from other states leaving that body with 435 members, or whether sitting congressional members would add to that number. Using 2010 census figures, Puerto Rico’s 3,725,789 residents would compute to five house seats.

Who governs Puerto Rico today?
There is federal oversight, but for the most part Puerto Rico governs autonomously electing its own officials and flying its own flag, although Old Glory does sit atop the capital building. Puerto Ricans have their own Olympic teams, but are eligible for the Major League Baseball draft.

What types of businesses would benefit from full statehood?
Text book publishers and flag makers come to mind.

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