Majority of Puerto Ricans want statehood

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In the last Presidential Election, Puerto Ricans were not allowed to cast their vote, even though they have in fact been citizens of the United States since 1917. The archipelago which is part of the Greater Antilles, includes the main island of Puerto Rico as well as a number of smaller islands in the northeastern Caribbean and is as of now an unincorporated territory of the United States. Therefore Puerto Ricans do not share the same rights or responsibilities as the 50 “full” states. But this might change in the near future. On November 7, the same day as the US general election, Puerto Ricans voted in a non binding referendum to determine their political status.

The relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico dates back to the Spanish American War (April – August 1898). Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, Spain lost the island(s) to the United States in 1898. Ties between the US and Puerto Rico were strengthened in 1917 when Puerto Ricans became US citizens and were allowed to serve in the military. From 1940 to 1968, Puerto Rican politics was dominated by a party advocating voluntary association with the U.S. Since then, the New Progressive Party which favors U.S. statehood, has won five of the last eight elections. Puerto Ricans have voted to determine their political status in the past: In 1967, 60 percent of the population voted for the creation of a Commonwealth, 39 percent for statehood and 1 percent for independence. In 1993 Commonwealth dropped to 49 percent, statehood rose to 46 percent and independence polled 4.4 percent.

The referendum in November was the first, where the majority of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood. In the first of two questions Puerto Ricans were asked if they wanted change to the current relationship with the United States. More than half of the population – 54 percent – answered with yes. In the second question they were given 3 options as to how the relationship should change, more than 60 percent voted for Puerto Rico to become the 51st state of the Union, 33 percent voted for a sovereign free association and only 5 percent voted for independence.

There are certainly several ways in which Puerto Rico would benefit from becoming a full state. It will have an open market to trade with all nations that are in alliance with the U.S. Since the poverty level is high – approximately 50 percent of Puerto Ricans live under the federal poverty line – full integration to the national economy could provide job creation and income benefits.

On the downside, if it becomes a state, Puerto Ricans will no longer be exempt from federal income tax and might feel the the effects of increased taxation on their already struggling economy.

The last two territories to become states were Alaska and Hawaii in 1959. In order for Puerto Rico to become the 51st State, Congress would have to approve. Good omen for all Puerto Ricans who voted for statehood: In its history, the US Congress has never denied a territories request for statehood.

Best regards
und viele Grüße aus Charlotte
Reinhard von Hennigs