By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — A vote by Puerto Rico to apply for statehood not only raises the likelihood of a potential 51st state but could also lead to shifts in U.S. domestic policy.
The self-labeled “island of enchantment” adopted the measure alongside routine elections for the governor, senators and mayors throughout the island.
It was the fourth referendum on statehood status brought to the Puerto Rican people, and the first of its kind to pass.
The option on the ballot included two questions, asking residents their preference on continuing the island’s status as “commonwealth” or “unincorporated territory,” and their preference moving forward — statehood, independence or continuing as a commonwealth.
On the first question, 796,007 people said yes, and 934,238 said no. On the second question, 802,179 voters said yes, about 61 percent.
But this referendum represents neither a victory nor a drastic change in the eyes of former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre, a native Puerto Rican who made his name on the mainland.
“This is worse than anything,” he told Florida Watchdog. “The results represent only a third of the people. How can you say it’s a victory when, in the past two referendums, statehood only received 46 percent of the votes?”
None of the previous referendums garnered majority votes for statehood. In fact, in the most recent referendum before Tuesday, more than 70 percent of the population opted for “none of the above,” rejecting statehood and independence.
Pedro Pierluisi, the resident commissioner of Puerto Rico, as well as its representative in Congress, told the Statesman Journal the initiative was unprecedented.
“We made history with this plebiscite,” the Democratic representative said.
“The ball is now in Congress’ court, and Congress will have to react to this result,” he said. “This is a clear result that says ‘no’ to the current status.”
But Ferre believes the ousting of Republican Gov. Luis Fortuño, a pro-statehood politician, by Alejandro Garcia Padilla will slow any rush to push statehood on the Congress.
“The problem is that the new governor is totally opposed to this idea, so he will veto any proposal for Puerto Rico to become a state,” Ferre said.
“If Luis Fortuño hadn’t spent all his time looking for a position in Washington with the Mitt Romney campaign, he could have won,” he said.
Fortuño played a big role at the Republican National Convention in Tampa in September and subsequently lost re-election by a margin of less than 1 percent.
“I don’t think I can bear to live to see a change,” lamented Ferre. “I don’t think it’ll change in the next 20 years.”
President Barack Obama on several occasions has said he will respect the decision of the Puerto Ricans on territorial status, but Ferre still believes it will forever be “in limbo.”
Puerto Rico has been part of America since 1917. Although residents of the island have U.S. citizenship, they cannot vote in presidential elections and have no representation in the Senate. Some critics call it “second-class citizenship.”
According to the 2010 Census,some 3,725,789 Puerto Ricans live on the island, while s many as 4,683,000 live in the United States, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Ferre said that nearly 35,000 Puerto Ricans come to the mainland every year, mostly to Florida.
“I think that fact will change the political map. In a few years, Florida will be more Democratic due to the presence of Puerto Ricans,” he said, echoing the fears of Republicans who have quietly dismissed the call for statehood.
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Watchdog.org’s Florida Bureau Chief Yaël Ossowski translated this article.
Interview with Maurice Ferre, former Mayor of Miami: