By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — Get ready, there may be another star destined for old glory.
Puerto Rico is looking to become the 51st state of the union with the help of its resident commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi, who will be representing the island in the United States Congress.
He expects to compile the results from the whistle-stop series of meetings that he and Equality in Washington (Igualdad en Washington) participated in at the beginning of the month, where they were joined by 150 lawmakers from both parties.
That event, which was announced during a demonstration outside the White House, and was held on the day that marked the 90th anniversary of a federal law granting U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans, was to urge the federal government to act on the Nov. 6 voting results, which showed overwhelming support for statehood.
“This should be seen as a matter of law, a question of democracy. I have to believe that both Republicans and Democrats believe in that principle,” Pierluisi told reporters.
His communication office told Florida Watchdog that Pierluisi hopes to and revisit lawmakers who support statehood, and that he plans to introduce a statehood bill in mid-May. That bill must win congressional approval before being brought to a vote in Puerto Rico.
But before winning bipartisan support in the United States, Pierluisi first must face opposition in his homeland.
Puerto Ricans divided
Almost a year ago, after retiring from teaching, Jose Lopez decided to devote all his free time to helping Puerto Rico become an independent sovereign nation, which runs counter to results of a Nov. 6 vote on the question.
Lopez is from Bayamon, near the capital of the island. He was born in New York, but his parents are Puerto Rican.
“These elections in Puerto Rico are to appear before the world that we have a democracy,” said Lopez. Yet “Puerto Rico has been a U.S. colony for 115 years.”
“There isn’t the necessary support in Puerto Rico or the U.S., in order for the Resident Commissioner or Congress to create something positive, ” Lopez added.
The Nov. 6 vote is the fourth time that Puerto Ricans have put the topic to vote.
The option on the ballot had two questions: Whether to continue as a U.S. territory — 796,007 answered yes, while 934,238 checked the no box — and whether to pursue statehood — 802,179, or 61 percent, said yes.
Lopez interprets the election result differently, pointing out that the ballot questions was designed by the New Progressive Party, an organization pushing for Puerto Rico statehood.
“It was designed in a confusing way,” Lopez said. The first question makes the point clear: 54 percent of the voters don’t want colonialism nor do they want to remain a U.S. territory, he said.
Lopez has refused to vote in his country’s last three elections as a way of protesting.
“Only through knowing our true history as a Latin American and Caribbean nation of people, can we achieve the necessary consensus to demand our decolonization,” he said.
Claimed by Christopher Columbus, Puerto Rico remained a possession of Spain for more than 400 years. In 1898, the island, as well as the Philippines, was ceded to the United States after the Spanish-American War under the terms of the Treaty of Paris of 1898. Since then it has remained under U.S. rule.
In the early 20th century Puerto Rico fought for democratic rights. In 1900 the civil government was established and in 1917 Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens. But their citizenship is limited and U.S. involvement in the nation is largely driven by military interests and the housing of its warship and aircraft fleets.
In 1952, the Constitution of Puerto Rico was approved, which included the holding of democratic elections.
Although they are permitted to participate in primary elections, Puerto Rican Americans cannot vote for president, a privilege reserved for citizens who live in the states.
Lopez told Watchdog that the United Nations determined in 1960 in its resolution 1514 (XV) that colonialism is a crime against humanity.
“For this reason, every year, the UN issues a unanimous resolution asking the U.S. to decolonize the holding. Despite 30 resolutions, Puerto Rico remains the oldest colony and most populous in the world. It should be obvious now that the U.S. is not going to decolonize PR simply because the UN requests it,” Lopez said.
Lopez also is organizing a peaceful protest outside the offices of the United Nations in New York on June 17, “since we know that political parties are not going to solve this.”
With statehood comes power in the form of electoral votes and seats in Congress.
With an estimated population of almost 4 million, statehood would entitle it to eight electoral votes, six seats in the House of Representatives and two in the U.S. Senate.
During the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Puerto Rico played a major role. Former Gov. Luis Fortuño, an advocate for statehood, was one of the main speakers of the convention. However, he lost his re-election bid in November to Alejandro Garcia Padilla, a staunch opponent of the proposal.
Ohio U.S. Rep. Dan Ramos , a Democrat, introduce a resolution supported by 13 partners Democrats proposing that the U.S. Congress recognized Puerto Rico as a state.
Despite having support, it will be a long and difficult road for Pierluisi. Artle Four of the Constitution gives Congress to admit new states to the union by a simple majority vote in both chambers. The legislation must also be signed by the president.
Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org.