Published November 08, 2012
Despite Puerto Ricans voting for the first time in support for U.S. statehood in a non-binding referendum Tuesday, island residents shouldn’t start designing a 51 star U.S. flag anytime soon.
With the looming fiscal cliff and other issues coming before Congress, legislators see little pressing need to pass anything related to the island’s status at this moment.
Just over 61 percent of voters on the island favored seeking to make Puerto Rico the 51st state, while 33 percent supported an enhanced commonwealth arrangement. Just 5 percent were in favor of full independence.
Statehood would require the approval of the U.S. Congress.
The opposition Popular Democratic Party, whose candidate Alejandro García Padilla won the gubernatorial contest, favors maintaining commonwealth status.
The referendum was the initiative of now-outgoing Gov. Luis Fortuño, whose New Progressive Party advocates for statehood.
Fortuño’s loss throws the statehood issue into question. Even if Puerto Rico's non-voting Resident Commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi (D), continues to push for statehood in the U.S. Congress, the effort seems futile given incoming Gov. García Padilla’s stance on the issue.
"The new government doesn't support statehood," one House aide said, according to the Hill.
Some people on Capitol Hill also voiced concern that Fortuño only supported statehood so he could draw more voters to the polls and save his fledgling re-election campaign.
With the U.S. Congress looking almost identical to the pre-election Congress, the statehood issue also faces another major hurdle.
Republicans, who retained control of the House, are generally opposed to Puerto Rican statehood. This makes any push by pro-statehood Puerto Ricans very difficult as they would have to make it through the GOP-controlled House to move on to the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Since the 2010 status report that outlined options the island might pursue, the Obama administration has so far remained mum on the issue.
Puerto Rico came under Washington's sway in 1898 and island residents were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917, yet they cannot vote in presidential elections, though Puerto Ricans living in the continental United States can.
Since 1952, the island has been a self-governing, unincorporated territory of the United States with broad internal autonomy, but without the right to conduct its own foreign policy.
Tuesday was the fourth time in 45 years that Puerto Ricans have been asked to express themselves on the status question.
The first referendum, in 1967, produced a majority of just over 60 percent in favor of remaining a U.S. commonwealth. In 1993, support for commonwealth status had shrunk to a 48.6 percent plurality.
Five years later, 50.3 percent of Puerto Ricans casting ballots rejected all three options - statehood, independence and commonwealth - and checked the box marked "none of the above."
Efe contributed reporting to this article.