By Ruth Conniff
Don't expect Puerto Rico to become the 51st state this year.
For one thing, support for statehood among Puerto Ricans is not nearly as massive as the American media have suggested.
Back in November, Puerto Rico had a referendum on what kind of relationship the island nation should have with the United States.
On the referendum, voters were presented with two ballots. The first one contained a question: "Are you content with the current territorial political status?"
Puerto Rico has been a territory of the United States since the Spanish-American War. Under international law, territory means no sovereignty. Puerto Rico belongs to, but is not a part of, the United States of America. Since 1917, Puerto Rico's residents have been U.S. citizens subject to U.S. laws but have no representation in Congress, nor the right to vote for president.
Since 1952, Puerto Rico has been a Commonwealth of the United States. But don't let that term fool you. Other than locals now being able to elect the governor, nothing has changed. Puerto Rico is still a territory.
The Popular Democratic Party (PPD), which upholds the current Commonwealth status, has won half of all general elections since 1968, including three of the last four since 2000. Not surprisingly, party members voted yes on that first ballot question about being content with their current status.
But the no vote won, with 54 percent.
For those who voted no, there was a second ballot that presented three status options: independence, statehood or "ELA soberano" -- that third option being a loosely defined version of the current status, but with increased powers and autonomy.
Statehood got 61.1 percent of the vote, while "ELA soberano" got 33.3 percent and independence got 5.5 percent.
However, 470,000 people cast blank ballots and boycotted the process. Those blank ballots accounted for 26 percent of all ballots cast. If these voters are included in the tally, then support for statehood goes down to 44.6 percent.
Another obstacle to statehood is the U.S. Congress itself, which has to approve any statehood petition by majority vote, with the president signing the bill.
But with Congress divided, no effort to push Puerto Rican statehood through is likely to succeed. Republicans understand that Puerto Rico would be heavily Democratic, and they wouldn't want to give the Democrats two more votes in the U.S. Senate.
So, is Puerto Rico headed toward statehood? Not even close.
Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican author, journalist and environmental educator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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