Over the weekend, Puerto Ricans went to the polls to vote on the future of the island. The options were remaining a U.S. territory, declaring independence, or becoming a state. Surprisingly, 97 percent of the vote was for Puerto Rico to become a state. But making that happen is a little more difficult than it sounds.
The U.S. territory is suffering from a decade-long economic recession, and right now, unemployment is at around 12 percent. Puerto Rico also has about $120 billion in debt and pensions to pay out, which prompted the vote in the first place. Simply, something has got to change. But Puerto Ricans are rightly divided on the issue. Although the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of statehood, some political parties boycotted the vote altogether and turnout was just 23 percent, which is not a lot.
So it might not be the best representation of what the people of Puerto Rico think is the best course of action. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló doesn’t believe any of that matters. In public statements, he declared that the U.S. Congress would have to listen to the people of Puerto Rico and ratify the state. He also noted that voter turnout was anywhere between seven to 35 percent when people voted on ratifying Wisconsin or Hawaii as states.
All of this means that Puerto Rico could become a state, but it’s complicated.
To become a state, Puerto Rico also has to convince a Republican-led Congress to allow it. That would be contentious for a few reasons, even though statehood for Puerto Rico is supported in the Republican 2016 party platform. Still, the fact that a Puerto Rican state would largely vote Democratic and that Donald Trump and his supporters believe the U.S. is burdened by the cost of keeping Puerto Rico afloat would be some sticking points. If Puerto Rico is going to be a state, it’s likely not happening anytime soon.
Many Puerto Ricans blame the U.S. for the island’s recession. Although they don’t pay federal income tax, they do pay Social Security, Medicare, and local taxes — but they don’t receive the same kind of federal support as states do. Rosello said, “We have been a colony for 500 years, and we have had U.S. citizenship for 100 years, but it’s been a second class one.”
Keep your eyes out, the U.S. might have another state to add to its flag soon enough.