Referendum on Statehood
June 11, 2017 5:51 PM   Subscribe

In 1898, Puerto Rico became an unincorporated territory of the United States of America. In 1917, the people of Puerto Rico were granted US citizenship. Today, the voters of Puerto Rico have cast their vote to seek admission into the United States of America, and assume the rights, privileges, and duties of its 51st state. (NPR) People are tweeting with #Estado51 and #Plebiscito2017. But the results are contested, and ultimately, the referendum raises more questions than it answers. After more than fifty years of debate, it is still not over. Meanwhile, on the mainland, the Puerto Rico Day Parade took place today in NYC, and local radio stations are bumping Despacito for the occasion.

The sovereignty movement in Puerto Rico goes all the way back to its history as a Spanish colony. The statehood movement is just one head of it. Supporters of the movement consider Puerto Rico's political status to be an unacceptable remnant of colonialism, and say that Puerto Ricans are second-class citizens. The UN Special Committee on Decolonization agrees with them.

But opinions among Puerto Ricans have been divided. Many find the status quo acceptable. Some fear losing their national identity if they join the United States. They voted on this question in 1967, 1993, and 1998, and each time voted narrowly to maintain territorial status.

In 2012, for the first time, they voted in favor of statehood - but because of blank and invalid ballots, the results were deemed indecisive. This year, anti-statehood advocates urged people to boycott the vote and stay home, and many did so. Turnout was remarkably low and almost all votes cast were in favor of statehood. The official results can be found here.

So what happens next? Some say that, like 2012, the results should not be considered legitimate. Governor Ricardo Rossello (who favors statehood) says he will take the victory: he intends to appoint five representatives and two senators, and send them to Washington to request their seats. However, hopes are not high in Puerto Rico.(NYT) The White House has declined to comment, and most assume that Congress will ignore the request. An act of Congress is required to legally admit Puerto Rico as a federated state.

If admitted, they will be the 30th largest state, with a population of 3.4 million. They would have the lowest per-capita income and the highest crime rate of any state. Admitting them would also provoke several debates on the mainland, such as "We gotta change the flag now??" and "But they speak Spanish?"

By the way, all of this is taking place against the backdrop of Puerto Rico's ongoing bankruptcy! Covered by Jon Oliver last June, and here on Metafilter.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant (45 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Another debate would be printing IRS Formulario 1040PR in English as well as Spanish.
posted by Rob Rockets at 6:02 PM on June 11


The math ain't great. Puerto Ricans and Puerto Rico businesses pay no US income tax on their Puerto Rican source income, but the Commonwealth makes up for that with taxes that equal or exceed federal tax rates. Were it to become a state, Puerto Rico would either have to double income or corporate tax rates or suffer a catastrophic decline in revenue (and the current bankruptcy is a result of revenues being inadequate / spending being excessive even at the very high Commonwealth tax rates).
posted by MattD at 6:04 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


This year, anti-statehood advocates urged people to boycott the vote and stay home, and many did so.

I never understand these sorts of positions. What other forum would you seek victory in? Guerilla warfare?
posted by pwnguin at 6:18 PM on June 11 [18 favorites]


Puerto Ricans and Puerto Rico businesses pay no US income tax on their Puerto Rican source income, but the Commonwealth makes up for that with taxes that equal or exceed federal tax rates

Is that how the math works out? I've read all sorts of stuff about relocating to Puerto Rico to duck federal income tax, are you saying folks actually end up paying more tax there than stateside?
posted by leotrotsky at 6:21 PM on June 11


Looks like 33% tax rate starts at 61k. It makes sense if you're in a higher bracket (up to 500k where there's an additional tax) but it's certainly not the boon I've heard pitched.

There's a separate gig on interest, dividends, and cap gains (0%) but that doesn't help if you actually work for a living.

But then there's also Act 20: "Act 20 entices hedge funds, family offices, professional service firms and even software developers to locate there by taxing their corporate profits from exported services at a flat 4% rate and allowing those profits to be paid out to the owners free of Puerto Rico income tax."
posted by leotrotsky at 6:26 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


PR would get tens of billions in additional federal aid. Not enough to meet the current shortfall, but it would help. Of course, conservatives in Congress are almost universally heartless pieces of shit willing to watch children starve and sick people die, so maybe even that's not a guarantee.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:30 PM on June 11 [18 favorites]


I never understand these sorts of positions. What other forum would you seek victory in? Guerilla warfare?

Lots of people stayed home when we had a presidential election last year, yet the results seem to have taken effect anyway...

What's Rossello's most-realistic win-scenario here? If statehood were recognized, would that throw PROMESA out the window? Or if it remains in effect, could other states clamor for it as well?
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 6:32 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


The PR Congressional Rep(s) would almost certainly vote democratic. That alone ensures statehood is a non-starter in the current Congress.
posted by COD at 6:32 PM on June 11 [11 favorites]


The conservatives in Congress are surely much more concerned with the +2 senators and +5 reps who would be voting democratic.

I've said before, if dems EVER get control of Congress, then Puerto Rico, Guam, and American Samoa, USVI, and Northern Marianas should immediately be given statehood to offset the unfair Republican advantage in Senate and the electoral college.

The Republicans would whine and bitch, but they've got no counter play, because no state would ever concede to getting split, the state politicians would never intentionally give up power and influence for a national advantage like that.

Also splitting a state is 10x harder than admitting a new one.

Edit: Oh yeah, totes D.C. Too.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:36 PM on June 11 [46 favorites]


AHEM
posted by zombieflanders at 6:38 PM on June 11 [11 favorites]


Puerto Ricans have been American citizens for over 100 years. It's long past time for statehood.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:42 PM on June 11 [14 favorites]


Yeah, I kinda feel like DC has earned a spot as the 51st state, PR should be the 52nd.

It's not totally clear that PR would vote D, by the way. No one's actually polled them as far as I know. And they have their own parties which don't 100% line up with D or R.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 6:49 PM on June 11 [5 favorites]


The Republicans would whine and bitch, but they've got no counter play, because no state would ever concede to getting split, the state politicians would never intentionally give up power and influence for a national advantage like that.

Oh and since the Republicans have rigged the game so hard (gerrymandering, USSC seat theft, blatant voter suppression, disregarding of historic norms, etc.), there's a ratchet effect, a loss in one place hurts them everywhere else, and they can't get those gains back again.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:50 PM on June 11 [6 favorites]


Historic Language on PR Secured in the 2016 GOP Platform
We support the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state. We further recognize the historic significance of the 2012 local referendum in which a 54% majority voted to end Puerto Rico’s current status as a U.S. territory, and 61% chose statehood over options for sovereign nationhood. We support the federally sponsored political status referendum authorized and funded by an Act of Congress in 2014 to ascertain the aspirations of the people of Puerto Rico. If the 2012 local vote for statehood is ratified, Congress should approve an enabling act with terms for Puerto Rico’s future admission as the Fifty-First State of the Union.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:52 PM on June 11 [17 favorites]


@The Pluto Gangsta: Sure but a presidential election is binding but this is purely symbolic. If 60% of 42% are in favor of something, then that is not a strong mandate.
posted by koavf at 7:03 PM on June 11


This was an illuminating article on Hawaiian statehood which casts some light on Puerto Rican statehood.
posted by tavegyl at 7:22 PM on June 11


They would have the lowest per-capita income and the highest crime rate of any state.

Well, at least they'd get the support of Mississippi and Missouri then.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:32 PM on June 11 [12 favorites]


I never understand these sorts of positions. What other forum would you seek victory in? Guerilla warfare?

I don't think they have an alternative, they just weren't confident they could win so they decided to delegitimize the election instead. "Sure, you won but only because we all stayed home."
posted by scalefree at 7:37 PM on June 11 [5 favorites]


Arrangements of Stars on the American Flag (pdf, Mathematical Association of America)

Abstract:
In this article, we examine the existence of nice arrangements of stars on the American flag. We show that despite the existence of such arrangements for any number of stars from 1 to 100, with the exception of 29, 69 and 87, they are rare as the number of stars increases.
posted by adept256 at 7:37 PM on June 11 [4 favorites]


Trump is also on board:
There are 3.7 million American citizens living in Puerto Rico. As citizens, they should be entitled to determine for themselves their political status. I am firmly committed to the process where Puerto Ricans might resolve their status according to Constitutional and Congressional protocols. I believe the people of Puerto Rico deserve a process of status self-determination that gives them a fair and unambiguous choice on this matter. As president I will do my part to insure that Congress follows the Constitution. The will of the Puerto Rican people in any status referendum should be considered as Congress follows through on any desired change in status for Puerto Rico, including statehood.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:37 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]


It also appears this ballot didn't have the same problem as the previous referendum, which was very well explained by a mefite friend here in the previous thread on the same topic.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:44 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


It's always been my opinion that, unless the Puerto Ricans themselves were mostly opposed to it, that statehood for Puerto Rico was just the right thing to do. Sure, there would likely be problems as well as benefits, but nothing we couldn't work through.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:07 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


Can I just admit to y'all that part of the reason that I want this to happen is so that I can be that much more curmudgeonly with my, still very much theoretical, grandkids when I tell them that 'back in my day there was only FIFTY US States!" among other, much better, reasons.

But still, how cool would that be? Right up there with not having GPS, driving my own car, and the total lack of robotic vacuums.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:20 PM on June 11 [6 favorites]


Trump is also on board

Of course he is. It's a whole new landmark for him to claim as his own. "I'm the President who made Puerto Rico a state! That 51st star is a tribute to me. They had to change the flag because of me, that's how great I am." Politics doesn't enter into it, it's all about feeding the bottomless void of his narcissism.
posted by scalefree at 8:38 PM on June 11 [11 favorites]


Cynically, I'm betting that the "they speak Spanish" thing combined with the debts and the gerrymandering issues will make this a nonstarter.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:41 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


Given the current state of play in the USA, it would be more sensible for the Yanks to beg to join Puerto Rico.
posted by emf at 8:55 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]


The NYT piece has a nice cross-section of opinions from Puerto Ricans.
“I want my children and grandchildren to keep their American citizenship,” said Maira Rentas, a cardiac nurse in San Juan. “Little by little, with whatever votes we get, we have to try to become a state.”

Ana Velázquez, 50, a hospital secretary, said Puerto Rico’s economic problems were so great that they overshadowed other considerations, such as the language, culture and identity that could be lost if the island became a state.

“I don’t want to lose my hymn, my coat of arms, my flag. My beauty queen would no longer be ‘Miss Puerto Rico,’” Ms. Velázquez said. “I don’t see myself ever singing the United States national anthem. I really don’t. But Puerto Rico is in really bad shape, and it needs help.”

So she arrived at the same conclusion as many other Puerto Ricans: She did not vote.
It sounds like people are really really conflicted?

I really do not love how the conversation jumps straight to Congressional Republicans and Trump, by the way, though it's kind of inevitable. No one has any clue what this means for the people of Puerto Rico. No one knows what's going to happen.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 9:42 PM on June 11 [8 favorites]


A friend in PR says:
The problem with the plebiscite is that it is supposed to be a de-colonizing plebiscite, based on the results of the first part of one held during the 2012 general election. The current status was soundly defeated, but there is a segment of the population which has been sold on the idea that somehow the rights and benefits can be expanded without any compensating payout - totally unrealistic and specifically shot down by Congress several times, but as you know well, people believe what they want to believe. In the second part of the referendum, statehood won 57% of the votes cast, but a substantial number cast a blank ballot in the second part, apparently wishing for the unrealistic alternative, making for an inconclusive result.
...The statehood party won in 2016 and pushed forward on the project, which originally required the USDoJ to certify the alternatives as "non-territorial." A group of eight, mostly southern, Senators whose constituents hold PR bonds, whose value they considered might be put in jeopardy if PR became a state, lobbied the DoJ to change the rules and require that the current status be included. When the governor called it "the current territorial state" on the ballot, rather than its official name - Free Associated State, most members of that party decided to boycott the referendum. The independence party then also decided to boycott the referendum because a colonial alternative had been included.
Those bonds will pay lower (if any) interest during this period of financial turmoil. Also, my friend, who is a retired university professor, is going to have his pension proceeds cut, probably by 10%. Even so, he sees no alternative to harsh PROMESA measures.
posted by CCBC at 11:24 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


Have we overlooked the mathematical significance of making states of Puerto Rico, DC and just one more territory; USVI, Guam, American Samoa? We would have 51 states - a prime number. Truly a nation indivisible.
posted by X4ster at 11:25 PM on June 11 [5 favorites]


Truly a nation indivisible.

Except by 17 and 3?
posted by erdferkel at 11:28 PM on June 11 [24 favorites]


making states of Puerto Rico, DC and just one more territory; USVI, Guam, American Samoa?
three more states make 53, a truly prime number, so it looks like a simple typo ruining a very interesting thought.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:35 PM on June 11 [13 favorites]


I don't know enough to take a position on this issue yet, but guys, how sweet would this burn be? "Thank you, President Trump. Not only did you fail to get a wall with Mexico built, but a whole new state of Spanish speakers was added to the country under your watch."
posted by Rykey at 12:24 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


Here, from Puerto Rico. My words are hardly gospel.

#1. I am pro-statehood but conflicted. Right now we get some of the trash that comes from being part of the United States but with little say. We also get some of the benefits with no say.
#2. I believe that the main reason for our economic woes comes from having no voting representation in Washington. If we were a state we'd get pork-barrel infrastructure. Instead we get poverty programs and a huge debt based on selling a bond that was tax-free and somehow based on our never possibly defaulting. Great for the investors, totally screwed Puerto Rico.
#3. The way the statehood votes have played out over the years have been a sham. Yes, Puerto Rico would vote Democrat. Yes, Puerto Rico is aware we will never get respect or a voice at the table with Republicans in charge. Ironically, many of the pro-statehood leaders are Republican and friends with the old Republican guard. The old Republican guard right now is doing about as well as Jeb! in the last election.
#4. The pro-statehood party has rigged/tweaked the last two votes so that statehood would win. There are essentially two popular parties in Puerto Rico: Statehood and Commonwealth with Independistas a far third. Commonwealth has sought to maintain the status quo or update it. It is popular, receives about half of the vote. It also tends to receive the vote of the Independistas who want independence. The Independence Party itself receives a small fraction of votes, but has more support than that because the voters go with Commonwealth (as mentioned above) to block Statehood.
#4a. Commonwealth is a strong Puerto Rico identity party. They are worried we will lose our national identity if we become a state. A Spanish-speaking U.S. State?
#5. Statehood party also receives about half of the vote and has the current governor. Turnout for general elections is usually good (about 85%).
#6. This referendum only allowed independence or statehood and was boycotted by the Commonwealth party. That is why the low turnout.

So this is a charade and a painful one. The Republican controlled Congress and president don't give a damn about Puerto Rico other than watching us burn.

Perhaps, the joke will be on the Republicans. If the Democrats could take the House and Senate in 2018, with this referendum, a joint act of Congress could declare Puerto Rico a state.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:06 AM on June 12 [22 favorites]


We must admit Puerto Rico, if for nothing else, the hard work of all the coal miners there.
posted by benzenedream at 8:01 AM on June 12 [3 favorites]


The PR Congressional Rep(s) would almost certainly vote democratic. That alone ensures statehood is a non-starter in the current Congress.

Not necessarily. Depends on the issue. Puerto Ricans have more socially conservative views than the Democratic Party. They're opposed to gay marriage. The pro-choice abortion law in Puerto Rico is not actually pro-choice: it allows for an abortion only if the life of the mother is in danger. Having an abortion for any other reason is a criminal offense.

Two of Puerto Rico's primary ballot concerns at the moment are their economic and healthcare crises. Another is Statehood. Statehood would be a bit of a bailout, and also afford them some bankruptcy protection. Those issues color all current polling. But if they are taken off the table, will Puerto Ricans vote Democrat or Republican? Hard to say. I could be wrong, but I don't think it's predictable right now.
posted by zarq at 8:56 AM on June 12


Honestly, this is one of those things where I'm fine with just ignoring the political consequences because it's simply the right thing to do. Enough with the colonialist bullshit. Give all the territories a say in government or cut them loose entirely. And I'm definitely including DC in that as well.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:12 AM on June 12 [6 favorites]


This referendum only allowed independence or statehood

Could you explain this further? It looks like the ballot has three options. (tweet, tweet, and the official scan which has text in English as well.) I read in a couple places people had issues with the ballot language and said it was rigged, and on the surface of it I don't see how.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 10:04 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


I mistakenly entered 51 as number of states, meant a total of 53 states with addition of PR, USVI and DC. Fifty-three is the prime that fits my attempted Dad joke.
posted by X4ster at 10:45 AM on June 12 [3 favorites]


Could you explain this further? It looks like the ballot has three options.

Did a bit more research last night, seems that originally the majority (plurality) statehood party in power removed the status quo option, and the DoJ asked for it to be put in. So they did, but the minority parties decided the language used was offensive and that they would boycott the vote. One has to imagine part of their motivation was to stall a losing vote.

I almost wonder how much the bond-holders funded the boycott, if statehood opens up Chapter 9 bankruptcy options.
posted by pwnguin at 10:53 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Tried to find this on YT, but watching this didn't require a login:
Emily Litella on the subject
posted by luckynerd at 11:46 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


I didn't know this bit, from the NYT:
Last week, Governor Rosselló signed a law intended to force Congress to act. He will appoint five representatives and two senators who will essentially show up in Washington and request to take their seats. Known as the Tennessee Plan, it worked there in 1796.
So that could be interesting.
posted by zachlipton at 3:31 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Known as the Tennessee Plan, it worked there in 1796.
Sure, anything that worked 121 years ago...
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:18 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


221? Or were you being purposefully obtuse?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:08 PM on June 12


221? Or were you being purposefully obtuse?
I corrected another comment's math error a few hours earlier, so, obviously, I had to make an especially grievous one myself.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:30 PM on June 12 [12 favorites]


I live in Hawaii, the 50th state. The native Hawaiians are still visibly angry at the loss of their independent kingdom, and the sovereignty movement is loud here. We have received quite a bit of good by being a state. We have excellent infrastructure and a thriving economy mainly due to the fact it's extremely simply for mainlanders to vacation here. However, the native Hawaiians lost their nation. It's difficult to put a price on that. They are an occupied people. It's difficult to describe that trauma.

PR and Hawaiian history do not mirror each other, but I add this information to give a bit of perspective to the conversation.
posted by Half_Baked at 10:49 AM on June 27 [2 favorites]


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