Will Puerto Rico Become the US 51st State?
A non-binding referendum was held last week in Puerto Rico. In the referendum the voters had three choices: becoming a state of the United States, gaining independence/free association, or maintaining the current territorial status. 97.18% of the voters were for Puerto Rico’s becoming a US state, 1.50% for independence/free association, and 1.32% for maintaining the current territorial status. After the referendum active discussions started whether Puerto Rico would become the US 51st state. Before turning to this question, let us elaborate more on the current status of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico came under the control of the United States after Mexican-American War in 1898. However, only in 1952, it was called as Commonwealth of Puerto Rico by the federal law. What does it mean?
It should be noted that there are five, the so-called unincorporated territories - areas controlled by the United States but not parts of it. Those five territories are Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana islands, U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa. Puerto Rico has its constitution, executive, judicial and legislative branches of government. The residents of Puerto Rico are represented in the House of Representatives of the US Congress by the Resident Commissioner, who has no right to vote. Residents of Puerto Rico are considered US citizens (they also have the citizenship of Puerto Rico). However, they take part only at the first stage of the US presidential elections, primaries. They pay for federal income tax on work done within the United States. They pay into Social Security and have access to only Medicare and Medicaid.
It should be noted that it is not the first time that such a referendum is held in Puerto Rico. The referendums were held in 1967, 1991, 1993, 1998 and 2012. However, it was only in 2012, that the majority of the voters (61.11%) were for Puerto Rico becoming a US state. During this year's referendum, only 23 % of the eligible voters participated. To compare this with the results of 2012, then 77.5% of the eligible voters participated. However, the results of the 2012 referendum were not considered by the US Congress for a number of reasons, among them mainly for the fact that most of the ballots were left blank by the voters.
As various analysts note, the main reason for conducting a referendum in Puerto Rico this year was economic problems. The government of Puerto Rico declared about its bankruptcy in May of this year. It has got a debt in the amount of 70 billion dollars. The ones, who are for Puerto Rico becoming a US state, insist that it will have a positive impact on Puerto Rico's economic situation.
What developments should we expect? As the 3rd section of the 4th Article of the US Constitution states, a state can join the US in case of the approval from the Congress. Puerto Rico can become the 51st state of the US, if only it has the approval of the majority of the congressmen.
As the turnout was low, it is expected to conduct another referendum in October. If the turnout is higher then, the government of Puerto Rico will have stronger arguments for the US Congress.
At the same time one should note that it is less likely that the team of the US current President Donald Trump and the Republicans (representatives of the party, who form majority in the US Congress), who have conducted a policy based on pure economic calculations so far, will accept Puerto Rico as another US state, as long as it assumes new financial burden and responsibilities for the US federal government.
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