Memo From Middle America |Puerto Rico Votes For Statehood—Or Maybe Not

“This vote fundamentally alters the terms of the political debate over status in Puerto Rico….after this vote it is not a question of if Puerto Rico will cease being a territory, but of when. “

That’s what Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s non-voting delegate to the U.S. Congress, proclaimed in a formal letter to President Obama on Nov. 13th, 2012, informing the president of the approval of statehood by Puerto Rican voters last week. [Pierluisi le dice a Obama que la estadidad ganó en Puerto Rico |Pierluisi Tells Obama Statehood Won]el Nuevo Día, Nov. 13th, 2012]

The Puerto Rican plebiscite, held on November 6ththe same day Barack Obama won his second term to the U.S. presidency—was historic in that, for the first time in four attempts, the statehood position finally won.

So should we just accept Puerto Rican statehood? Get started redesigning the flag? (Click here for some Puerto Rican proposals).

As I reported before the vote, the plebiscite’s ballot, drafted in both Spanish and English (you can see it here) contained two parts:

  • First, a simple Yes or No question: Do you agree that Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of territorial status?

If the voter was satisfied with Puerto Rico’s current status, he would vote Yes. If the voter was not satisfied he would vote No.

  • Second, three options: 1) statehood; 2) independence; 3) Estado Libre Asociado Soberano—a “Sovereign Free Associated State”.

(Note that all voters, including those who had voted Yes on the first question, were eligible to vote on the second question. Of course, that didn’t make sense: if a voter were satisfied with Puerto Rico’s current status, why would he vote on the second question? It in effect tilted the voters towards a constitutional change.)

What is a “Sovereign Free Associated State”? How would it differ from Puerto Rico’s current status as an Estado Libre Asociado, an “Associated Free State,” under which the island has autonomy and its legal system, Olympic team and candidates in international beauty contests?

The proposed “Sovereign Free Associated State” has been referred to as “enhanced sovereignty” or “independence lite”. It might even like the “Compact of Free Association” the U.S. has with the Marshall Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia. But those three countries are considered independent. Indeed, some say that a sovereign free associated state would in essence be independent. It’s a vague concept, and maybe that’s intentional.

The results:

On the first question (“Do you agree that Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of territorial status?”):

  • 943,094, (54%) voted NO
  • 803,407 (46%) voted Yes.

In addition, there were 64,745 blank ballots and 12,883 invalid ballots.

On the second question, choosing between the three options:

  • 809,652 voted for statehood;
  • 441,505 voted for the “sovereign free associated state”;
  • Only 73,362 cast votes for independence.

That means that 61.13% of the valid votes on the second round were for statehood.

Sort of. Note that the anti-statehood Partido Popular Democrático de Puerto Rico (PPD) instructed its followers to leave the second segment blank. And that’s just what 472,674 Puerto Rican voters did. That was their way of voting against statehood. (In addition, there were 16,764 invalid ballots).

So the majority of the voters who went to the polls on Nov. 6th did not actually vote for statehood—only 44.61% did.

In fact, that 45% is comparable to the 46.3% statehood received in 1993 and 46.6% in 1998.

Not only that, but if you add up those who left the second part of the ballot blank and those who voted for the sovereign free associated state, it adds up to 914,179 versus the 809,652 who voted for statehood. And, if you add the pro-independence votes, it brings the total to 987,541.

So the statehood win is not quite as impressive as it sounds.

Nevertheless, there is certainly a danger that, with the U.S. Main Stream Media and political elite overwhelmingly on the side of statehood (including some Republicans—bizarrely because Puerto Rico will be solidly Democratic), it could get rammed through Congress quickly.

But disagreement among Puerto Ricans themselves may complicate the issue. On the same day as the status plebiscite, there was also a Puerto Rican gubernatorial election. The two front-runners, both white Puerto Ricans (see photos below ) were

  • incumbent governor (and Mitt Romney crony) Luis Fortuno of the pro-statehood
    Partido Nuevo Progesista de Puerto Rico
    [New Progressive Party—PNP];
  • challenger Alejandro Garcia Padilla of the Partido Popular Democrático de Puerto Rico (PPD), which
    seeks an enhanced continuation of the current status.
Fortuno Alejandro Garcia Padilla

(Note the candidate’s use of two surnames–Garcia Padilla. This is an example of the Spanish-language dual surname system used in Puerto Rico. See my previous article on the subject here.)


The gubernatorial race was a real squeaker, but the statehood-promoting incumbent Luis Fortuno was defeated by Garcia Padilla of the anti-statehood PPD. 

When asked about the statehood vote, Garcia Padilla called the plebiscite process unjust and pointed out that the statehood option did not achieve a majority if you count the ballots left blank.

Garcia Padilla plans to have a constitutional assembly in the year 2014 to discuss the issue, followed by another plebiscite after the assembly.

It looks like Garcia Padilla is stalling, putting the issue off into the future, hoping that the statehood momentum will dissipate.

Puerto Ricans are still divided over their island’s future—still unready to take that step into statehood.

Personally, I support Puerto Rican independence. See my previous article ¡Viva Puerto Rico Libre! Free Puerto Rico (And The U.S.) Now!

But more important, Americans in the 50 states must have a say in the matter. It’s our future too—and Washington is Electing A New People quite quickly enough.

American citizen Allan Wall (email him) recently moved back to the U.S.A. after many years residing in Mexico. Allan's wife is Mexican, and their two sons are bilingual. In 2005, Allan served a tour of duty in Iraq with the Texas Army National Guard. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his Mexidata.info articles are archived here ; his News With Views columns are archived here; and his website is here