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House Democrats Push Puerto Rico Closer to Statehood

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

As one of their final acts as the majority party in the House, Democrats put forward and passed a bill aimed at what they say is "decolonizing" the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico by allowing its residents to choose what sort of relationship they want to have with the United States going forward. 

The bill passed 233-191 by House Dems and a few Republican members would provide for a binding referendum in Puerto Rico in which those who live there would be able to vote for one of three options: independence, independence with "free association," or statehood. Notably, the referendum vote would not allow residents the option to maintain their current standing as a U.S. commonwealth. 

Democrat Rep. Steny Hoyer (MD) said the path to this week's vote was "long and torturous" and that "for far too long, the people of Puerto Rico have been excluded from the full promise of American democracy and self-determination that our nation has always championed."

The current Governor of Puerto Rico Pedro Pierluisi who is in the "New Progressive Party" that wants statehood said his party's "quest to decolonize Puerto Rico is a civil rights issue," though not all residents of the island agree. 

The Associated Press reported that Puerto Rican attorney Pablo José Hernández Rivera "said approval of the bill by the House would be 'inconsequential' like the approval of previous bills in 1998 and 2010. 'We Puerto Ricans are tired of the fact that the New Progressive Party has spent 28 years in Washington spending resources on sterile and undemocratic status projects,' he said."

The AP also noted that Puerto Ricans have not been decisive or motivated to turn out for similar votes held in the past:

The proposal of a binding referendum has exasperated many on an island that already has held seven nonbinding referendums on its political status, with no overwhelming majority emerging. The last referendum was held in November 2020, with 53% of votes for statehood and 47% against, with only a little more than half of registered voters participating.

While the legislation passed the House, it faces an uphill battle with little chance of passing in the evenly divided Senate where time is running out before the end of the 117th Congress.

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