Congress Allows Controversial Vote on Puerto Rico's Status to Move Forward

The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to authorize a referendum on the political status of Puerto Rico. For over 112 years, Puerto Rico has been a commonwealth property of the United States; Puerto Ricans living on the island are unable to vote in presidential elections and their representative to the Congress has no official say in political matters. Since the island is not a state, its residents do not pay income taxes, but they can be drafted to fight in wars. It's an ambiguous and tentative tie that has many Puerto Ricans and congressmen alike confused as to where the island nation stands.

The issue of whether or not Puerto Rico should become a state has been bitterly divisive for years, but the current effort to force a vote has politicians on both sides of the aisle nervous. The current bill proposes a two step process. First, Puerto Rican citizens—including those born on the island, but currently residing in mainland United States—would be asked whether or not they want to change the island’s relationship with the US. If the referendum results in a yes majority vote, then the people will be given four options for change: statehood, independence, "independent free association," or they can vote to maintain the status quo and remain a commonwealth.

Republicans are up in arms at what they see as an effort to increase the number of democrats in congress by offering up statehood to Puerto Rico. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, (R-Utah) told Fox News host Glenn Beck, "That's what some of us who understand this bill are so just frightened about. The majority of people in Puerto Rico don't even necessarily want this."

Ironically, Democratic Rep. Nydia Velasquez (New York) was also upset about the vote. "It is baffling that the statehood option, which lost in 1967, in 1993 and again in 1998, is now allowed to scheme its way to victory," she argued.

If the bill becomes law, it will allow Puerto Ricans to officially vote on their future political status for the first time since the island was occupied by the United States after the 1898 Spanish-American War.