Washington – The House on Thursday passed a bill that would allow Puerto Rico to hold the first-ever binding referendum onor win some kind of independence, in a last-ditch effort that is unlikely to pass the Senate.
The bill, which passed 233-191 with some Republican support, would give voters in the U.S. territory three options: statehood, independence, or independence with free association.
“It’s crucial to me that any proposal in Congress to decolonize Puerto Rico be informed and led by Puerto Ricans,” said Democratic Representative Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees affairs in the territories. Americans.
The proposal would commit Congress to accepting Puerto Rico into the United States as the 51st state if the island’s voters approve it. Voters could also choose outright independence or independence with free association, the terms of which would be determined following negotiations on foreign affairs, US citizenship and use of the US dollar.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who has worked on the issue throughout his career, said it was “a long and winding road” to get the proposal to the House floor.
“For 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 stood for,” said the Democrat from Maryland.
After passing the Democratic-controlled House, the bill now faces a divided Senate where it faces a countdown to the end of the year and Republican lawmakers who have long opposed creating a ‘a state. The White House said President Biden supports the measure and called on lawmakers to “act quickly to put the future of Puerto Rico’s political status in the hands of Puerto Ricans, where it belongs.”
Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi of the pro-state New Progressive Party traveled to Washington for the vote. “It will be a historic day because it will set a precedent that we haven’t had until now,” he said.
Members of his party, including Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico Jenniffer González, cheered the bill’s expected approval, though backlash at home was largely muted and tinged with frustration as it is expected to be defeated in the Senate. .
The proposal for a binding referendum has infuriated many on an island that has already held seven non-binding referendums on its political status, with no overwhelming majority emerging. The last referendum took place in November 2020, with 53% of the vote for the creation of a state and 47% against, with only a little more than half of the registered voters.
The proposed binding referendum would be the first time Puerto Rico’s current status as a U.S. Commonwealth has not been included as an option, a blow to the main opposition People’s Democratic Party, which maintains the status quo.
Pablo José Hernández Rivera, a lawyer in Puerto Rico, said the House’s approval of the bill 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, undemocratic status projects,” he said.
González, Puerto Rico’s representative in Congress, praised the bill and said it would give the island the self-determination it deserves.
“Many of us disagree on what that future should be, but we all accept that the decision is up to the people of Puerto Rico,” she said.