Time for Puerto Rico to Become the 51st State

In a little-noticed vote last night, after many failed attempts, Puerto Rico voted to officially join the United States as a full state:

The two-part referendum asked whether the island wanted to change its 114-year relationship with the United States. Nearly 54 percent, or 922,374 people, sought to change it, while 46 percent, or 786,749 people, favored the status quo. Ninety-six percent of 1,643 precincts were reporting as of early Wednesday.

The second question asked voters to choose from three options, with statehood by far the favorite, garnering 61 percent. Sovereign free association, which would have allowed for more autonomy, received 33 percent, while independence got 5 percent.

The issue now moves to Congress. President Obama has promised to respect the wishes of such a vote, and both party platforms for this year agree. Gerald Ford, George Bush I, and even Reagan supported statehood. The trouble in Congress could come if some troglodyte adds an amendment forcing Puerto Rico to adopt English as the offial language or some other mischief. Republicans might filibuster the bill in the Senate, eyeing possible Democratic pickups in Congress.

On the other hand, as Kevin Drum points out, there is some real momentum behind filibuster reform for the next Congress. Also, previous bills which failed in the Senate were only about forcing a referendum in Puerto Rico to choose to change their status; with that question disposed of, a simple clean bill granting them statehood ought to be easier to pass. And with President Obama winning more than 70 percent of the Latino vote, Republicans may be finally whipped into finding some issues to win back Latino support.

But fundamentally, all this is beside the point. The United States annexed Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American war in 1898, and Puerto Ricans have been citizens since 1917. They (like residents of Washington, DC and the other territories) must register for the draft and pay taxes, but cannot vote for President and are not represented in Congress.

This state of affairs, like all colonies, is a travesty of justice and an embarrassment for an allegedly democratic state. Now that the Puerto Rican people have chosen statehood freely and fairly, they should be welcomed as full fellow citizens with all speed.

@ryanlcooper

Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper, a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, is currently the Washington correspondent for The Week.