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Lawmakers Urge Vote on Puerto Rico     05/20 06:22

   

   SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- A group of Democratic congress members, 
including the House majority leader, on Thursday proposed a binding plebiscite 
to decide whether Puerto Rico should become a state or gain some sort of 
independence.

   The draft proposal unveiled at an online news conference would commit 
Congress to accepting Puerto Rico into the United States if voters on the 
island approve it. But even if the plan were to pass the Democratic-led House, 
the proposal appears to have little chance in the Senate, where Republicans 
have long opposed statehood.

   Voters also could choose outright independence or independence with free 
association, whose terms would be defined following negotiations over foreign 
affairs, U.S. citizenship and use of the U.S. dollar, said Rep. Darren Soto of 
Florida.

   If no majority emerges, a second round of voting would be held between the 
top two alternatives.

   The measure, not yet introduced, follows months of negotiations between 
federal lawmakers who have long disagreed on what Puerto Rico's political 
status should be.

   "Getting to this point has not been an easy process. Is it perfection? No," 
said Rep. Ral Grijalva of Arizona, chairman of the U.S. House Natural 
Resources Committee, which oversees affairs in U.S. territories.

   U.S. House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland said all those 
involved had to make compromises, but he pledged to push the bill through.

   Puerto Rico has held seven unilateral, nonbinding referendums on the issue, 
but this would be the first that would not include possible continuation of the 
current status as a U.S. commonwealth.

   No overwhelming majority for or against statehood emerged in earlier 
referendums. The last was held during the November 2020 general elections, with 
53% of votes for statehood and 47% against, with only a little more than half 
of registered voters participating.

   As a U.S. territory, Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizenship but are not allowed 
to vote in general elections; they have a congressional representative with 
limited voting powers, and they receive less money from certain federal 
programs than do people in U.S. states.

   "Nobody can deny that the current status of Puerto Rico is undemocratic," 
said Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, whose New Progressive Party has long pushed for the 
island to become the 51st U.S. state.

   The main opposition Popular Democratic Party, which supports the status quo, 
rejected the proposed plebiscite because it does not include Puerto Rico's 
current political status.

   "This project excludes those who think differently," said party president 
Jos Luis Dalmau, who is also president of Puerto Rico's Senate and vowed to 
fight the proposal. "This is a lack of respect."

   Meanwhile, backers said the next step is to hold public hearings in Puerto 
Rico on the proposed bill prior to its introduction. If eventually approved, 
Pierluisi said the plebiscite would be held on Nov. 5, 2023.

   The proposal comes at a time when Puerto Rico is trying to emerge from a 
lengthy bankruptcy and recover from the devastation left by Hurricane Maria in 
2017.

   There is also growing discontent with Puerto Rico's two main parties and 
ongoing government corruption scandals. The November 2020 elections were the 
first time that the territory's two main parties failed to reach 40% of votes. 
Pierluisi won with only 33% of votes.

   "I know we are all skeptical because of the political dynamics in Puerto 
Rico," said U.S. Rep. Nydia Velzquez of New York, who supports the new 
proposal.

 
 
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