The House of Representatives on Thursday approved legislation that would require Puerto Rico to conduct a binding referendum on whether residents wish to become the 51st American state, an independent country, or remain sovereign but associated with the United States.
The Puerto Rico Status Act received 233 votes – 217 Democrats and 16 Republicans, while the 191 votes against it came entirely from the GOP side.
The three choices laid out in the bill would be put to a vote in the November 2024 general election. All three would end Puerto Rico’s longstanding status as a US territory, under which the island’s 3 million residents are US citizens but have no vote in presidential elections, nor any voting representation in the US Congress.
“For the first time in our nation’s history, the US recognised its role as a colonising force. The Puerto Rico Status Act lays out a process for the Island to decide its own future. It doesn’t favor statehood, independence, or free association. It allows Puerto Ricans to choose,” said Rep Alexandria Ocasio, who presided over the House vote.
The bill’s final fate is up to the members of the US Senate, which has not taken any action on the legislation and does not appear to have any plans to do so before the 117th Congress comes to an end in January. Even if the Senate did consider the bill, it would require 10 Republican senators to join all 50 Senate Democrats in supporting it before it could head to the desk of the US president Joe Biden.
In that unlikely event, the White House Office of Management and Budget has recommended that Mr Biden sign the bill, writing in a statement of administration policy that Puerto Ricans “have been deprived of the opportunity to determine their own political future and have not received the full rights and benefits of their citizenship because they reside in a US territory” for “far too long”
The statement added that the Puerto Rico Status Act would “take a historic step towards righting this wrong by establishing a process to ascertain the will of the voters of Puerto Rico regarding three constitutional options for non-territorial status: statehood, independence and sovereignty in free association with the United States”.
Rep Raúl Grijalva, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee with oversight of US territories, celebrated the bill: “It is crucial to me that any proposal in Congress to decolonise Puerto Rico be informed and led by Puerto Ricans.”
And Steny Hoyer, a member of House Democratic leadership and a champion of the bill, said: “This historic legislation will grant Puerto Ricans the self-determination they deserve and allow them determine the future of their island themselves.”
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