Puerto Rico Statehood Vote Wins Largest Share And Governor
Luis Fortuno Concedes Defeat
By BEN FOX and DANICA COTO
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - A majority of Puerto Ricans have
opted for the first time to become the 51st U.S. state
in what jubilant members of the pro-statehood party call
a resounding sign that the island territory is on the
road to losing its second-class status.
But Tuesday's vote comes with an asterisk and an
imposing political reality: The island remains bitterly
divided over its relationship to the United States and
many question the validity of this week's referendum.
There's also the fact that voters also ousted the pro-
statehood governor, eliminating one of the main
advocates for a cause that would need the eventual
approval of the U.S. Congress.
"Statehood won a victory without precedent but it's an
artificial victory," said Angel Israel Rivera Ortiz, a
political science professor at the University of Puerto
Rico. "It reflects a divided and confused electorate
that is not clear on where it's going."
President Barack Obama had said he would support the
will of the Puerto Rican people on the question of the
island's relationship to the U.S., referred to simply on
the island as its "status," and this week's referendum
was intended to be the barometer.
But the results aren't so clear-cut. It was a two-part
ballot that first asked all voters if they favor the
current status as a territory. Regardless of the answer,
all voters then got to choose in the second question
from three options: statehood, independence or
"sovereign free association," which would grant more
autonomy to the island of nearly 4 million people.
More than 900,000 voters, or 54 percent, responded `no'
to the first question, saying they were not content with
the current status; and nearly 800,000, or 61 percent,
chose statehood -- a bigger percentage, and the first
majority, than in the previous three referendums on this
issue over the past 45 years.
"We made history with this plebiscite," said Resident
Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, the island's
representative in Congress and a member of both the pro-
statehood New Progressive Party and the Democratic
The certified results will be sent to the White House
and the congressional leadership, and it will be up to
them to begin the process of admitting Puerto Rico into
"The ball is now in Congress' court and Congress will
have to react to this result," Pierluisi said. "This is
a clear result that says `no' to the current status."
Gov. Luis Fortuno, a member of the pro-statehood party
who is also a Republican, welcomed the results and said
he was hopeful that Congress would take up the cause.
But Fortuno won't be around to lead the fight: Voters
turned him out of office after one term, choosing his
opponent Alejandro Garcia Padilla, of the Popular
Democratic Party, which wants Puerto Rico to remain a
semi-autonomous U.S. commonwealth.
Margarita Nolasco, the vice president of the Puerto
Rican Senate from the pro-statehood party, said she
feared the commonwealth forces would seek to undermine
"At the beginning of the last century, statehood
appeared to be an impossible dream," Nolasco said.
"After a century of battles and electoral defeats,
statehood just became the political force of majority
that Puerto Ricans prefer."
Besides pointing to the defeat of the governor, albeit
by a margin of less than 1 percent, skeptics point to
other signs that statehood is not ascendant in Puerto
Luis Delgado Rodriguez, who leads a group that supports
sovereign free association, noted that 450,000 voters
left the second question blank, raising questions about
their preference. He said that those voters, coupled
with those who support independence and sovereign free
association, add up to more than those who favored
"This represents an overwhelming majority against
statehood," he said.
The results are also murky because everyone could vote
in the second round -- no matter their answer to the
first question -- and the choice of "sovereign free
association," is not the same as the current status. In
other words, people could have voted for both no change
in the first round and any of the choices in the second.
Nearly 65,000 left the first question blank.
"With that kind of message, Congress is not going to do
anything, and neither is President Obama," Rivera said.
Puerto Rico has been a territory for 114 years and its
people have been U.S. citizens since 1917. Residents of
the island cannot vote in the U.S. presidential
election, have no representation in the Senate and only
limited representation in the House of Representatives.
It's a situation that frustrates many, as does the long-
simmering political uncertainty. Independence was once
the dominant political movement on the island but no
longer: Only 6 percent of voters opted severing ties
from the U.S., a prospect that scared voters like 31-
year-old Jose Ramos.
"I prefer that the United States helps us, because to
stand on our own two feet, no," said the father of
three. "I don't want this to become a republic. That
Puerto Rico Referendum Approves U.S. Statehood for
1st Time, But Results Show Divided Views
Guest: Juan Gonzalez
November 8, 2012
For the first time in Puerto Rico's history, a majority
of the island's voters have supported a non-binding
referendum to become a full U.S. state. The measure will
require approval from the U.S. Congress, but President
Obama has said he will respect the vote. Obama made the
same promise last year when he visited the island,
becoming the first sitting U.S. president in half a
century to do so. If Puerto Rico becomes the 51st state,
its residents will have the right to vote in all U.S.
elections, but will also have to start to pay federal
taxes. We speak to Juan González, Democracy Now! co-host
and New York Daily News columnist.
AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now! co-host Juan González is
home, recuperating from back surgery. Juan, I wanted to
ask you about Puerto Rico. For the first time in Puerto
Rico's history, a majority of the island's voters
supported a non-binding referendum to become a full U.S.
state, the measure requiring approval from the U.S.
Congress, but President Obama has said he will respect
the vote. He made the same promise last year when he
visited the island, become the first sitting U.S.
president in half a century to do so.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Because when I ran for
president, I promised to include Puerto Rico, not
just on my itinerary, but also in my vision of where
our country needs to go. And I'm proud to say that
we've kept that promise, too. First of all, we've
addressed the question of political status. In
March, a report from our Presidential Task Force on
Puerto Rican Status provided a meaningful way
forward on this question, so that the residents of
the island can determine their own future. And when
the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision, my
administration will stand by you.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama speaking in Puerto
Rico last year. Juan González, talk about the
significance of the vote that took place and what
President Obama has said about respecting the vote.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I think that the significance is
that Puerto Rico is still grappling with its status as
a-as the last major colony of the United States, but-and
this referendum is just another step along the road, but
it's not quite as clear-cut as the press reports are
making it out to be. You know, Puerto Rico has a very
convoluted relationship politically with the United
States, and so the parties there operate a little
First of all, the amazing thing that-once again, record
turnouts in Puerto Rico: 85 percent of the people voted,
much higher than in the United States. And for those of
you who worry about long lines, in Puerto Rico, the day
before the election is a holiday, the day of the
election is a holiday, and the day after the election is
a holiday. So it's a three-day holiday, election time,
in Puerto Rico, so it gives people plenty of time to
organize and turn out their votes.
But the results here on the referendum are double-edged.
On the one hand, the referendum was in two stages this
time. This was not authorized by Congress. This is, in
essence, a preference vote of the people of Puerto Rico,
sending a message to Congress, but Congress has no
responsibility to abide by it in any way. The first part
of the amendment said, "Are you satisfied with the
current status, or do you want a change in status?" And
in that part of the-in that part, the change-those who
wanted the change won decisively, and 900,000 people,
about 54 percent of those who were voting, said that
they wanted a-they were not satisfied with the current
But then, there was a second stage, which said, "Which
status would you prefer?" And there were-in essence, the
choices were statehood, which has always been a choice
on these referendums, a new definition called free-a
"sovereign free associated state," and not the
commonwealth that now exists, but some nebulous new
entity called "sovereign free associated state," or
independence. So there were three choices. And you had
about 800,000 people voted for statehood, and 437,000
voted for this free associated sovereign state, but
another 468,000 cast blank ballots, and then you had
72,000 voted for independence. So when the reports are
telling you that statehood won, statehood won a majority
of those who cast a choice, but there was a huge number
who voted no, because the Commonwealth Party, the
existing Commonwealth Party in Puerto Rico, opposed the
way that the pro-statehood governor had prepared the
referendum, and so it urged its members to cast blank
ballots. So there were actually four choices that were
made there. There was those who went for statehood,
those who went for the new free associated republic-or,
I'm sorry, free associated state with sovereignty, those
who went for the old commonwealth, and those who went
for independence. So, the independence people-I mean,
the statehood people say, for the first time, statehood
has gotten a majority in any of these referendums, but
the-those on the other side say, no, when you add up
free associated states, the blank ballots and
[inaudible], they overwhelmingly defeated statehood.
To throw another wrinkle into the whole situation, the
pro-statehood party which proposed this referendum was
swept out of office. The governor was voted out of
office. The majority in the Senate was voted out of
office. The majority of all the city-the mayoralties
were voted out of office of the statehood party. And it
looks like the House, the Lower House of Puerto Rico,
will also be of the Commonwealth Party. So, the new
governor-because Luis Fortuño, the governor who tried to
bring in the gas line, the governor who waged the
battles against the students at the University of Puerto
Rico, the governor who fought the labor unions, he's
out. And he was the one who proposed this referendum. So
what exactly is going happen now as the new governor,
who is hostile to even this process that Fortuño chose,
will do with the results remains to be seen.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Juan, as you look at what's
happening in this country right now, what was galvanized
by the protests of years ago, the mass May Day protests;
then the young DREAMers sitting in in President Obama's
campaign offices and other senators' and Congress
members'; the UndocuBus that went to the Democratic
National Convention, where people also got arrested
demanding a fair, rational, comprehensive immigration
policy-what do you think will happen now? There is
supposedly a lot of soul searching within the Republican
Party at this moment, because they were so roundly
beaten. What is the shape of policy that you see? What
are the issues that must be hit to make it a
comprehensive, satisfactory policy in this country?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I think what you're seeing is-and
I'm glad you mentioned the 2006 protests, because I said
back then that that was the coming of age of the Latino
community in the United States, that series of protests
in the spring of 2006. And I'm willing to bet a month's
pay that in every one of these elections at the local
level across the country this week, the young Latinos
who were involved in organizing for these political
campaigns, that many of them were participants in those
protests and were really inspired, many, to get into
political activity as a result of the immigrant rights
protests of 2006, and the frustration that they have
felt now as six years have passed and nothing has
changed in immigration.
So I think that the key thing that is-hopefully, will
come of this new coalition is not only a coalition of
people of the [inaudible], those who were in the past,
whether they were poor or union workers or women or
African Americans, Latinos, Asians, that they-that not
only have they now twice elected a president, but now
that the policies that the new government, that our new
administration and the Congress adopt, speak to those
people and provide some of the basic needs and end the
gap in-growing gap in income inequality, end the
constant favoritism of government for the needs and
interests of the corporations and the wealthy
contributors. That's going to be the big challenge. Will
Obama, who moved to the left once again to get re-
elected-what is he going to do now that he's in the
position of another four years?
AMY GOODMAN: Juan González, I want to thank you so much
for being with us. And I also want to encourage folks,
if you've ever been through what Juan is going through,
back surgery with a herniated disc and a pinched nerve,
send us what was most successful in helping you ease the
pain at [log in to unmask] That's
[log in to unmask] Award-winning journalist Juan
González, co-host of Democracy Now!, usually right here
in the Democracy Now! studios, now recuperating from
back surgery. Juan, thanks so much. Among Juan's books,
Harvest of Empire, and the film has just come out based
on his book, called Harvest of Empire: The Untold Story
of Latinos in America. We wish you well, Juan. I hope to
see you here next week.
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