Bill would allow Puerto Rico to hold first-ever binding referendum on whether to become a state or gain some sort of independence, in a last-ditch effort that stands little chance of passing the Senate.
Puerto Rico's movement for greater self-government has gotten a boost in the US House of Representatives, which passed a bill for a referendum on three potential futures, although the measure had little chance of being taken up by the Senate.
The bill, which passed 233-191 on Thursday with some Republican support, would offer voters in the US territory three options: statehood, independence or independence with free association.
Democratic Representative Raul Grijalva, the bill's original sponsor, said that whether the measure gets a vote in the Senate or not, it will still set "an important historical precedent" for Puerto Rico.
The legislation "tells the people in Puerto Rico, our fellow US citizens, that this election is going to be aboveboard and the consequences are going to be aboveboard," Grijalva told a House committee hearing on Wednesday night.
“It is crucial to me that any proposal in Congress to decolonise Puerto Rico be informed and led by Puerto Ricans,” said Grijalva.
Republicans argued against the bill because it did not offer the option of maintaining the status quo and said it was a distraction as a US federal government shutdown looms on Friday night unless lawmakers approve a funding measure.
We just passed landmark legislation to finally give the people of Puerto Rico the right to determine their own future and if they decide: statehood 🇺🇸 🇵🇷 pic.twitter.com/H4NzKjLWvn— Bill Pascrell, Jr. 🇺🇸🇺🇦 (@BillPascrell) December 15, 2022
Race before holidays
The Caribbean island is currently a US territory whose residents are US citizens but do not have voting representation in Congress and cannot vote in presidential elections.
With about a week to go before Congress takes a holiday break, senators are scrambling to pass two major bills funding the military and the government more broadly.
Unless the Senate acts on the Puerto Rico bill this month, which is improbable, the legislation will expire.
Republicans, who will control the House in the new Congress next year, are unlikely to reintroduce it.
Pablo Jose Hernandez Rivera, an attorney in Puerto Rico, said approval of the bill by the House 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 and undemocratic status projects,” he said.
Puerto Rico, which has about 3.3 million people and high poverty rates, became a US territory in 1898.
Activists have campaigned for greater self-determination, including statehood, for decades.
There have been six referendums since the 1960s, but they were non-binding. Only Congress can grant statehood.
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