Puerto Rico Statehood: White House Allocates $2.5 Million For New Vote

A non-binding November 2012 referendum held in Puerto Rico where voters were asked whether they agreed that Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of territorial status revealed that 54% of voters were against maintaining their current political status as an unincorporated territory. The second part of the ballot subsequently asked whether they preferred statehood, independence, or sovereignty with free association, revealing a clear mandate for statehood: of those who answered the second question, 61% favoured statehood, followed by a 33% in support of free association sovereignty, and a mere 5% desiring complete independence.

However, the value of the November 2012 referendum remains uncertain; while a clear majority of voters favored statehood, almost 500,000 of the submitted ballots were found with the second part of the question left blank, causing confusion and dissatisfaction with the significance of this referendum. President Obama has previously stated that he will respect the will of Puerto Ricans, as long as there is a clear majority evidently, these numbers were not indicative of that "clear" majority.

Consequently, the new budget plan Obama has recently submitted to Congress reveals a designated $2.5 million set to go toward another plebiscite to vote on the territorial status of Puerto Rico. Of the four status-related plebiscites held in the past 60 years, this will be the first one to be financed by the federal government. The $2.5 million will be allocated to the local elections commission and be used toward the creation of not only the plebiscite, but an education campaign as well. The U.S. Attorney General will need to give approval of the ballot before it is used.

There has been debate over the meaning associated with this decision specifically, whether the White House is rejecting the November 2012 referendum or upholding the results. Accordingly, former Puerto Rican senate president and attorney Thomas Rivera Schatz, has expressed his disappointment with the mostly well-received plan, stating of the November referendum "they have to demand respect for that vote."  Still, it is safe to assume that the core reason for the grant is to ensure more certain voting results before proceeding with any action. In 2011, Obama declared that he remained "firmly committed to the principle that the question of political status is a matter of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico."

Pedro Pierluisi, resident commissioner of Puerto Rico to the United States Congress, has additionally expressed his support for the new referendum and whatever measures need to be taken to ensure a clear consensus from the people. "The voice of the people of Puerto Rico must be heeded and it must be respected. The views they have expressed deserve a just and appropriate response from the federal government, because Puerto Ricans are American citizens," said Pierluisi. "I will not rest until Puerto Rico achieves true political, social, and economic equality."

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