Politics

What’s stopping Puerto Rican statehood?

What's stopping Puerto Rican statehood?

This article originally appeared on watchdog.org

MIAMI — Many Puerto Ricans were convinced the greatest opposition to statehood would come from U.S. congressmen.

They were wrong.

The New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico, a political party that advocates for Puerto Rico’s admission to the United States as the 51st state, recently filed a lawsuit against the territory’s governor, Alejandro García Padilla, for allegedly trying to dissuade U.S. lawmakers from recognizing its statehood.

The lawsuit claims that both Padilla and the executive director of Federal Affairs, Eugenio Hernandez Mayoral, “have been performing government procedures with public funds, which go against the sovereign people.”

The smoking gun is a letter written on the governor’s letterhead dated May 29 and addressed to members of the U.S. House of Representatives. In it, Padilla wrote that statehood isn’t the way to go. He also references using public money to mount a campaign to sway the vote to his line of thinking.

Last November, Puerto Rican voters chose statehood by a slim margin, but it’s up to American lawmakers to decide that issue. Now controversy swirls around the content, language and design of the ballot questions.

According to the State Elections Commission, Puerto Rican voters were asked two questions: whether they wanted to continue Puerto Rico’s territorial status and to indicate the political status they preferred from three possibilities: statehood, independence, or a sovereign nation.  Fifty-four percent voted no on the first question. Those who answered the second question overwhelmingly chose statehood.

Maurice Ferre, a former Miami mayor and long time supporter of statehood, agreed the ayes in the first question were not convincing enough to motivate the U.S. government to put another star on its flag.

To some, the lack of an overwhelming majority, even a little ambiguity, shouldn’t be a license to spend public money.

“In the November 2012 referendum, the people rejected the current status, so the government is prevented from using public funds to defend it,” explainedPedro Pierluisi, president of the NPP and the U.S. resident commissioner of Puerto Rico.

“The Constitution of Puerto Rico is clear. It requires that there is a public purpose for any spending of our government. Obviously there can’t be a legitimate aim to use public funds to go against the will of the people,” Pierluisi said.

The lawsuit demands that defendants be ordered to “cease and desist to disburse public funds for partisan political purposes.”

Pierluisi has been gathering support from members of both parties to support changing the island to a U.S. state and said that on Aug. 1 he will publicly roll out his proposal outlining strategies to make that happen.

On July 17, the Committee on Appropriations of the U.S. House approved the allocation of $2.5 million to help fund another referendum that would include an educational campaign to help inform the voters.

Last June,  Padilla told CNN he doesn’t believe in independence or statehood because “Puerto Rico has a different tax status, because it is not a state. It would then lose this competitive advantage and would make Puerto Rico worse off.”

Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org or on Twitter: @mtoledoreporter

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