WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday that would allow Puerto Rico to hold the first binding referendum on whether to become a state or gain some form of independence, in a last-ditch effort that stands little chance. to be approved. the Senate.
The bill, which passed 233-191 with some Republican support, would offer voters in the United States three options: statehood, independence, or independence with free association.
“It is crucial to me that any proposal in Congress to decolonize Puerto Rico be informed and led by Puerto Ricans,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees affairs in the US territories.
The proposal would commit Congress to accept Puerto Rico into the United States as the 51st state if the island’s voters approve it. Voters could also choose full independence or independence with free association, the terms of which would be defined after negotiations on foreign affairs, US citizenship and use of the US dollar.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who has worked on the issue throughout his career, said it was “a long and winding road” to get the bill to the full House.
“For too long, the people of Puerto Rico have been excluded from the full promise of American democracy and self-determination that our nation has always stood for,” said the Maryland Democrat.
After passing the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, the bill now moves to a divided Senate where it faces a ticking clock before the end of the year and Republican lawmakers who have long opposed statehood. .
Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi, of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, traveled to Washington for the vote. “It’s going to be a historic day because it’s going to create a precedent that we haven’t had until now,” he said.
Members of his party, including Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, applauded the expected passage of the bill, though reaction on US soil was largely muted and tinged with frustration as it is expected to be rejected. in the Senate.
The proposal for a binding referendum has infuriated many on an island that has already held seven non-binding referendums on its political status, without an overwhelming majority emerging. The last referendum was held in November 2020, with 53% voting in favor and 47% against, with the participation of just over half of registered voters.
The proposed binding referendum would be the first time that Puerto Rico’s current status as a Commonwealth of the United States is not included as an option, a blow to the main opposition Popular Democratic Party, which maintains the status quo.
Pablo José Hernández Rivera, a lawyer in Puerto Rico, said that the approval of the bill by the House would be “inconsistent” with the approval of previous bills in 1998 and 2010.
“Puerto Ricans are tired of the fact that the New Progressive Party has been in Washington for 28 years spending resources on sterile and undemocratic status projects,” he said.
González, Puerto Rico’s representative in Congress, praised the bill, saying it would give the island the self-determination it deserves.
“Many of us do not agree on how that future should be, but we all accept that the decision should be made by the people of Puerto Rico,” he said.
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.