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Thursday, February 29, 2024

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Puerto Rico: US House Passes Bill To Vote On Independence

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The US House of Representatives passed a bill calling for a vote on three possible futures on Thursday, giving the drive for greater autonomy in Puerto Rico a boost even if the Senate seemed unlikely to take up the bill.

The Puerto Rico Status Act underlines terms for compulsory voting on three specific options: complete independence, US statehood, or having official US association, sovereignty, similar to the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.

Puerto Rico Status Act “historical”

The bill’s original sponsor and Democratic Representative Raul Grijalva stated that whether the bill receives a vote in the Senate or not, it will still lay down “an important historical precedent” for the Caribbean island. 

The legislation “tells the people in Puerto Rico, our fellow U.S. citizens, that this election is going to be aboveboard and the consequences are going to be aboveboard,” Grijalva briefed a House committee hearing on Wednesday night.

The bill passed in the House, majorly controlled by Democrats, with 233-219 vote largely along party lines.

Republicans argued against the plan on the grounds that it did not provide the option of retaining the status quo and that it was a diversion from the impending federal government shutdown in the United States, which is expected to happen on Friday night absent legislative action.

The Caribbean island is presently an unincorporated US territory, whose residents are considered US citizens but cannot vote as they have limited representation in Congress. 

With only a week before Congress takes a Christmas holiday break, senators are hastening to clear two major bills funding the military and the government more broadly.

The bill will expire if the Senate doesn’t take action on the Puerto Rico bill this month, which seems unlikely. It is unlikely to be reintroduced because Republicans, who will control the House in the next Congress, would improbably do so.

Puerto Rico, which has about 3.3 million population and a high level of poverty, turned into a US territory in 1898. Here, activists have campaigned for greater self-government along with the demand for statehood for years.

There have been six ballots on the issue since the 1960s, but they were not obligatory. Only Congress has the power to give statehood.

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