Puerto Rico: Fortuño loses —but did statehood win?

On Nov. 7 Puerto Rican governor Luis G. Fortuño conceded defeat in his bid for a second four-year term in an election the day before that also included voting for the legislature and the municipal governments, and a non-binding referendum on the island’s status. With 96.35% of the ballots counted, Fortuño, the candidate of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP), had received 47.04% of the votes; Senator Alejandro García Padilla, running for the centrist Popular Democratic Party (PPD), won narrowly with 47.85%. Juan Dalmau Ramírez of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) came in third with 2.53%, less than the 3% required to maintain the party’s ballot status. Three smaller parties split the remaining votes. (Prensa Latina, Nov. 7; Claridad, Puerto Rico, Nov. 8)

The PNP is close to the US Republican Party, and Fortuño’s aggressive promotion of neoliberal austerity policies sparked protests from unionists opposing budget cuts and layoffs, students opposing tuition hikes and environmentalists opposing a planned natural gas pipeline across the island.

The vote on Puerto Rico’s status came in two parts. In the first, voters were asked if they wanted to maintain the current relationship with the US as a Free Associated State (ELA, for its initials in Spanish, sometimes called “commonwealth” in English). The “no” won easily with 54% of the votes against 46% for “yes.” In the second part, voters were given a choice between independence, a vaguely defined “Sovereign Free Associated State,” and statehood in the US. Statehood won with 802,179 votes (61.15% of valid votes), followed by “Sovereign Free Associated State” with 436,997 votes (33.31%), and independence with just 72,551 votes (5.53%).

Pedro Pierluisi, a PNP member and Fortuño ally who won reelection as Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner (non-voting representative) to the US Congress, quickly hailed the vote as a victory for statehood. “The ball has gone into the court of the [US] Congress, and if they don’t act with speed, it can certainly pass on to international bodies,” he said in an interview that the Puerto Rican daily El Nuevo Día published on Nov. 9.

But others denied that statehood had won a clear victory. During the campaign the PPD had opposed all three choices, implying that voters shouldn’t mark their ballots for this question, and in fact a total of 468,478 ballots were left blank. The combined total for the blank ballots, the votes for independence and the votes for “Sovereign Free Associated State” came to 978,026–175,847 more than the votes for statehood–suggesting that Puerto Ricans remain divided on the issue. In the last referendum on status, in 1998, voters were given “none of the above” as an option; it won with about 50.3% of the vote. (See Update #463). (Claridad, Nov. 8; EFE, Nov. 9, via Univision)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 11.