On Sunday, Puerto Rico held a referendum on statehood. The result was lopsided due to a boycott. We should respect that the people have spoken. Here’s how to do it.
Understand that statehood is a political football in Puerto Rico. The two main parties there differ primarily on that issue. The ruling New Progressive Party favors statehood, while the Popular Democratic Party would rather Puerto Rico enter a Free Association agreement, such as those the US has with various islands in the Pacific.
They tend to hold a referendum every 5-10 years. The result in 2012 was confusing. 54% voted not to continue the current status. However if another status were chosen, 61% chose statehood. This time, the result is clear. Due to a boycott by the Popular Democratic Party, 97% voted for Statehood, while the rest were split between territory and free association.
Boycott or no, we should respect that Puerto Rico has voted not to remain a territory of the United States. However that said, Puerto Rico is completely unsuitable for admission as a US State. The island is linguistically, culturally, and economically divergent from the rest of the United States. Puerto Rico is 97% Spanish speaking, has half the GDP per capita, and shows no signs of moving towards convergence with the United States.
So what do we do? Easy. We make them independent, offer them a Free Association agreement and a Status of Forces Agreement for our military presence on the island, and leave open the option of statehood should the island converge with our country culturally and economically.
Freedom is a right. Statehood is not.