Disappointed by the United States Senate's failure to act so far, Puerto Rico's Gov. Pedro Rossello moved ahead on his own. A staunch supporter of statehood for Puerto Rico, Rossello said the island's residents will vote in December on a nonbinding referendum about their future.
In the vote, they'll choose from among three possibilities: statehood, independence or continuing the current status as a commonwealth of the U.S. The results won't compel anyone to do anything, but the vote at least will show current sentiment among 3.8 Puerto Ricans on their island's future.
Previous straw votes in Puerto Rico have been inconclusive, with statehood and continued commonwealth status attracting about the same number of votes, while those who favor an independent country trailed far behind. Perhaps the December vote will be more conclusive, with the governor pushing hard for statehood.
In the U.S. Congress, the House passed a bill calling for a binding referendum in Puerto Rico, but the Senate has refused to act. Even if the Senate eventually changes its mind and somehow approves the bill, which is unlikely, it would be just the start of a long process toward statehood for Puerto Rico.
For 100 years, the U.S. has controlled Puerto Rico, starting with the invasion of 1898. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens at birth, but they can't vote for U.S. president or for full members of Congress, so the citizenship is curtailed.
On the island there has long been a lack of consensus about the preferred future status of Puerto Ricans. Those who seek an independent country are often more vocal than others, but they have attracted less than 5 percent of the vote in previous referendums.
A newer plan being considered by some Puerto Ricans would establish a ``free associated state.'' Puerto Rico would be an ``independent'' nation but would give up some functions through a treaty with the U.S.
The treaty, for example, might continue the use of the American dollar as official currency in Puerto Rico. Maybe this hybrid approach would be palatable to more voters.
Puerto Ricans should have the chance to vote in a binding referendum, but unless the Senate surprises everyone by acting responsibly, it looks like Rossello's straw vote will have to do for now. Perhaps it will lead to a real choice for Puerto Ricans.