On Nov. 6, Puerto Rico is holding a referendum on the territory’s tricky political status with the United States. Puerto Rican support for formal statehood has been growing steadily in recent years, with polls showing 41 per cent want the island to become the 51st state. Yet on the mainland, the issue makes for toxic politics. The status of Spanish—which is spoken by 95 per cent of Puerto Ricans—as an official language is unpopular with conservative Republicans. And recession-weary Americans are unlikely to be enthused about any extension of national entitlement programs such as medicare and social security to an island plagued by poverty and joblessness.
President Barack Obama has admitted that a majority vote would not be enough to start the process of bringing Puerto Rico into the union. Congress, he says, will wait for a “stronger inclination” before taking action. Few Americans are tuning in to Puerto Rico’s debate, and the Caribbean protectorate is largely deciding its future without mainland influence. But should they vote to join the union, Puerto Ricans, who have U.S. citizenship but no U.S. political representation, may find they are not as welcome as some U.S. political leaders would have them believe.