Nearly 2 million Puerto Ricans went to the polls yesterday, and while they could not participate in the U.S. presidential election, residents of the U.S. territory opted for statehood in a non-binding referendum. Voters on the island also elected the pro-Commonwealth candidate Alejandro García Padilla as the new governor of the island.
The first question on the two-part referendum asked voters if they wanted to change their political status with the United States. Nearly 54 percent (992,374) chose not to continue their 114-year-old relationship with the United States, while 46 percent (786,749) favored the status quo of the island remaining a territory. The second question was geared toward those who favored a change in status and asked voters to choose between three options—U.S. statehood, independence or “sovereign free association.” Sixty-one percent opted for statehood.
Under the current status of Free Associated State (Estado Libre Asociado—ELA) residents of Puerto Rico do not have the right to vote in presidential elections and only have one non-voting representative in Congress. However, Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917. The status of Free Associated State grants a certain degree of autonomy to the island, but restricts its residents from becoming involved in topics such as security, trade and diplomatic relations, among others.
But the future of Puerto Rico also depends on who governs the island. While Governor Luis Fortuño supports Puerto Rico’s incorporation as the 51st state, Governor-elect Alejandro García Padilla advocates maintaining the status quo. García Padilla of the Popular Democratic Party (Partido Popular Democrático—PPD) was elected with 48 percent (870,005 votes) support, while Fortuño of the New Progressive Party (Partido Nuevo Progresista) received 47 percent (855,325) of the votes.
The Argentine government officially recognized Palestine as a free and independent state, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman said on Monday. In a letter to the president of the National Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner recognized Palestine’s borders as they were defined in 1967, before Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza during the Arab-Israeli War. Argentina’s announcement follows a similar statement of recognition made by Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Relations last Friday.
Only months after Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed over settlement issues, Argentina and Brazil’s statements were drew both praise and condemnation. The Palestine Liberation Organization said the support from the South American powers sends a message of respect for international law and against colonialism. The Israel government, on the other hand, condemned the recognition of Palestine as deceiving, lamentable and counterproductive to peace negotiations.
Several Middle Eastern nations have been working to build stronger diplomatic ties with Latin America. Perhaps the best example is the relationship between Brazil and Iran which is centered on energy cooperation. Uruguay, a sovereign member of Mercosur along with Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, has publicly announced its plans to recognize Palestine in early 2011. However, Israel remains a key partner for Latin America, and is the first non-Latin American nation to sign a free-trade agreement with Mercosur.