Political status of Puerto Rico

Political status of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rican Status Referenda have been held four times to determine the political status of the island of Puerto Rico in relation to the United States of America. Since the establishment of the current Commonwealth status in 1952, further attempts to change the island's political status were held in 1967, 1993, and 1998. An additional referendum in 1991 sought to amend the relationship through an amendment to the Puerto Rican constitution. Each time, the results favored retaining the commonwealth status over the possible Independence of Puerto Rico and Statehood.

Although Puerto Rico presently has a considerable amount of local autonomy, according to the US constitution ultimate governance of the island is retained by both the US Congress and President. Thus, the plebiscite decisions, while they reflect public sentiment and thus bear some impact, can be overridden by the U.S. Congress. Ultimately, the results of Puerto Rican plebiscite are opinions, although Congressional resolutions have expressed support for following the will of the Puerto Rican people. [http://www.letpuertoricodecide.com/details.php?cid=4 Let Puerto Rico Decide: An Introduction to Puerto Rico's Status Debate ] ]

tatus questions

For more than one hundred years, a single issue has dominated Puerto Rican politics: its political status vis-à-vis the United States. A United States territory since 1898 known as a commonwealth (the same terminology used by the states of Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, as well as the U.S. territory of the Northern Mariana Islands) since 1952, Puerto Rico today is torn by profound ideological rifts, as represented by its political parties, which stand for the current relationship or the three distinct future political scenarios: the status quo (commonwealth), statehood, and independence. The Popular Democratic Party (PPD) seeks to maintain or improve the current status, the New Progressive Party (PNP) seeks to fully incorporate Puerto Rico as a U.S. state, the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) seeks national independence, while the Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico Party (PPR) seeks a peaceful resolution to the status issue by not aligning itself with one particular in order to promote an open public dialogue on the matter.

When asked to choose between independence, statehood, or continuation of the present status with enhanced powers, as proposed by the Popular Democratic Party, Puerto Ricans have voted to remain a commonwealth or, most recently, have voted for "none of the above". However, dissatisfaction with the current status is evident. The issue is still being debated and is on the agenda of all the political parties and civil society groups. Many pro-commonwealth leaders within the PPD are proposing an Associated Republic or Free Association similar to that of the U.S. territories of the Marshall Islands or Palau. The left wing of the PPD has achieved some success in driving the party to a less conservative and more nationalistic stance.


The Territories Clause of the United States Constitution (Art. IV, Sec. 3, cl. 2) allows for Congress to "dispose of" Puerto Rico and allow it to become independent of the U.S. (in the same way as the Philippines did in 1945) or, under the authority of the Admissions Clause (Art. IV, Sec. 3, cl. 1) for it to be admitted as a state of the United States (with a vote of Congress in the same way that Alaska was in 1958 and Hawaii was in 1959).

In 1967, the Legislative Assembly tested political interests of the Puerto Rican people by passing a local Plebiscite Act that allowed a vote on the status of Puerto Rico. This constituted the first plebiscite by the Legislature for a choice on three status options. Puerto Rican leaders had lobbied for such an opportunity repeatedly, in 1898, 1912, 1914, 1919, 1923, 1929, 1932, 1939, 1943, 1944, 1948, 1956 and 1960. Following the plebiscite, efforts in the 1970s to enact legislation to address the status issue died in congressional committees. Subsequent locally-authorized plebiscites in 1993 (in which the Congress played a more substantial role), commonwealth status did not win a plurality (more than 50% of the vote).

No Congressionally-mandated plebiscite has ever been held and average voter turnout in the locally-enacted status votes has been slightly lower than in general elections. [For the complete statistics regarding these plebiscites please refer to [http://electionspuertorico.org/cgi-bin/events.cgi Elections in Puerto Rico:Results] .]

Most-Recent Plebiscite (1998)

In the last locally-organized plebiscite held in Puerto Rico (1998), the current status quo (Commonwealth status) received less than one tenth of one percent (0.1%) of the total vote. [ [http://eleccionespuertorico.org/cgi-bin/eventos.cgi?evento=1998 Puerto Rico State Electoral Commission: Official Results for the 1998 Political-Status Plebiscite] ] The option of independence received 2.5%,"none of the above" received 50.3% and statehood received 46.7%.

United Nations classification

Although Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States classified as a commonwealth, Puerto Ricans and people from other nations refer to Puerto Rico as a "país", the Spanish word for country. Outside Puerto Rico there is typically a strong relation between the term "country" and the concept of "sovereign state", to the point of viewing them as synonymous. But in Puerto Rico that relation between the two concepts is not clear. In recent plebiscites Puerto Ricans have not expressed themselves in favor of a political status with the intention of transforming Puerto Rico into a sovereign state. So the colloquial usage of the word "country" in Puerto Rico cannot be viewed as a desire for sovereignty. Even when Puerto Ricans talk about "el pais", most of them are not necessarily thinking about the "political" meaning or implication of the word, but rather use it in a peculiar way due to their peculiar political history.

The United Nations has intervened in the past to evaluate the legitimacy of Puerto Rico's political status, to ensure that the island's government structure complies with the standards of self-government that constitute the basic tenets of the United Nations Charter, its covenants, and its principles of international law.

During its 8th session, the United Nations General Assembly recognized Puerto Rico's self government in November 27, 1953 with [http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/8/ares8.htm Resolution 748 (VIII)] . This removed Puerto Rico’s classification as a non-self-governing territory (under article 73(e) of the Charter of the United Nations). The resolution garnered a favorable vote from some 40% of the General Assembly, with over 60% abstaining or voting against it (20 to 16, with 18 abstentions). This resolution has not been revoked by the UN even though the political status is still debated in many international forums.

For a territory to be deemed self-governing, the United Nations requires::(a) Legislative representation. Representation without discrimination in the central legislative organs, on the same basis as other inhabitants and regions [within the governing nation] .:(b) Participation of the population. Effective participation of population in the government of the territory::(2) Is this electoral system conducted without direct or indirect interference from a foreign government?:(c) Citizenship. Citizenship without discrimination on the same basis as other inhabitants

The General Assembly did not apply its list of criteria to Puerto Rico for determining whether or not self-governing status had been achieved.

The UN's Committee on Non-Self-Governing States recently unanimously agreed to ask the General Assembly to take up the issue of Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rico Senate in June, 2007 approved a Concurrent Resolution urging the UN General Assembly to discuss Puerto Rico's case.

Recent developments

In 2005, for the first time in history, the Puerto Rican legislature unanimously passed a measure demanding that the United States government begin a process leading to a choice among non-colonial non-territorial permanent status alternatives. After amendments required by Governor Acevedo Vilá as a precondition to support the measure were incorporated to the measure, it received the vote of all legislators from his party, as well as the pro-statehood and pro-independence parties. Going back on his word, the governor subsequently vetoed the bill and no representative from his party was willing to join the legislature's pro-statehood majority and the pro-independence representative in a veto override vote.

In December 2005, a [http://www.prfaa.com/eng/PuertoRicoBookletFinal.pdf report] by the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status. [ [http://www.house.gov/fortuno/pdf/PuertoRicoBooklet.pdf"Report By the President's Task Force On Puerto Rico's Status (December 2005)"] ] asserted that the Constitution of the United States does not allow for a mechanism “to bind future Congresses to any particular arrangement for Puerto Rico as a Commonwealth” without an amendment to the Constitution. The report also stated that Puerto Rico’s current status “does not meet the criteria for any of the options for full self government.”

The U.S. House Committee on Resources concluded that Puerto Rico is still an unincorporated territory of the United States under the territorial clause, that the establishment of local self-government with the consent of the people can be unilaterally revoked by U.S. Congress, and Congress can withdraw, at any time, the American citizenship now enjoyed by the residents of Puerto Rico as long as it achieves a legitimate Federal purpose, in a manner reasonably related to that purpose.

On January 4, 2006 the Governor of Puerto Rico, Anibal Acevedo Vilá, and the governing Popular Democratic Party challenged the task force report with a resolution that denounced the task force as a political fraud and threat to democracy, and called the report's conclusion a violation of the basic agreements held between the people of Puerto Rico and the United States since 1952 [http://www.endi.com/2006/01/05/politica/345167.asp Current News about Puerto Rico's political status] .] [es icon [http://www.ppdpr.net/media/RENU06-02.pdf PPD Party Resolution #2006-02] .] . The governor also outlined a compromise to challenge the task force report and proposed to validate the current status in all international forums including the United Nations. His resolution, however, rejected the current commonwealth status as a "colonial or territorial status" and replaced it with "an enhanced commonwealth status" option drafted by the PPD in 1998 and which included:: (a) Sovereignty

As part of the PDP's strategy, a bill supporting its position was introduced in the United States Senate by two senators who have traditionally been identified with Puerto Rico, Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and two senators whose interest in all matters Puerto Rican was up to then unknown, Sens. Richard Mauze Burr (R-NC) and Chester Trent Lott, Sr. (R-MS). Since its introduction, the bill did not attract any other co-sponsors, in spite of heavy lobbying on the part of Puerto Rico's Executive Branch lobbyists. A bipartisan Senate bill supporting the implementation of the White House report recommendations was filed by Sens. Martinez (R-FL) and Salazar (D-CO).

On the other hand, Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño (R-PR) and Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-NY) introduced a bipartisan House bill to implement the recommendations, which was cosponsored by over 60 Republicans and over 40 Democrats, significantly more cosponsors than the Young Bill which cleared the House in 1998. The House Committee on Resources called a hearing on the subject on April 27, 2006, signalling a greater degree of interest than previously anticipated.

At the beginning of the 110th Congress, Serrano and Fortuño introduced their bill again as HR900, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2007. A first hearing was held by the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs in March 2007. A final hearing was held on April 25 to hear Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, Senate President Kenneth McClintock, Speaker José Aponte and the White House Report's co-author Kevin Marshall before the bill was brought to a full committee vote, according to Resources Committee chair Nick Rahall (D-WV).

On October 23, 2007, that Resources Committee unanimously approved a substitute bill of HR900, which establishes that before 2009, a first plebiscite will be held in which Puerto Ricans will be asked if they desire to maintain their territorial status, in a yes or no question. The bill states that should the No as the favored choice, either another plebiscite asking between statehood, independence or an associated republic, or a constitutional assembly would follow thereafter, by choice of the United States Federal Court of Puerto Rico. The bill is yet to be considered by the United States House of Representatives, waiting for enough votes to carry a debate. Several organizations in Puerto Rico, such as the Puerto Rico Lawyer's College, have pledged to lobby against it, in an effort to prevent the solution of the status issue.

Puerto Rico Governor's new position on Puerto Rico's status

In an unprecedented letter sent by the Governor of Puerto Rico to the U.S. Secretary of State and the co-chairs of the Presidential Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status, Governor Acevedo Vilá wrote:

:"“My Administration’s position is very clear: if the Task Force and the Bush Administration stand by their 2005 conclusions, then for over 50 years the U.S Government has perpetuated a 'monumental hoax' on the people of Puerto Rico, on the people of the United States and on the international community. If the 2005 report articulates the new official position of the United States, the time has come now for the State Department to formally notify the United Nations of this new position and assume the international legal consequences. You cannot have a legal and constitutional interpretation for local, political purposes and a different one for the international community. If it is a serious, relevant document, the report must have international consequences. Alternatively, the Task Force may review and amend the 2005 conclusions to make them consistent with legal and historical precedent, and therefore allow future status developments based on a binding compact.”". [ [http://www.fortaleza.gobierno.pr/admin_fortaleza/sistema/noticias/1160.doc Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá’s letter to U.S. President George W. Bush’s President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status (formally addressed to the Co-Chairs of the Bush Administration’s Task Force); October 23, 2007] ]

On December 21, 2007, the Bush administration's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status reiterated and confirmed that Puerto Rico continues to be a territory of the United States under the plenary powers of the U.S. Congress. [ [http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/documents/2007-report-by-the-president-task-force-on-puerto-rico-status.pdf"Report By the President's Task Force On Puerto Rico's Status (December 2007)"] ] [ [http://www.eldiariony.com/noticias/detail.aspx?section=20&desc=Nuestros%20Países&id=1778876 U.S. hardens position on Puerto Rico ("EE.UU. endurece posición sobre Puerto Rico"); Jesús Dávila - El Diario La Prensa; December 22, 2007] ] Thus, according to Gov. Acevedo Vila’s letter, the official Puerto Rican executive branch’s public policy with respect to the status of the country is: that “the U.S. Government has perpetuated a ‘monumental hoax’ on the people of Puerto Rico, on the people of the United States and on the International community”. [ [http://www.fortaleza.gobierno.pr/nota.asp?id_noticia=1160 Official Puerto Rico Government Press Release: “Gobernador asiste a reunión con Equipo de Trabajo Presidencial sobre el status político de la Isla; advierte repercusiones internacionales por no reconocer el ELA.”] ]

Due to the results of the 2004 election, the governor doesn't speak for the three-branch "government" of Puerto Rico, especially with respect to the political status issue. Senate President Kenneth McClintock countered Acevedo's letter to Rice with a letter of his own in which he stated the legislative majority's position that the U.S. did not perpetuate a hoax on the UN in 1953. In fact, the most recent President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status report clarified that the United States did not officially represent to the United Nations in 1953 that the Congress could not change Puerto Rico's status unilaterally [op. cit., page 6] .

Puerto Rican politics

The main three political parties in Puerto Rico differ on the desired future political status of the island. These positions influence political affiliations at nearly all levels. The main parties and positions are:

*Popular Democratic Party of Puerto Rico(PPD)-Supports continued commonwealth status.
*New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico (PNP)- Supports U.S. Statehood.
*Puerto Ricans Independence Party (PIP)- Supports Independence.

In 2007, a fourth party, Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico (PPR), was created that does not have an official position on status. PPR has stated that although political status is important, it should not be the only criteria for choosing a party. This party has presented a platform that consists mainly of economic development and environmental points. It claims to be interested in representing people of all parties; thus it consists of political candidates that support the three political status options.

US Political parties

Both major United States political parties have expressed their support for Puerto Ricans to exercise their right to decolonization. The following are the appropriate section from the respective 2000, 2004 and 2008 party platforms:

Republican Party 2000 Platform

We support the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state after they freely so determine. We recognize that Congress has the final authority to define the constitutionally valid options for Puerto Rico to achieve a permanent status with the government by consent and full enfranchisement. As long as Puerto Rico is not a State, however, the will of its people regarding their political status should be ascertained by means of a general right of referendum or specific referenda sponsored by the United States government.

Republican Party 2004 Platform

We support the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted tothe Union as a fully sovereign state after they freely so determine. We recognize thatCongress has the final authority to define the Constitutionally valid options for PuertoRico to achieve a permanent non-territorial status with government by consent and fullenfranchisement. As long as Puerto Rico is not a state, however, the will of its peopleregarding their political status should be ascertained by means of a general right ofreferendum or specific referenda sponsored by the United States government. [http://www.gop.com/media/2004platform.pdf]

Republican Party 2008 Platform

We support the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state after they freely so determine. We recognize that Congress has the final authority to define the constitutionally valid options for Puerto Rico to achieve a permanent non-territorial status with government by consent and full enfranchisement. As long as Puerto Rico is not a state, however, the will of its people regarding their political status should be ascertained by means of a general right of referendum or specific referenda sponsored by the U.S. government. [ [http://www.gopplatform2008.com/2008Platform.pdf gopplatform2008.com 2008 platform] ]

Democratic Party 2000 Platform

Puerto Rico has been under U.S. sovereignty for over a century and Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917, but the island’s ultimate status still has not been determined and its 3.9 million residents still do not have voting representation in their national government. These disenfranchised citizens – who have contributed greatly to our country in war and peace – are entitled to the permanent and fully democratic status of their choice. Democrats will continue to work in the White House and Congress to clarify the options and enable them to chose and to obtain such a status from among all realistic options.

Democratic Party 2004 Platform

We believe that four million disenfranchised American citizens residing in Puerto Rico have theright to the permanent and fully democratic status of their choice. The White House and Congresswill clarify the realistic status options for Puerto Rico and enable Puerto Ricans to choose among them. [ [http://www.lib.umich.edu/govdocs/pdf/dempla04.pdf 2004 Platform ] ]

Democratic Party 2008 Platform
We believe that the people of Puerto Rico have the right to the political status of their choice, obtained through a fair, neutral, and democratic process of self-determination. The White House and Congress will work with all groups in Puerto Rico to enable the question of Puerto Rico’s status to be resolved during the next four years. We also believe that economic conditions in Puerto Rico call for effective and equitable programs to maximize job creation and financial investment. Furthermore, in order to provide fair assistance to those in greatest need, the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico should receive treatment under federal programs that is comparable to that of citizens in the States. We will phase-out the cap on Medicaid funding and phase-in equal participation in other federal health care assistance programs. Moreover, we will provide equitable treatment to the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico on programs providing refundable tax credits to working families. [ [http://www.pamshouseblend.com/upload/documents/2008DemocraticPlatformbyCmte_08-13-08.pdf] ]

1991 Constitutional Amendment Referendum

The 1991 Referendum on the proposed Claim to Democratic Rights asked the voters to approve the addition of an amendment to the Puerto Rican constitution. The wording of this amendment would guarantee:

*The inalienable right to freely and democratically determine Puerto Rico's political status.
*The right to choose a dignified, non-colonial, non-territorial status not subordinate to plenary powers of Congress.
*The right to vote for three alternatives.
*The right that only results with a majority will be considered triumphant in a plebiscite.
*The right that any status would protect Puerto Rico’s culture, language and identity, and continued independent participation in international sports events.
*The right that any status guarantees the individual’s right to American citizenship.

Passage of this referendum would have constituted a claim for the government of Puerto Rico to establish these rights in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico constitution and petition the President and Congress for these rights, but it was rejected by 660,300 (53%) to 559,200 (45%). [http://electionspuertorico.org/archivo/1991.html"Claim to Democratic Rights"]


In general, three main alternatives are presented to Puerto Rican voters in status plebiscites:

*Full independence
*Maintenance or enhancement of commonwealth status
*Full statehood.

The exact expectations for each of these status formulas is a matter of debate by a given position's adherents and detractors. Puerto Rican have proposed positions that modify the alternatives above (2), such as:

*Indemnified Independence with phased-out US subsidy
*Expanded political but not fiscal autonomy
*Statehood with a gradual phasing out of federal tax exemption (Contrary to common misconception, residents of Puerto Rico pay U.S. federal taxes: import/export taxes, federal commodity taxes, social security taxes, etc. Most residents do not pay federal income tax but pay federal payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare). [http://www.house.gov/fortuno/pdf/PuertoRicoBooklet.pdf" Report By the President's Task Force On Puerto Rico's Status (December 2005)"]

[http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/documents/2007-report-by-the-president-task-force-on-puerto-rico-status.pdf"Report By the President's Task Force On Puerto Rico's Status (December 2007)"]

Referendum Results (1967, 1993, and 1998)

Analysis of results

The exact significance of referendum results is debated by local observers. The 1967 results showed strong support for maintaining the commonwealth, but this victory was followed by the first loss in twenty years of governorship by the Popular Democratic Party, the main supporter of the commonwealth association. This occurred in part because of bickering leadership. The 1991 results appear to protest the ideas or forum used to change status as imposed by the then-ruling Popular Democratic Party; the demands were controversial because there was no assurance, and great doubt, that they would be accepted by Congress. The 1998 results, where "none of the above" was the winner, protested criteria set forth by the then ruling New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico.

Stateside Puerto Ricans and Status

In a 2004 study, the [http://www.virtualboricua.org/Docs/PDF/Atlas%20Abridged%20Edition%2011-9-04.pdf "Atlas of Stateside Puerto Ricans"] , it was documented for the first time that there were now more Puerto Ricans residing stateside than in Puerto Rico, numbering 3.8 million in the United States (outside of Puerto Rico). Since the 1967 referendum, there have been demands that stateside Puerto Ricans be allowed to vote in these plebiscites on the political status of Puerto Rico. Since the 1990s, the role of stateside Puerto Ricans in advocating for Puerto Rico in Washington, DC on issues such as the Navy's removal from Vieques and others has increased, especially given that there are three full voting members of the U.S. Congress who are stateside Puerto Ricans (two from New York City and one from Chicago), in contrast to Puerto Rico having a Resident Commissioner in the U.S. Congress with no vote.

conducted an opinion survey over the Internet of a broad cross-section of stateside Puerto Rican community leaders and activists across the United States. The survey had a total of 574 respondents, including 88 non-Puerto Rican members of the Institute’s national network of community leaders.

The views of the 484 Puerto Ricans in the survey found broad support among them for the holding of a plebiscite on the future political status of Puerto Rico. While 73% were in favor of such a vote, they were split on the options to be voted upon. Those supporting the 2005 proposal made by the [http://www.prfaa.com/eng/PuertoRicoBookletFinal.pdf White House Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status] that the vote be ultimately limited to the options of statehood versus independence made up 31% of the total respondents. A larger group (43%) supported including the commonwealth option in the proposed plebiscite.

Commonwealth Unconstitutional? Despite support for the inclusion of the commonwealth option in the proposed plebiscite, a majority (52%) of the Puerto Rican respondents felt that this option is unconstitutional and a vestige of colonialism.

See also

* Voting rights in Puerto Rico
* Politics of Puerto Rico
* 51st state
* U.S. State

Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2007 (H.R. 900 & S. 1936)

* Directs the Puerto Rico State Elections Commission to conduct a plebiscite in Puerto Rico during the 111th Congress.
* Gives voters the option to vote for continued U.S. territorial status or for a path toward a constitutionally viable permanent nonterritorial status.
* Provides for subsequent procedures, depending on ballot results.
* Authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to allocate certain funds for the self-determination process.


External links

*http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h110-900 - for more info on the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2007

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