Statehood movement in Puerto Rico

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The statehood movement in Puerto Rico (Spanish: Estadidad de Puerto Rico) aims to make Puerto Rico a state of the United States. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territorial possession of the United States acquired in 1898 following the Spanish–American War, making it "the oldest colony in the modern world".[1] As of 2019, the population of Puerto Rico is 3.2 million, around half the average state population and higher than that of 20 U.S. states. Competing options for the future political status of Puerto Rico include maintaining its current status, becoming fully independent, or becoming a freely associated state. Puerto Rico has held six referendums on the topic. These are non-binding, as the power to grant statehood lies with the US Congress. The most recent was in November 2020, with a majority (52.52%) of voters opting for statehood.[2]

Although the previous two referendums (November 2012 and June 2017) also had ostensibly pro-statehood outcomes, the New York Times described them as "marred, with ballot language phrased to favor the party in office".[3] For example, the fourth referendum, held in November 2012, asked voters (1) whether they wanted to maintain the current political status of Puerto Rico and, if not, (2) which alternative status they prefer. Of the fifty-four percent (54.0%) who voted "No" on maintaining the status quo, 61.11% chose statehood, 33.34% chose free association, and 5.55% chose independence.[4][5][6][7] Opponents of statehood argued that these results did not show that a majority of Puerto Rican voters support statehood. The June 2017 referendum was, according to the New York Times, a "flawed election" where the turnout was only 23% because most statehood opponents sat out. 97% of votes cast favored statehood.[3]

The November 2020 referendum, by contrast, was the first to ask voters a simple yes-or-no question: "Should Puerto Rico be admitted immediately into the Union as a State?". There were 655,505 votes in favor of statehood (52.52%) and 592,671 votes opposed (47.48%). The 55% turnout rate equaled that for the simultaneous 2020 gubernatorial race and the 2016 gubernatorial race.

Background[edit]

Following the Spanish–American War, Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States in 1898, through the signing of the Treaty of Paris.[8] Puerto Rico became an unincorporated, organized territory of the US through a series of judicial decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States, collectively known as "The Insular Cases" and the enactment of several statutes by Congress.[citation needed]

In 1900, the U.S. Congress enacted the Foraker Act, establishing a civil government in the territory and then in 1917, Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship, by the enactment of the Jones-Shafroth Act.[9] The Office of the President is responsible for policy relations between the United States and Puerto Rico, although according to the Territorial Clause of Constitution of the United States of America "The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States...".[10] In 1952, voters in Puerto Rico approved a new constitution proposed by Gov. Luis Munoz Marin; this led to the territory being designated as a commonwealth.

Potential benefits of statehood[edit]

Puerto Rico is, by a considerable margin, the largest U.S. territory in terms of both population and geographical area, being similar to Connecticut with respect to population size (~3.3 million to CT's 3.6 million) and geographical area (13,791 square km to CT's 14,357). Puerto Rico residents do not participate in the Presidential elections because Puerto Rico does not have any electoral votes, but individual Puerto Ricans do have the right to vote when resident in a U.S. state or the District of Columbia. Statehood would allow the population to vote in all elections as the residents of states already can.[citation needed]

Other benefits to statehood include increased disability benefits and Medicaid funding as well as the higher (federal) minimum wage.[11]

Representation[edit]

State Estimated

Pop.,

2019[12]

Theoretical

apportionment, 2019

50 50

+ PR

50

+ PR

+ DC

 California 39,512,223 52 52 52
 Texas 28,995,881 38 38 38
 Florida 21,477,737 28 28 28
 New York 19,453,561 26 25 25
 Pennsylvania 12,801,989 17 16 16
 Illinois 12,671,821 17 16 16
 Ohio 11,689,100 16 15 15
 Georgia 10,617,423 14 14 14
 North Carolina 10,488,084 14 14 14
 Michigan 9,986,857 13 12 12
 New Jersey 8,882,190 12 12 12
 Virginia 8,535,519 11 11 11
 Washington 7,614,893 10 10 10
 Arizona 7,278,717 10 10 9
 Massachusetts 6,892,503 9 9 9
 Tennessee 6,829,174 9 9 9
 Indiana 6,732,219 9 9 9
 Missouri 6,137,428 8 8 8
 Maryland 6,045,680 8 8 8
 Wisconsin 5,822,434 8 8 8
 Colorado 5,758,736 8 8 8
 Minnesota 5,639,632 7 7 7
 South Carolina 5,148,714 7 7 7
 Alabama 4,903,185 7 7 7
 Louisiana 4,648,794 6 6 6
 Kentucky 4,467,673 6 6 6
 Oregon 4,217,737 6 6 6
 Oklahoma 3,956,971 5 5 5
 Connecticut 3,565,287 5 5 5
 Utah 3,205,958 4 4 4
 Puerto Rico 3,193,694 5 5
 Iowa 3,155,070 4 4 4
 Nevada 3,080,156 4 4 4
 Arkansas 3,017,804 4 4 4
 Mississippi 2,976,149 4 4 4
 Kansas 2,913,314 4 4 4
 New Mexico 2,096,829 3 3 3
 Nebraska 1,934,408 3 3 3
 West Virginia 1,792,147 2 2 2
 Idaho 1,787,065 2 2 2
 Hawaii 1,415,872 2 2 2
 New Hampshire 1,359,711 2 2 2
 Maine 1,344,212 2 2 2
 Montana 1,068,778 2 2 2
 Rhode Island 1,059,361 1 1 1
 Delaware 973,764 1 1 1
 South Dakota 884,659 1 1 1
 North Dakota 762,062 1 1 1
 Alaska 731,545 1 1 1
 District of Columbia 705,749 1
 Vermont 623,989 1 1 1
 Wyoming 578,759 1 1 1

The primary debate over Puerto Rican statehood is about representation. Some proposals seek to give it representation without statehood, giving it its apportioned representatives in the House and two Senators like a state without officially adding it to the union.[13]

Whether Puerto Rico is given statehood or simply apportioned members of Congress as a Commonwealth or territory, this will have an impact on the make-up of the House. As the Reapportionment Act of 1929 mandates the House be capped at 435 members, Puerto Rico would end up with Representatives that would otherwise have been apportioned to other states. The table to the right displays the differences in calculated apportionment (using the Huntington–Hill method) if apportionment was based on the estimated populations given by the Census Bureau in 2019. If only Puerto Rico was admitted, the following states would be projected to lose at least one seat: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan.[14][15][16]

History[edit]

Since the transfer of sovereignty of Puerto Rico from Spain to the United States, the relationship between Puerto Rico and the US has been debated by many. On April 11, 1899, the peace treaty between Spain and the USA (the 1898 Treaty of Paris) became effective, and established a military government in Puerto Rico. This was short lived, since the following year (April 2, 1900) Congress enacted the Foraker Act, which established a civil government and free trade between Puerto Rico and the USA. Puerto Ricans, although incapable of electing members of the territory's executive branch, but were now able to elect their local representatives and a resident commissioner to the US Congress, who had voice but no vote.[17] In 1917, the enactment of the Jones-Shafroth Act the territory of Puerto Rico was organized and statutory US citizenship was granted to its residents.[17]

Since 1967, there have been several referendums, which included questions on statehood. Puerto Ricans chose not to alter the status quo in referendums until 2012. The 2012 referendum produced a more equivocal result.[18]

1967 referendum[edit]

A referendum on the status of the island was held in Puerto Rico on July 23, 1967.[19] Voters were given the choice between being a Commonwealth, statehood or independence. The majority of voters voted for Commonwealth status, with a voter turnout of 65.9%.[20]

1998 referendum[edit]

A referendum in December 1998 offered voters four political status options: statehood, independence, free association, and territorial commonwealth, plus "none of the above." The latter option won 50.5% of the vote, followed by statehood, with 46.6%.[21] Turnout was 71%.[22]

2012 statehood vote[edit]

On November 6, 2012, eligible voters in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico were presented with two questions:
(1) whether they agreed to continue with Puerto Rico's territorial status and (2) to indicate the political status they preferred from three possibilities: statehood, independence, or a sovereign nation in free association with the United States.[23] Voters who chose "No" to the first question numbered 970,910 (54.0%), expressing themselves against continuing the current political status, while those who voted "Yes" numbered 828,077 (46.0%), indicating their desire to continue the current political status relationship. Of those who answered the second question, 834,191 (61.2%) chose statehood, 454,768 (33.3%) chose free association, and 74,895 (5.5%) chose independence.[4][5]

The preferred status consultation did not include Puerto Rico's current status as a territory (Estado Libre Asociado as defined by the 1952 Constitution) as a choice, but instead an alternative named "E.L.A. Soberano"[24] President Barack Obama pledged to respect the voters' decision.[25]

In December 2012, the newspaper Caribbean Business allegedly obtained, from a White House source, a statement claiming that Obama urged Congress to act upon the referendum's results.[26]

On December 11, 2012, the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico enacted a concurrent resolution requesting the President and the Congress of the United States to respond diligently and effectively on the demand of the people of Puerto Rico to end its current political status and to begin the transition of Puerto Rico to become a state of the union.[27]

On August 1, 2013, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on Puerto Rico's status as a direct result of the 2012 referendum vote and invited Governor Alejandro García Padilla, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, and pro-independence supporter Rubén Berríos to give testimony and answer questions from the committee.[28]

In 2014, resolutions were introduced in both houses of the United States Congress (H.R. 2000; S. 2020) to hold a yes-or-no referendum among the residents of Puerto Rico on statehood. If a "yes" majority prevailed, the President would have been required to submit legislation to Congress enacting Puerto Rican statehood.[29][30] Both resolutions died in committee.[31]

2017 referendum[edit]

Because there were almost 500,000 blank ballots in the 2012 referendum, creating confusion as to the voters' true desire, Congress decided to ignore the results.[32] The 2014 budget bill included $2.5 million in funding for a future referendum; there was no deadline attached to the funds.[33][34]

The fifth referendum, entitled "Plebiscite for the immediate decolonization of Puerto Rico" was held on June 11, 2017 and offered three options: "Statehood", "Free Association/Independence" and "Current Territorial Status", and the U.S. Justice Department required Puerto Rico to add the territorial status as an option as a requirement to release the $2.5 million funds set aside by the Obama administration to help educate the population on any future plebiscite, however the vote was held before the ballot could be reviewed, so the funds were not released. Newly elected Governor Ricardo Rosselló is strongly in favor of statehood for Puerto Rico to help develop the economy and help to "solve our 500-year-old colonial dilemma... Colonialism is not an option... It’s a civil rights issue ... 3.5 million citizens seeking an absolute democracy," he told the news media.[32] Benefits of statehood include an additional $10 billion per year in federal funds, the right to vote in presidential elections, higher Social Security and Medicare benefits, and a right for its government agencies and municipalities to file for bankruptcy. The latter is currently prohibited.[35]

The turnout was only 23% because statehood opponents boycotted, arguing that the ballot language was biased towards pro-statehood.[3] Some would later try to attribute the boycott to the PPD party, citing its support for the status quo.[36] Of the voters who participated, 97.18% chose statehood, 1.50% favored independence and 1.32% chose to maintain the commonwealth status.

At approximately the same time as the referendum, Puerto Rico's legislators are also expected to vote on a bill that would allow the Governor to draft a state constitution and hold elections to choose senators and representatives to the U.S. Congress.[35]

In June 2018, Rep. Jenniffer González filed a bill that would have paved the way for Puerto Rico to become a state in 2021; the bill was not acted upon after introduction.[37]

United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization[edit]

Since 1953, the UN has been considering the Political status of Puerto Rico and how to assist it in achieving "independence" or "decolonization". In 1978, the Special Committee determined that a "colonial relationship" existed between the US and Puerto Rico.[38]

The UN's Special Committee has often referred to Puerto Rico as a nation in its reports, because, internationally, the people of Puerto Rico are often considered to be a Caribbean nation with their own national identity.[39][40][41] Most recently, in a June 2016 report, the Special Committee called for the United States to expedite the process to allow self-determination in Puerto Rico. More specifically, the group called on the United States to expedite a process that would allow the people of Puerto Rico to exercise fully their right to self-determination and independence. ... [and] allow the Puerto Rican people to take decisions in a sovereign manner, and to address their urgent economic and social needs, including unemployment, marginalization, insolvency and poverty".[42]

Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act of 2019[edit]

A bill (H.R. 4901) for Puerto Ricans to vote "yes" or "no" on statehood was introduced on October 29, 2019 by Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources on the same day.[43] Had it passed, the vote would have been scheduled for November 3, 2020.[44]

A corresponding bill in the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico that would implement the vote, known in English as the Law for the Final Definition of the Political Status of Puerto Rico (P.S. 1467), was approved by both houses on March 31, 2020, and sent to the Governor for signature.[45] The single question is, "Should Puerto Rico be immediately admitted into the Union as a state?", with only two options: "yes" or "no".[46]

2020 referendum[edit]

On May 16, 2020, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced announced that a referendum on Puerto Rico's statehood would be held in November.[47] For the first time in the territory's history, only one direct question was asked: "Should Puerto Rico be admitted immediately into the Union as a State?"[48] Previous referendums presented multiple options such as independence or maintaining the current territorial status. The announcement came amid growing disillusionment with Puerto Rico's territorial status due to the lack of access to federal funds for recent natural disasters, such as Hurricane Maria and the COVID-19 pandemic.[49]

The referendum was held on November 3 as part of the 2020 United States elections and yes to Statehood won. There were 655,505 voted yes to statehood (52.52%) and 592,671 voted no to statehood (47.48%).[2] After the results, the Puerto Rico Legislature passed the "Puerto Rico Congressional Act" Law 167 of 2020[50] calling a special election to elect two shadow senators and four shadow congress-members to Washington D.C. to advocate for Statehood. In the US House of Representatives a bill to provide for the admission of the State of Puerto Rico into the Union was introduced.[51] These bills, H.R. 1522 and S. 780, were supported by 50 pro-statehood organizations, who "[called] on the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to approve that legislation."[52]

In contrast to the Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Act, the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021, introduced by New York Representatives Nydia Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, provides for options other than statehood, including independence and a compact of free association.[53]

Mainland support[edit]

  • The 1940 Democratic Party platform expressed their support to a larger measure of self-government leading to statehood for Puerto Rico.
  • The Democratic platform of 1940 said:

We favor a larger measure of self-government leading to statehood, for Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. We favor the appointment of residents to office, and equal treatment of the citizens of each of these three territories. We favor the prompt determination and payment of any just claims by Indian and Eskimo citizens of Alaska against the United States.[54]

I believe that the appropriate status for Puerto Rico is statehood. I propose, therefore, that the people of Puerto Rico and the Congress of the United States begin now to take those steps which will result in statehood for Puerto Rico. I will recommend to the 95th Congress the enactment of legislation providing for the admission of Puerto Rico as a State of the Union.[55]

I favor statehood for Puerto Rico and if the people of Puerto Rico vote for statehood in their coming referendum I would, as President, initiate the enabling legislation to make this a reality.[56]

There's another issue that I’ve decided to mention here tonight. I’ve long believed that the people of Puerto Rico should have the right to determine their own political future. Personally, I strongly favor statehood. But I urge the Congress to take the necessary steps to allow the people to decide in a referendum.[57]

  • President George H. W. Bush issued a memorandum on November 30, 1992, to heads of executive departments and agencies, establishing the current administrative relationship between the federal government and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. This memorandum directs all federal departments, agencies, and officials to treat Puerto Rico administratively as if it were a state insofar as doing so would not disrupt federal programs or operations.[57]
  • On December 23, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed executive Order 13183, which established the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status and the rules for its membership. Section 4 of executive Order 13183 (as amended by executive Order 13319) directs the Task Force to "report on its actions to the President ... on progress made in the determination of Puerto Rico's ultimate status." President George W. Bush signed an additional amendment to Executive Order 13183 on December 3, 2003, which established the current co-chairs and instructed the Task Force to issue reports as needed, but no less than once every two years.
  • Both the Democratic Party and Republican Party, in their respective 2008 party platforms, have expressed their support of the rights of the United States citizens in Puerto Rico to determine the destiny of the Commonwealth to achieve a future permanent non-territorial political status with government by consent and full enfranchisement.[58][59]
  • The Republican Party platforms of 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020 stated:

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 referendums sponsored by the U.S. government.[60][61][62]

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.[63]

As President Obama said when he became the first President to visit Puerto Rico and address its people in 50 years, Boricuas every day help write the American story. Puerto Ricans have been proud American citizens for almost 100 years. During that time, the people of Puerto Rico have developed strong political, economic, social, and cultural ties to the United States. The political status of Puerto Rico remains an issue of overwhelming importance, but lack of resolution about status has held the island back. It is time for Puerto Rico to take the next step in the history of its status and its relationship to the rest of the United States. The White House Task Force Report on Puerto Rico has taken important and historic steps regarding status. We commit to moving resolution of the status issue forward with the goal of resolving it expeditiously. If local efforts in Puerto Rico to resolve the status issue do not provide a clear result in the short term, the President should support, and Congress should enact, self-executing legislation that specifies in advance for the people of Puerto Rico a set of clear status options, such as those recommended in the White House Task Force Report on Puerto Rico, which the United States is politically committed to fulfilling. The economic success of Puerto Rico is intimately linked to a swift resolution of the status question, as well as consistent, focused efforts on improving the lives of the people of Puerto Rico. We have made great progress for Puerto Rico over the past four years, including a sharp, historic increase in Medicaid funding for the people of Puerto Rico and fair and equitable inclusion in the Recovery Act and the Affordable Care Act. Going forward, we will continue working toward fair and equitable participation for Puerto Rico in federal programs. We support increased efforts by the federal government to improve public safety in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands, with a particular emphasis on efforts to combat drug trafficking and crime throughout our Caribbean border. In addition, consistent with the task force report, we will continue to work on improving Puerto Rico's economic status by promoting job creation, education, health care, clean energy, and economic development on the Island.[64]

  • The latest report by the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status recommends that all relevant parties – the President, Congress, and the leadership and people of Puerto Rico – work to ensure that Puerto Ricans are able to express their will about status options and have that will acted upon by the end of 2012 or soon thereafter.[65]
  • The report further recommends, "If efforts on the Island do not provide a clear result in the short term, the President should support, and Congress should enact, self-executing legislation that specifies in advance for the people of Puerto Rico a set of acceptable status options, including the Statehood, that the United States is politically committed to fulfilling. This legislation should commit the United States to honor the choice of the people of Puerto Rico (provided it is one of the status options specified in the legislation) and should specify the means by which such a choice would be made. The Task Force recommends that, by the end of 2012, the Administration develop, draft, and work with Congress to enact the proposed legislation."[65]

The people of Puerto Rico deserve self-determination on the issue of status.[66]

Statehood supporters[edit]

Congressman Ruben Gallego speaking in support of Puerto Rican statehood in 2019.

The Taking of Congress (Spanish: Toma del Congreso) was an event that started on January 15, 2013 in the United States Capitol in which more than 130 private citizens from different advocacy groups in Puerto Rico started a campaign in which they visited every member of the United States Congress in order to speak about the results of the 2012 Puerto Rican status referendum—in which a majority of voters expressed themselves against the current political status of Puerto Rico.[67][68][69][70][71][72][73] They also attempted to persuade the members of Congress to initiate a process to change Puerto Rico's political status.[74] The campaign was supported by former U.S. representative José Enrique Serrano and former Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico (now Governor) Pedro Pierluisi.[75] Groups involved included Alianza Pro Libre Asociación Soberana (ALAS), Boricua Ahora Es, Igualdad Futuro Seguro, Renacer Ideológico Estadista (RIE), Proyecto Estrella, Young Democrats of America, and Young Republican Federation of Puerto Rico.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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