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The current political status of Puerto Rico is the result of various political activities both within the United States and Puerto Rican governments. The basic question regarding this issue is whether Puerto Rico should remain a U.S. territory, become a U.S. state or become an independent country.
These political activities have revolved around three sets of initiatives: referenda held in Puerto Rico, presidential executive orders, and bills in the U. S. Congress. 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. U. S. Presidents have issued three executive orders on the subject, and Congress has considered some four major bills related to the Puerto Rico political status situation.
Politically, Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States which according to the U.S. Supreme Court's Insular Cases is "a territory appurtenant and belonging to the United States, but not a part of the United States."
In 2006, and again in 2009 and 2011, The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization called for the United States to expedite the process to allow self-determination in Puerto Rico. Internationally, the people of Puerto Rico are often considered to be a Caribbean nation with their own national identity.
The United States acquired the islands of Puerto Rico in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. In 1950, Congress enacted legislation (P.L. 81-600) authorizing Puerto Rico to hold a constitutional convention and in 1952, the people of Puerto Rico ratified a constitution establishing a republican form of government for the island. After being approved by Congress and the President in July 1952 and thus given force under federal law (P.L. 82-447), the new constitution went into effect on July 25, 1952.
Puerto Rico has been under U.S. sovereignty for over a century and Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917. Since the promulgation of the current Commonwealth constitution in 1952, further local attempts to change the island's political status took place in 1967, 1993, and 1998. An additional referendum held in 1991 sought to amend the relationship through an amendment to the Puerto Rican constitution. Each time, the results favored retaining the current status over the possible independence of Puerto Rico and statehood alternatives.
As a result of Puerto Rico's status as a U.S. territory, the citizens of Puerto Rico do not have any voting representation in the U.S. Federal government. Instead of outright representation through Senators and House Representatives, Puerto Rico has only one non-voting Resident Commissioner in the House of Representatives. Furthermore, Puerto Rico is not represented in the Electoral College, and thus U.S. citizens resident there are ineligible to vote in United States presidential elections.
Although Puerto Rico presently has a certain amount of local autonomy, according to the U.S. Constitution ultimate governance of the island is retained by both the U.S. Congress and President. Thus, results of plebiscites, whether or not authorized by Congress, while they reflect public sentiment, and thus bear some impact, can be ignored by Congress. Ultimately, the results of Puerto Rican plebiscites are opinions, although congressional resolutions have expressed support for following the will of the Puerto Rican people.[broken citation]
The current English term, "commonwealth", used to describe Puerto Rico politically is the same terminology used elsewhere but with other entirely different meanings than what is meant for Puerto Rico:
But in the U.S., "commonwealth" is also a term, without a clear and stable legal definition, now and previously used by current and past possessions of the United States:
Juan R. Torruella, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (the Federal Appeals Court with jurisdiction over the Federal Court for the District of Puerto Rico), claims that the use of the term commonwealth is a label that "can deceive and obscure the true nature of things". He contends that Puerto Rico is obviously not a state, and that "neither Puerto Rico's status nor its relationship with the U.S. supports any legitimate claim that a British type of "commonwealth" exists between Puerto Rico and the United States".
Then U.S. Secretary of the Interior Oscar L. Chapman, under whose Department resided responsibility of Puerto Rican affairs, clarified the new commonwealth label by stating, "The bill (to permit Puerto Rico to write its own constitution) merely authorizes the people of Puerto Rico to adopt their own constitution and to organize a local government...The bill under consideration would not change Puerto Rico's political, social, and economic relationship to the United States."
It has been said that "any inquiry into Puerto Rico's status must begin with the Constitution of the United States, as well as various Supreme Court and lower court decisions."
Almost immediately after Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States, Puerto Rico's political status was defined by a series of landmark decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court in what are collectively known as The Insular Cases. From 1901 – 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court in a series of opinions held that the Constitution extended ex propio vigore to the territories. However, the Court in these cases also established the doctrine of territorial incorporation. Under the same, the Constitution only applied fully in incorporated territories such as Alaska and Hawaii, whereas it only applied partially in the new unincorporated territories of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. Although other cases followed, strictly speaking the Insular Cases are the original six opinions issued concerning acquired territories as a result of the Treaty of Paris (1898). The six cases were:
The Supreme Court later made other rulings. For example, in Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, 305 (1922), explained the distinction between an incorporated and a non-incorporated territory. Juan R. Torruella restated it this way, "an unincorporated territory is a territory as to which, when acquired by the United States, no clear intention was expressed that it would eventually be incorporated into the Union as a State."
Since the Insular Cases had established that only those rights in the U.S. Bill of Rights that are determined to be "fundamental" are applicable in unincorporated territories, the implications of Balzac v. Porto Rico have been enormous. For example:
In a brief concurrence in the United States Supreme Court judgment of Torres v. Puerto Rico, 442 U.S. 465 (1979), U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brennan, argued that any implicit limits from the Insular Cases on the basic rights granted by the Constitution (including especially the Bill of Rights) were anachronistic in the 1970s.
Under the Constitution of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico designates itself with the term Commonwealth and Puerto Ricans have a degree of administrative autonomy similar to citizens of a U.S. state and like the States, it has a republican form of government, organized pursuant to a constitution adopted by its people, and a bill of rights. The constitution, approved by the U.S. congress, went into effect in 1952. In addition, like the States, Puerto Rico lacks "the full sovereignty of an independent nation," for example, the power to manage its "external relations with other nations," which was retained by the Federal Government.
Constitutionally, Puerto Rico is subject to the Congress' plenary powers under the territorial clause of Article IV, sec. 3, of the U.S. Constitution. U.S. federal law applies to Puerto Rico, even though Puerto Rico is not a state of the American Union and their residents have no voting representation in the U.S. Congress. Because of the establishment of the Federal Relations Act of 1950, all federal laws that are "not locally inapplicable" are automatically the law of the land in Puerto Rico. Following the 1950 and 1952 legislation, only two district court decisions have held that a particular federal law, which does not specifically exclude or treat Puerto Rico differently, is inapplicable to Puerto Rico. The more recent decision was vacated on appeal. Efrén Rivera Ramos, Dean and Professor of Law at the University of Puerto Rico School of Law, clarified the meaning of plenary powers, explaining, "The government of a state derives its powers from the people of the state, whereas the government of a territory owes its existence wholly to the United States. The Court thus seems to equate plenary power to exclusive power. The U.S. government could exert over the territory power that it could not exercise over the states." Ramos quotes Justice Harlan, writing in Grafton v. United States, 206 U.S. 333 (1907), "The jurisdiction and authority of the United States over that territory [referring to the Philippines] and its inhabitants, for all legitimate purposes of government is paramount,". Ramos then goes on to argue "This power, however, is not absolute, for it is restrained by some then-undefined fundamental rights possessed by anyone subject to the authority of the U.S. government."
Since 1917, people born in Puerto Rico have been given U.S. citizenship. United States citizens residing in Puerto Rico, whether born there or not, are not residents of a state or the District of Columbia and, therefore, do not qualify to vote, personally or through an absentee ballot, in federal elections. See also: "Voting rights in Puerto Rico".
Clarification of federal law codified on U.S. Code Title 8 as 8 U.S.C. § 1402, approved by President Harry S. Truman on June 27 1952, declared all persons born in Puerto Rico on or after January 13 1941 to be U.S. citizens at birth and all persons born in Puerto Rico between April 11 1899 and January 12 1941, and meeting certain other technical requirements, and not citizens of the United States under any other Act, are declared to be citizens of the U.S. as of January 13 1941.
In addition, an April 2000 report by the Congressional Research Service, asserts that citizens born in Puerto Rico are legally defined as natural born citizens and are therefore eligible to be elected President, provided they meet qualifications of age and 14 years residence within the United States. According to this report, residence in Puerto Rico and U.S. territories and possessions does not qualify as residence within the United States for these purposes.
Only the "fundamental rights" under the federal constitution apply to Puerto Rico, including the Privileges and Immunities Clause (U.S. Constitution, Article IV, Section 2, Clause 1, also known as the Comity Clause) that prevents a state from treating citizens of other states in a discriminatory manner, with regard to basic civil rights. The clause also embraces a right to travel, so that a citizen of one state can have privileges and immunities in any other state; this constitutional clause regarding the rights, privileges, and immunities of citizens of the United States was expressly extended to Puerto Rico by the U.S. Congress through the federal law codified on the Title 48 of the United States Code as 48 U.S.C. § 737 and signed by President Truman in 1947. The Supreme Court has indicated that once the Constitution has been extended to an area (by Congress or the Courts), its coverage is irrevocable. To hold that the political branches may switch the Constitution on or off at will would lead to a regime in which they, not this Court, say "what the law is.".
Other fundamental rights such as the Eleventh Amendment and the Dormant Commerce Clause were expressly extended by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Fifth Amendment, the due process clause and the equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment were expressly extended to Puerto Rico by the U.S. Supreme court.
In a brief concurrence in the judgment of Torres v. Puerto Rico, Supreme Court Justice Brennan argued that any implicit limits from the Insular Cases on the basic rights granted by the Constitution (including especially the Bill of Rights) were anachronistic in the 1970s.
Article Three of the United States Constitution establishes the judicial branch of the federal government. This article was expressly extended to the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico by the U.S. Congress through Federal Law 89-571, 80 Stat. 764, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966. After that date, judges appointed to the Puerto Rico federal district court have been Article III judges appointed under the Constitution of the United States. In addition, in 1984 one of the judges of the federal district court, Chief Judge Juan R. Torruella, a native of the island, was appointed to serve in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit with jurisdiction over Puerto Rico, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, and New Hampshire.
Federal executive branch agencies have significant presence in Puerto Rico, just as in any state, such as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Attorney, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security, National Labor Relations Board, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Transportation Security Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Internal Revenue Service, and Social Security Administration. The island's economic, commercial, and banking systems are integrated to those of the United States.
The U.S. Government classifies Puerto Rico as an independent taxation authority by Federal Law codified on the Title 48 of the United States Code as 48 U.S.C. § 734. Puerto Rico residents are required to pay U.S. federal taxes, import/export taxes, federal commodity taxes, social security taxes etc. Individuals working with the Federal Government pay federal income taxes while the rest of the residents are required to pay federal payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare), as well as Commonwealth of Puerto Rico income taxes. All federal employees, plus those who do business with the federal government, in addition to Puerto Rico-based corporations that intend to send funds to the U.S., and some others also pay federal income taxes. In 2009, Puerto Rico paid $3.742 billion into the US Treasury.
Because residents of Puerto Rico pay into Social Security, they are eligible for Social Security benefits upon retirement, but are excluded from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and the island actually receives less than 15% of the Medicaid funding it would normally receive if it were a U.S. state. Yet Medicare providers receive less-than-full state-like reimbursements for services rendered to beneficiaries in Puerto Rico, even though the latter paid fully into the system.
Since 1961, several Puerto Ricans have been appointed by the President, upon the advice and consent of the Senate to serve as United States Ambassadors to Venezuela, Spain, Costa Rica, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and the Republics of Mauritius and Seychelles. A Puerto Rican was also appointed by President Obama as ambassador to El Salvador. Pending the advice and consent of the United States Senate, the President issued a recess appointment so that the Ambassador could assume her post. As embassies fall within the Department of State, ambassadors answer to the Secretary of State.
Puerto Rico also participates in the primary process of the Democratic and Republican parties of the United States, is accorded a proportional representation in both parties, and local delegates vote during each party's national convention.
Puerto Ricans may enlist in the U.S. military. Since 1917, Puerto Ricans have been included in the compulsory draft whenever it has been in effect and more than 400,000 Puerto Ricans have served in the United States Armed Forces. Puerto Ricans have participated in all U.S. wars since 1898, most notably World War I, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, as well as the current Middle Eastern conflicts. Several Puerto Ricans became notable commanders, five have been awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration in the United States, and several Puerto Ricans have attained the rank of General or Admiral, which requires a Presidential nomination and Senate confirmation, as is the case of judges and ambassadors. In World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War Puerto Ricans were the most decorated Hispanic soldiers and in some cases were the first to die in combat.
|Elections in Puerto Rico|
Puerto Rico's main political issue is the territory's relationship with the United States. A United States territory since 1898, and known as "Estado Libre Asociado" (Free Associated State) or as commonwealth since 1952, Puerto Rico today is torn by profound ideological rifts, as represented by its political parties, which stand for 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 towards becoming a more sovereign territory of the U.S., the New Progressive Party (PNP) seeks to fully incorporate Puerto Rico as a U.S. state, and the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) seeks national independence.
When asked, in non-binding plebiscites, 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. In the most recent of these plebiscites, in 1998, Puerto Ricans, by a slight majority, voted for "none of the above", a choice that has been variously interpreted: "One might say, looking at the result of the 1998 plebiscite, that the people of Puerto Rico exercised their inalienable right to self-determination, and a majority of them—fully 50.3 percent, to be exact—chose to remain a colony. One might also say, however, the oldest strategy for governing recalcitrant subjects—divide and conquer—was subtly at work." One thing is clear, 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. Several pro-commonwealth leaders within the PPD are proposing an Associated Republic or Free Association similar to that of the former U.S. territories of the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands or Palau.
In general, three main alternatives are presented to Puerto Rican voters in status plebiscites:
The exact expectations for each of these status formulas are a matter of debate by a given position's adherents and detractors. Puerto Ricans have proposed positions that modify the alternatives above, such as:
The following table summarizes the results of Puerto Rico's plebiscites so far.
|Independence||4,248 (0.6%)||75,620 (4.4%)||39,838 (2.54%)||TBA|
|Commonwealth||425,132 (60.4%)||826,326 (48.6%)||993 (0.06%)||NA|
|Free Association||NA||NA||4536 (0.29%)||TBA|
|Statehood||274,312 (39.0%)||788,296 (46.3%)||728,157 (46.49%)||TBA|
|None of the above||NA||NA||787,900 (50.3%)||NA|
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 1993 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", which was the PPD sponsored choice was the winner, protested criteria set forth by the then ruling New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico.
In 1967, the Legislative Assembly tested the 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. At 60.4% percent of the vote, the commonwealth option won the majority vote. Following this plebiscite, efforts in the 1970s to enact legislation to address the status issue died in congressional committees.
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:
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 the people of Puerto Rico on a vote of 660,264 (53%) against to 559,259 (44.9%) in favor.
As per the Congressional Research Service report, despite PDP and PIP support, a majority (53%) voted against the proposal. Some contended that the decision to schedule the referendum represented an indirect step to block statehood. Others perceived the rejection to reflect dissatisfaction with the governor. Another explanation offered for the vote was that some cast their ballots out of fear that a “yes” vote would result in a further degradation of federal benefits and the loss of U.S. citizenship.
A subsequent plebiscite was organized by the Puerto Rican government in 1993 (in which the Congress played a more substantial role) where, at 48.6%, the commonwealth status managed to win a plurality, though not a majority vote. The current political status (status quo) failed to receive the majority support it sought.
U.S. Congress played a more substantial role in the 1993 plebiscite than it did in the 1967 plebiscite. In the 1992 election campaign, the PNP candidate for governor urged, and the legislature agreed, that a plebiscite on status be held “after the U.S. Congress failed to approve” status legislation. Since definitions on the ballot were formulated by the political parties themselves, neither Congress nor executive branch officials intervened to ensure that the alternatives presented to the voters would pass constitutional muster. The disconnect between the ballot option and constitutional requirements was summarized in the House report accompanying legislation introduced three years after the plebiscite, as follows: The 1993 definition of “Commonwealth” failed to present the voters with status options consistent with full self-government, and it was misleading to propose to the voters an option which was unconstitutional and unacceptable to the Congress in almost every respect. No option on the ballot in 1993 received a majority of votes. Some contend that statehood may have suffered the greatest loss, considering the governor and the legislature were members of the PNP and the plebiscite itself was a major campaign promise for the governor. Others may argue that PDP advocates did not achieve a final victory in the 1993 vote because Congress rejected the commonwealth option presented on ballots. In the end, Commonwealth status was again upheld in the 1993 plebiscite.
In the last locally organized plebiscite held in Puerto Rico, which took place on December 13, 1998, the current status quo (Commonwealth status) received less than one tenth of one percent (0.06%) of the total vote. The majority vote went to a "none of the above" option which received 50.3%. This was followed by the statehood option which received 46.7%. The option of independence received 2.5% of the vote.
Five alternatives were listed on the ballot: “limited self-government”; “free association”; “statehood”; “sovereignty”; and “none of the above.” Disputes arose as to the definition of each of the ballot alternatives; and commonwealth advocates, among others, reportedly urged a vote for “none of the above.” They asserted that the commonwealth definition on the ballot “failed to recognize both the constitutional protections afforded to our U.S. citizenship and the fact that the relationship is based upon the mutual consent of Puerto Rico and the United States.” In the end, a slim majority of voters in that plebiscite selected “none of the above” (50.3%).
The resulting political climate after the 1998 plebiscite reflected the need for proper definitions of status options.
In its June, 2011, Political Status of Puerto Rico: Options for Congress report, the Congressional Research Service states that the "definitions or, more specifically, the lack of definitions of the political status options for Puerto Rico, compound the complexity of the debate." The report stated that constitutional implications of three status options (“new commonwealth,” statehood, and independence) were reviewed by the Department of Justice in response to a congressional request. The history of debate, particularly the 1998 plebiscite, indicates that in the absence of constitutionally valid status options and definitions acceptable to Congress, the debate over status yields few or no conclusive results. The brief summaries of the options analysis on pages 26 and 27 of the report follow:
"The commonwealth option represents a continuation of the current status of Puerto Rico. The territorial clause of the United States Constitution empowers Congress with the authority to regulate territories. Commonwealth status for Puerto Rico is based on statutory provisions and the Constitution of Puerto Rico that established a republican form of self-government. (Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act, P.L. 81-600, 64 Stat. 319). Under current federal law, residents of Puerto Rico enjoy U.S. citizenship, but many contend that the Puerto Rican identity reflects a degree of autonomy that enables the island to remain somewhat separate from, but part of, the United States. On the 1992, "Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies" of President George H.W. Bush, it described the relationship of the Commonwealth to the United States with regard to the administration of federal programs, as follows: “Because Puerto Rico’s degree of constitutional self-government, population, and size set it apart from other areas also subject to federal jurisdiction under Article IV, section 3, clause 2 of the Constitution, I hereby direct all federal departments, agencies, and officials, to the extent consistent with the Constitution and the laws of the United States, hence-forward to treat Puerto Rico administratively as if it were a state, except insofar as doing so with respect to an existing federal program or activity would increase or decrease federal receipts or expenditures, or would seriously disrupt the operation of such program or activity.” Some support an enhanced or “new” commonwealth status and seek changes in the current relationship to increase the autonomy of Puerto Rico. Aspects of enhanced commonwealth considered but rejected by Congress in 1991 and 2001 included providing the government of Puerto Rico authority to certify that certain federal laws would not be applicable to the commonwealth, mandating that the President consult with the governor on appointments to federal offices in Puerto Rico that require Senate approval, recognizing a permanent relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States that cannot be unilaterally changed, and establishing economic relationships with other nations. Concepts associated with enhanced or new commonwealth have not been published in 2005, but the former governor has reportedly sought additional sovereign authority that would enable Puerto Rico’s government officials to negotiate international agreements and establish new intergovernmental fiscal relations with the federal government. The Department of Justice (Raben Letter) found that certain aspects of a “New Commonwealth” proposal described in PDP platform documents could be, or are: “constitutionally unenforceable” or flawed (mutual consent provisions and delegation of powers), of uncertain legality (statutory citizenship, and international agreements, and possibly subject to constitutional limits (Resident Commissioner authority)."
"This option would establish Puerto Rico as a sovereign nation separate from, but legally bound (on a terminable basis) to, the United States. As a general practice, free association would be preceded by recognition that Puerto Rico is a self-governing sovereign nation not part of the United States, because compacts of free association are legal documents between sovereign nations. Free association could be accompanied by a transition period in which the United States would continue to administer certain services and provide assistance to the island for a period of time specified in the compact. Free association could be annulled at any time by either nation. Negotiations over free association would likely decide issues of trade, defense, currency, and economic aid."
"Some advocates of independence contend that the cultural identity of Puerto Ricans, and other factors, justify independence. As residents of a sovereign independent nation, Puerto Ricans could develop closer ties to Caribbean nations, but would likely be forced to choose between citizenship in the United States or in Puerto Rico. The current unrestricted travel between the United States and the island might end, as would federal benefits (unless specified in the enabling legislation). Puerto Rico would, as a sovereign nation, develop its own economy, form of government, and complete national identity."
"Advocates of statehood contend that the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship should be granted to residents of Puerto Rico. Political stability, particularly as an economic development tool, is seen by some to be one significant advantage of statehood. As residents of a state, Puerto Ricans would be entitled to full representation in Congress, would be subject to income taxes, and would be eligible to receive federal assistance like that provided to all of the states. Opponents argue that statehood would result in a loss of national identity."
The governor of Puerto Rico set August 12, 2012, as the date to hold the first part of two status referendums. If a second status vote is required, it will take place on November 6, 2012: "The first referendum will ask voters whether they want to maintain the current commonwealth status under the territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution or whether they prefer a nonterritorial option. If more voters check that nonterritorial option, a second vote would be held giving people three status options: statehood, independence or free association." A bill was brought before the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico in 2011 to effect the governor's proposal. The bill passed on December 28, 2011. Both referendums, however, will be held on a single ballot on November 6, 2012.
No congressionally mandated plebiscite has ever been held, and average voter turnout in the locally enacted status votes has been about 10% lower than in general elections.[broken citation] However, various bills have been introduced in Congress to effect a plebiscite backed by Congress and to which Congress would be committed.
In December 2005, a Report by the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status 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 of the United States. 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 Report made its determinations based on articles in the U.S. Constitution regarding territories.
Prominent leaders in Puerto Rico's pro-independence political movements agreed with this assessment. Leaders in the pro-statehood political movements also agreed with the assessment. The Legislative Branch, then controlled by the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP), supported the White House report's conclusions and has supported bills introduced by Congressmen José Serrano (D-NY) and Luis Fortuño (R-PR) and Senators Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Mel Martinez (R-FL) to provide for a democratic referendum process among Puerto Rico voters.
The Popular Democratic Party (PPD), on the other hand, announced a commitment to challenge the Task Force report and validate the current status in all international forums including the United Nations. It also rejected any "colonial or territorial status" as a status option, and vowed to keep working for the enhanced Commonwealth status that was approved by the PPD in 1998, which included sovereignty, an association based on "respect and dignity between both nations", and common citizenship. The task force recommendations were rejected by the former governor of Puerto Rico Anibal Acevedo Vilá on a letter on January 24, 2006, who condemned the report and rejected "any efforts to turn the task force's recommendations into Congressional legislation." The former governor, among others, argued that the "Commonwealth" or, in some cases, "Enhanced Commonwealth" constructs are legitimate non-territorial options under U. S. constitutional and statutory law."
In a letter sent by then-governor Acevedo-Vilá to the former U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice and the Bush Administration Co-Chairs of the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status, the former governor stated that "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." On January 4, 2006, then-governor Vilá and the 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.[not in citation given]
A bill supporting the PPD's position was introduced in the United States Senate on February 16, 2006, by two senators who have traditionally been identified with Puerto Rico, Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and two senators whose interest in matters related to Puerto Rico was up to then unknown, Senators Richard Mauze Burr (R-NC) and Chester Trent Lott. Since its introduction, however, the bill did not attract any other co-sponsors. A bipartisan Senate bill supporting the implementation of the White House report recommendations was filed by Senators Mel Martinez (R-FL) and Ken Salazar (D-CO) and co-sponsored by 14 other Democratic and Republican senators, including Daniel Akaka [D-HI], Evan Bayh [D-IN], Samuel Brownback [R-KS], Thomas Carper [D-DE], Norm Coleman [R-MN], Larry Craig [R-ID], Charles Hagel [R-NE], Daniel Inouye [D-HI], John Kerry [D-MA], Mary Landrieu [D-LA], John McCain [R-AZ], Ben Nelson [D-NE], Bill Nelson [D-FL] and Ted Stevens [R-AK].
On December 21, 2007, the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Political Status issued a second Report. This 2007 Report stated that the United States, in its written submission to the UN in 1953, never represented that the U.S. Congress could not change its relationship with Puerto Rico without the territory's consent. It stated that the U.S. Justice Department in 1959 reiterated that Congress held power over Puerto Rico pursuant to the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution. In a 1996 report on a Puerto Rico status political bill, the "U.S. House Committee on Resources stated that Puerto Rico's current status does not meet the criteria for any of the options for full self-government". It concluded that Puerto Rico is still an unincorporated territory of the U.S. under the territorial clause, that the establishment of local self-government with the consent of the people can be unilaterally revoked by the U.S. Congress, and that U.S. Congress can also withdraw the U.S. citizenship of Puerto Rico residents of Puerto Rico at any time, for a legitimate Federal purpose. The application of the American Constitution to Puerto Rico is limited by the Insular Cases. In essence, the December 2007 report reiterated and confirmed the U.S. position that had been expressed in the report of 2005: that Puerto Rico continued to be a territory of the U.S. under the plenary powers of the U.S. Congress.[broken citation] This position continues to be shared by the other two major political parties in Puerto Rico: New Progressive Party and the Puerto Rican Independence Party.[broken citation]
On March 16, 2011, the President's Task Force on Political Status issued a third report which once again concludes that "(u)nder the Commonwealth option, Puerto Rico would remain, as it is today, subject to the Territory Clause of the U.S. Constitution (p. 26) and that "consistent with the legal conclusions reached by prior Task Force reports, one aspect of some proposals for enhanced Commonwealth remains constitutionally problematic—proposals that would establish a relationship between Puerto Rico and the Federal Government that could not be altered except by mutual consent...such provisions would not be enforceable because a future Congress could choose to alter that relationship unilaterally." (p. 26).
The Task Force also stated that "the long-term economic well-being of Puerto Rico would be dramatically improved by an early decision on the status question." (p. 33), before embarking on economic analysis and recommendations that constitute over two-thirds of the report.
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).
Since Congress must approve of any political status change for Puerto Rico, some argue that "congressional agreement to the options [on a ballot], prior to a plebiscite would save the people of Puerto Rico the grief of an emotionally draining and politically divisive vote that might result in a status not acceptable to Congress." Former Resident Commissioner and Former Governor Carlos Romero Barceló echoed this sentiment when he recalled, at a 1997 congressional hearing, that both "[Representatives] Young and Miller were clear in stating [in their March 3, 1997, letter to the presidents of the three political parties in Puerto Rico] that there was no purpose in presenting the people of Puerto Rico a status definition which does not represent an option that the Congress will be willing to ratify should it be approved in a plebiscite."
A catalyst for the legislative activity taking place in Congress was the release in December 2005 of the presidential task force's report. Per United States v. Sanchez, 992 F.2d 1143, 1152–53 (11th Cir. 1993), "Congress continues to be the ultimate source of power [over Puerto Rico] pursuant to the Territory Clause of the Constitution." (quoting United States v. Andino, 831 F.2d 1164, 1176 (1st Cir. 1987) (Torruella, J., concurring), cert. denied, 486 U.S. 1034 (1988)), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 11 10 (1994).9 An Act of Congress, thus, is ultimately required to modify the current political status of Puerto Rico.
In 1997, The United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act (H.R. 856) was introduced in Congress, passing in the House in 1998, but not in the Senate. The bill was legislative initiative by U.S. House of Representatives to help refine the political status of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. This bill, unlike any other bill in U.S. Congress regarding the Puerto Rico political status issue, made its way to both chambers of Congress. The House considered four versions of the bill. The version approved on March 4, 1998, which would have authorized referenda at least once every ten years, through which the people of Puerto Rico could indicate their preference among three status options: (1) “Puerto Rico should retain Commonwealth”; (2) ”The people of Puerto Rico should become fully self-governing through separate sovereignty in the form of independence or free association”; or (3) “Puerto Rico should become fully self-governing through Statehood.” The Senate, however, did not take formal action on the measure. On September 17, 1998, the Senate approved a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that “(1) the Senate supports and recognizes the right of United States citizens residing in Puerto Rico to express democratically their views regarding their future political status through a referendum or other public forum, and to communicate those views to the President and Congress; and (2) the Federal Government should review any such communication.” The version forwarded to the Senate offered Puerto Ricans these options for their political future: Statehood, Independence, Associated Republic, or the current Commonwealth status. The bill proposed to carry out a referendum in Puerto Rico in which the people of Puerto Rico could choose the option they preferred.
The proposal, however, was controversial in Puerto Rican politics for two reasons: 1) the legislation was encouraged by two avid statehood supporters, and seemed to favor unchangeable status choices over Commonwealth; and 2) the Commonwealth option in the bill defined Puerto Rico as a "territory subject to the supreme powers of the U.S Congress". The Popular Democratic Party (PPD) disagreed with this definition that appeared to emphasize the island was a colony of the United States, and not a true commonwealth. The PPD thus fiercely opposed the H. R. 856, because it diminished their sense of Commonwealth (Estado Libre Asociado) as agreement between two peoples.
This reaction was consistent with the contents of the bill, since H. R. 856, as officially ordered to be printed by its sponsor, Alaska Congressman Don Young, stated in its findings that Puerto Rico "does not have the status of 'free association' with the United States as that status is defined under United States law or international practice."
The travails of H.R. 856 in the House of Representatives exemplify the hurdles from conservative and liberal members of Congress that any status choices by Puerto Rico will likely face in Congress. The bill was introduced by representative Gerald Solomon (R-NY).
A number of amendments were debated, seeking, for example, to make English the official language, getting Congress to recognize that Puerto Rico is sociologically and culturally a Caribbean and Latin American nation with a distinctive culture, and recognizing the separate and distinct nature of Puerto Rican citizenship in relation to U.S. citizenship. Ultimately the bill died in the Senate.
In 2005, 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.
In 2006, 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 H.R. 856 bill which cleared the House in 1998. The House Committee on Resources called a hearing on the subject on April 27, 2006, signaling a greater degree of interest than previously anticipated.
At the beginning of the 110th Congress (2007–2008), Serrano and Fortuño introduced their bill again as H.R. 900. It was titled 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 Governor 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 by Resources Committee chair Nick Rahall (D-WV).
On October 23, 2007, that Resources Committee unanimously approved a substitute bill of H.R. 900, 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 No be 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 was never considered by the full United States House of Representatives and died with the end of the 110th Congress. The bill was introduced again in 2009, and passed the Resources Committee on July 28 of that year and the full House in 2010, but died in the Senate.
During 2007, the Senate came up with its own version of the bill, S.1936. This bill, also titled the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2007, aimed to provide for a plebiscite on the future status of Puerto Rico. However, it never made it out of Committee before that session of Congress was over.
In May 2009, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi sponsored a new version of the Puerto Rico Democracy Act bill (H.R. 2499) now titled The Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009, aimed at providing for "a federally sanctioned self-determination process for the people of Puerto Rico." The bill, if enacted, would provide for referenda to be held in Puerto Rico to determine the Island's ultimate political status.
The bill would provide for a referendum giving Puerto Ricans the choice between the options of (1) retaining their present political status, or (2) choosing a new status. If the latter option (2) were to win, then a separate referendum would be held where Puerto Ricans would be given the option of being admitted as a US State "on equal footing with the other states", or becoming a "sovereign nation, either fully independent from or in free association with the United States." If the first option garnished the most votes, a new referendum would be held again every 8 years.
The bill enjoyed bi-partisan support in the House of Representatives, with 182 co-sponsors. On June 24, 2009, the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing on the bill with the participation of the Governor of Puerto Rico, and others like Jennifer Gonzalez, speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, Thomas Rivera Schatz, president of the Senate of Puerto Rico. The House Natural Resources Committee, approved the bill and referred it to the United States House of Representatives floor with a 30 in favor 8 against vote. The bill was passed by the House on April 29, 2010.
The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Ranking Member Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) formally requested the White House to share President's position regarding The Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2010 (H.R. 2499) and constitutionally viable status alternatives in a letter dated May 27 following a hearing on the legislation. The Senators requested the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status clarify the White House position on the issue. According to the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee leadership, the four options are the continuation of the current commonwealth status, subject to the territorial clause (under Article IV of the Constitution), statehood, independence, and free association. “Efforts to address Puerto Rico’s political status have been hampered by a failure of the federal government to clearly define these status options and that failure has undermined Puerto Rico’s efforts to accurately assess the views of the voters,” the letter stated. “In recent years, however, a consistent administration and congressional view has emerged that only four status options are available for Puerto Rico’s future relations with the United States.” Bingaman and Murkowski wrote that “this analysis of the status options favored by the principal political parties in Puerto Rico concludes that a fifth option, ‘New Commonwealth,’ is incompatible with the Constitution and basic laws of the United States in several respects,” according to the analysis and conclusion of the U.S. Department of Justice under the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Absent a White House response to the Senate’s request, the Senate did not act on H.R. 2499.
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. Some authorities, such as Trias Monge, sustain that "Puerto Rico clearly does not meet the decolonization standards set by the United Nations in 1960."
During its 8th session, the United Nations General Assembly recognized Puerto Rico's self-government on November 27, 1953, with Resolution 748 (VIII). (UN Resolution "748 (VIII)", adopted on November 27, 1953, during its 459th Plenary Meeting.) 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 passed, garnering a favorable vote from some 40% of the General Assembly, with over 60% abstaining or voting against it (20 to 16, plus 18 abstentions). Today, however, "the United Nations still debates whether Puerto Rico is a colony."
However, Puerto Rico's political status is still debated in many international forums, possibly in part because of the circumstances surrounding the vote: "Under United States pressure, General Assembly Resolution 748 passed—though only narrowly and with many countries abstaining. The debate over Resolution 748 prompted the United Nations to agree on governing arrangements that would provide full self-government to non-self-governing territories: in United States terms, these arrangements were statehood, independence, and free association. Yet, under international law, a freely associated state is a sovereign nation in a joint governing arrangement with another nation that either nation can unilaterally end." Though the subject continues to be debated in many forums it is clear that (1) the current territorial status has not satisfied Puerto Rican political leaders, and (2) that despite the divergent views that Puerto Ricans have with respect to their preferred political status, 'all factions agree on the need to end the present undemocratic arrangement whereby Puerto Rico is subject to the laws of Congress but cannot vote in it.'
The list of factors for determining when a colony has achieved a full measure of self-government appears in Resolution 1541 (XV) of the General Assembly of the United Nations, 15 UN GAOR Supplement (No. 16) at 29, UN Document A/4684 (1960).
The General Assembly did not apply its full 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.
Starting in 1971, "Cuba introduced annual resolutions on the issue in the Decolonization Committee of the United Nations. The United States, however, has blocked General Assembly action and stopped cooperating with the Decolonization Committee. On August 23, 1973, the United States vigorously opposed that members of Puerto Rico's independence movement be allowed to speak at the United Nations. The U.S. position has not been, as some assert, that Puerto Rico is not a territory. Rather, the U.S. position of record, based on General Assembly Resolution 748, is that the Decolonization Committee lacks jurisdiction, that the matter is one for the United States and Puerto Rico to resolve, and that Puerto Rico has not sought a new status."
In 1972, the United Nations set a precedent when, after approving Puerto Rico's association with the United States in 1953 as sufficient evidence to remove PR from the list of Colonized Countries, the United Nations reopened the matter in 1972 and it is still under review. "Failure [of the United States] to include independence as an option and harassment of [Puerto Rican] pro-independence organizations were reasons for the United Nations' recent reconsideration of the status of Puerto Rico".
Since 1972, the U.N. Decolonization Committee has called for Puerto Rico's decolonization and for the United States to recognize the island's right to self-determination and independence. Most recently, the Decolonization Committee called for the United Nations General Assembly to review the political status of Puerto Rico, a power reserved by the 1953 resolution. The United Nations still debates whether Puerto Rico is still a colony.
In 1993, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit stated that Congress may unilaterally repeal the Puerto Rican Constitution or the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act and replace them with any rules or regulations of its choice. In a 1996 report on a Puerto Rico status political bill, the U.S. House Committee on Resources stated, "Puerto Rico's current status does not meet the criteria for any of the options for full self-government under Resolution 1541" (the three established forms of full self-government being stated in the report as (1) national independence, (2) free association based on separate sovereignty, or (3) full integration with another nation on the basis of equality). The report concluded that Puerto Rico "... remains an unincorporated territory and does not have the status of 'free association' with the United States as that status is defined under United States law or international practice", that the establishment of local self-government with the consent of the people can be unilaterally revoked by the U.S. Congress, and that U.S. Congress can also withdraw the U.S. citizenship of Puerto Rican residents of Puerto Rico at any time, for a legitimate Federal purpose. The application of the U.S. Constitution applies partially to Puerto Rico by the Insular Cases.
Though politically associated with the United States, Puerto Rico is considered by many other nations to have its own distinct national identity. Internationally, it has been reported that "the Fourteenth Ministerial Conference of the Movement of Non-aligned Nations...reaffirms that Puerto Rican people constitute a Latin American and Caribbean nation."
Although Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States classified as a commonwealth, it is considered by many Puerto Ricans a country in and of itself. In their classic work on American expansionism titled The Louisiana Purchase and American Expansion, 1803–1898, Sanford Levinson and Bartholomew H. Sparrow also determined that "Most Puerto Ricans consider themselves a distinct national group." (page 167). They also observed that both Americans and Puerto Ricans see themselves as separate cultures "and even separate nationalities."
At the local level, it has been observed that "Puerto Ricans consider themselves a territorially distinct national unit, a nation defined by its cultural distinctiveness." In recent plebiscites Puerto Ricans have not expressed themselves in favor of a political status with the intention of becoming a sovereign state, but the idea that Puerto Rico is a separate social, political and cultural entity from the United States has been repeatedly expressed.
Both major United States political parties (Democratic and Republican) have expressed their support for the U.S. Citizens in Puerto Rico to exercise their right to self-determination. 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. The following are the appropriate section from the respective 2008, 2004, and 2000 party platforms:
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.
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.
We believe that four million disenfranchised American citizens residing in Puerto Rico have the right to the permanent and fully democratic status of their choice. The White House and Congress will clarify the realistic status options for Puerto Rico and enable Puerto Ricans to choose among them.
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 United States government.
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 choose and to obtain such a status from among all realistic options.
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.
Elements of the U.S.-Puerto Rico relationship have been, and continue to be, matters of debate. Some contend that the current political status of Puerto Rico, perhaps with enhancements, remains a viable option. Others argue that commonwealth status is or should be only a temporary fix to be resolved in favor of other solutions considered permanent, non-colonial, and non-territorial. Some contend that if independence is achieved, the close relationship with the United States could be continued through compact negotiations with the federal government. One element apparently shared by all discussants is that the people of Puerto Rico seek to attain full, democratic representation, notably through voting rights on national legislation to which they are subject.
Controversy exists surrounding the "real" political status of the Island, with some calling it a colony and others disagreeing. Some (especially independentistas and statehooders) claim Puerto Rico is still a colony despite the UN's removing Puerto Rico from its list of non self-governing countries in 1953. Others (notably those who vote for the current commonwealth status option) argue that Puerto Rico is not a colony because the UN has not revoked its resolution after 55 years.
Some authors have called Puerto Rico "the world's oldest colony" (2001) and "one of the world's last colonies" (2004). The former chief justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, Jose Trias Monge, wrote a book on the political status of Puerto Rico whose title called Puerto Rico the oldest colony in the world, Puerto Rico: The Trials of the Oldest Colony in the World. Those who argue that Puerto Rico is still a colony insist that despite the UN resolution, Puerto Rico remains what some call a "post-colonial colony". Defenders of this point of view, argue that Puerto Rico has less self-determination now than it did before the U.S. invaded the Island: it no longer has its own Puerto Rican citizenship as it did before, has no free maritime control as it did before, and has no representation in Congress as it did in the Spanish Cortes before in periods before the U.S. invasion. Trias Monge argues that just prior to the U.S. invasion, the Island enjoyed greater freedom and rights in certain areas than it does now. He then goes on to list six such greater rights. The six are: the insular parliament could legislate in matters of monetary policy, banking, import/export duties, and public credit; Puerto Rico could negotiate its own commercial treaties; Puerto Ricans were Spanish citizens, equal in all respects to mainland Spanish citizens; the Spanish Constitution applied in Puerto Rico in the same manner as it applied in Spain proper; the Autonomic Charter of 1897, which governed Puerto Rico's relation with Spain, could not be changed except with Puerto Rico's consent.
Yet those who claim Puerto Rico is not a colony will say that in its 8th session, the United Nations General Assembly recognized Puerto Rico's self-government on November 27, 1953, with Resolution 748. This side points out that such recognition removed Puerto Rico's classification as a non-self-governing territory (under article 73(e) of the Charter of the United Nations). They add that the Resolution has not been revoked by the United Nations even though Puerto Rico's political status is still debated in many international forums.
Those who claim Puerto Rico is still a colony argue that Puerto Rico was vested with the commonwealth status by the US Congress to give the appearance of self-government but that genuine decolonization never occurred. These supporters claim that the Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act of 1947 allowed the U.S. to continue its colonial policy of Puerto Rico in a post-colonial world. They see the passing of the Federal Relations Act of 1950 (P.L. 600) as a gimmick by the US to maintain the colonial status of PR "The US Congress, however, carefully preserved its exclusive right to [unilaterally] alter the political status of Puerto Rico. Some saw the commonwealth as at best as temporary arrangement or at worst as a relic of the old colonial past." They also point to the fact that no change in the political status of Puerto Rico is possible unless authorized by the US Congress. as proof of the real current status. "The deepest question", Rivera Ramos sustains, "pertains to the source of rights and the source of authority to govern...In the case of [unincorporated] territories, the rights deemed to apply to their people, as well as those denied them, have their source in a constitution they have not approved nor have the power to amend."
Those who support the view that Puerto Rico is no longer a colony but has changed into a different status, the commonwealth, argue that since the 1952 Constitution Congress has indicated that they will respect the wishes of the people of Puerto Rico, indicating that this is evidence of the validity of the current status as a non-colony.
Those claiming it is still a colony point to Congress legislating for Puerto Rico, and to bills where text such as those authorizing plebiscites in the Island (example "to conduct a second plebiscite between the options of (1) independence, (2) national sovereignty in association with the United States, and (3) U.S. statehood. The three options in the plebiscite also correspond to the options that the United Nations has identified as the options for decolonizing a territory." (HR 2499, section 2(c) ) clearly include content to satisfy the United Nations demand for decolonizing a territory. In addition to judicial decisions like the 1993 United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit decision, this decision stated that Congress may unilaterally repeal the Puerto Rican Constitution or the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act and replace them with any rules or regulations of its choice.
Some claim that granting of US citizenship on Puerto Ricans on March 2, 1917 was devised by the US in order to further reiterate its hold of Puerto Rico as a possession while others claim that it was a serious attempt to pave the way for statehood.
Former chief of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court Jose Trias Monge insists that statehood was never intended for the island and that, unlike Alaska and Hawaii which Congress deemed incorporated territories and slated for annexation to the Union from the start, Puerto Rico was kept "unincorporated" specifically to avoid offering it statehood. And Myriam Marquez has stated that "Puerto Ricans fear that statehood would strip the people of their national identity, of their distinct culture and language." Ayala and Bernabe add that "the purpose of the inclusion of U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans in the Jones Act of 1917 was an attempt by Congress to block independence and perpetuate Puerto Rico in its colonial status For the proponents of the citizenship clause in the Jones Act, "the extension of citizenship did not constitute a promise of statehood but rather an attempt to exclude any consideration of independence."
The preamble of the Commonwealth constitution approved by the people of Puerto Rico in 1952 in part reads: ...We consider as determining factors in our life our citizenship of the United States of America and our aspiration continually to enrich our democratic heritage in the individual and collective enjoyment of its rights and privileges;
For the island's pro-statehood movement, the concession of U.S. citizenship has been seen, ever since, as the key that would eventually guarantee statehood for the island, as soon as the people of Puerto Rico demanded equality in citizenship.
As former Puerto Rico House of Representatives Speaker Miguel Angel García- Méndez would subsequently declare, "For an American citizen, there cannot be another political goal other than equality with his or her fellow American citizens. To seek other solutions – to repudiate equality – is to repudiate the natural destiny of American citizenship."
However, as early as 1912, President Taft had already said that there was no connection between the extension of citizenship to Puerto Ricans and the prospect of admission of Puerto Rico into the American Union. "I believe the demand for citizenship is just, and amply earned by the sustained loyalty on the part of the inhabitants of the island. But it should be remembered that the demand must be entirely dissociated from any thought of statehood." President Taft's views in 1912 became the opinion of the United States Supreme Court when, in 1922 and as Chief Justice, Taft wrote the opinion on Balzac, the last of the so-called Insular Cases.
Thus, in the end, U.S. citizenship has had multiple meanings for Puerto Ricans. For some it is a welcome link to the United States, regardless of the political status of the territory. For others, it has been nothing more than an imposed identity by an imperial power. Still others regard it as a useful asset that provides access to certain rights and tangible benefits and opportunities. And there are those that cherish it as a constituent element of their self-image and identity.
Some contend that Puerto Rico cannot become a fully independent republic because there will be economic chaos and its citizens will die of hunger given that the land has no natural resources to sustain its population. But others point to the example of countries that became independent, such as Ireland and Singapore and, though some containing less land and natural resources than Puerto Rico, today have economies far better than the Island.
According to educational scientists Francesco Cordasco and Eugene Bucchioni, in their 1973 work The Puerto Rican Experience: a Sociological Sourcebook, the belief that Puerto Rico cannot survive on its own results from teachings since grade school. "Puerto Ricans here and in Puerto Rico are taught three things: Puerto Rico is small and the US is big, Puerto Rico is poor and the US is rich, Puerto Rico is weak and the US is strong." This theory of non-sustainability is not new; it has been held by various groups at least since the 1930s.
Commonwealth partisans argue that Puerto Rico cannot afford statehood, that post-war economic growth in Puerto Rico was the result of special treatment via exemption from Federal corporate taxes. Statehooders respond that such tax exemptions primarily benefit the large industrialists and not the population as a whole since low income Puerto Ricans would not pay taxes.
An example given by those who claim the Island will be able to support itself is Singapore, an island nation 14 times smaller than Puerto Rico with a drastically higher level of population density and fewer natural resources, which has surpassed the per capita income of larger nations, including the United States.
"In Puerto Rico, ever since you are a child, you are told that you live on a tiny island that has no natural resources, nothing. This is what they teach you in school, on TV, the media, and it's always negative. This perception is a byproduct of the island's political dependence on the U.S. Politicians here will name it 20,000 different ways, but in any dictionary Puerto Rico is a colony. And there is this colonized mentality that everything from abroad is better."
Juan Mari Brás stated, "Only through a great unified movement looking beyond political and ideological differences, can the prevalent fears of hunger and persecution be overcome for the eventual liberation of Puerto Rico, breaking through domination by the greatest imperialist power of our age."
Traditionally, the de facto and only official language in Puerto Rico had been Spanish. After the invasion by the United States in 1898, the Americans also made English the official language. In 1991 under the pro-Commonwealth PPD administration of Rafael Hernández Colón Spanish was declared the only official language in the Island. Then, in 1993, under the pro-statehood PNP administration of Pedro Rosello, the law was reversed, and English was again reinstated as an official language alongside Spanish. An official language controversy continues to exist to this day.
In a 1993 survey by the Ateneo Puertorriqueño, a leading cultural institution in Puerto Rico, 93 percent of respondents indicated that they would not relinquish Spanish as their language if Puerto Rico ever became a state of the American Union and the United States required English as the only official language of the Island.
In a First Circuit Court of Appeals case Igartúa v. United States, two of three members of the three-judge panel that dismissed the appeal on procedural grounds suggested in separate opinions that, in an en banc reconsideration, the United States could be required, under the current status, to extend full voting representation to the United States citizens residing in Puerto Rico if (1) the en banc Court determines that, contrary to current Circuit precedent, the Constitution does not prohibit extending such rights "under another source of law", (2) that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which , at Article 25, states that "[e]very citizen shall have the right and the opportunity...[t]o vote and to be elected at genuine and periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage", is self-executing.
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More Puerto Ricans live stateside in the U.S. than in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. A 2009 report by the Pew Hispanic Center indicates that, as of 2007, 4.1 million Puerto Ricans lived in the mainland versus 3.9 million living in the Island. 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, D.C., 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's single Resident Commissioner in the U.S. Congress with no vote.
Between February 24 and March 6 in 2006, the National Institute for Latino Policy 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 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.[not in citation given]
A March 13, 1998, Gallup Poll asked Americans: "Do you personally think Puerto Rico: Should become a completely independent nation; should remain a territory of the United States, or, should be admitted to the United States as the fifty-first state?"
The response was:
In a 1991 Gallup poll more than 60 percent of Americans had said they would support independence or statehood for Puerto Rico if a majority of Puerto Ricans voted for either one.