Statehood Wins Again
On June 11, Puerto Rico held a plebiscite in which 97% of the voters rejected the island’s current status as a U.S. territory in favor of statehood.
An independence/free association option received 1.5% of the vote, and 1.3% of the voters chose for Puerto Rico to remain a U.S. territory.
Statehood opponents dismissed the vote due to low voter turnout that stemmed, at least in part, from a boycott called because the ballot omitted an option for Puerto Rico have a “Commonwealth” legal status. The Department of Justice refused to endorse this term, as explained in an April 2017 letter: “[t]he Department and [presidential] Task Force have rejected as unconstitutional previous “enhanced Commonwealth” proposals that would have given Puerto Rico a status outside of the Territory Clause, but short of full independence, and would have further provided that the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico could only be altered by mutual consent.”
Several elected officials in Washington D.C. joined Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzáles-Colón in calling for a Congressional response, but there are no plans for immediate action in Washington. As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico can request statehood, but ultimately Congress has the power to determine Puerto Rico’s future.
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About Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. Puerto Rico was ceded to the U.S. by Spain in 1898, and the Island has belonged to the United States ever since. In 1917, Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens, and everyone born in Puerto Rico is a citizen of the United States.
But Puerto Rico is not a state. It continues to be a territory. Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress has “plenary” – complete – power over Puerto Rico. It is legal for Congress to treat Puerto Rico differently from states, and Puerto Ricans do not share in the same rights and responsibilities as their fellow U.S. citizens.
There are no senators or voting congressional representatives for Puerto Rico. The Island has just one non-voting representative in the legislature. The people of Puerto Rico cannot vote in presidential elections, and they have no electors in the Electoral College.
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With so little representation, and no legal requirement that Congress treat Puerto Rico equally, it’s no surprise that Puerto Rico receives less federal attention than the states.
In funds for highways, federal grants and contracts, healthcare funds, and many other areas, Puerto Rico receives much less than any of the 50 states.
Puerto Rico is also not a country. While Puerto Rico fields sports teams in international sporting events and competes in international beauty pageants, the government of Puerto Rico can’t make trade deals with nations or make decisions about its currency, or take any other steps available to countries.
And, while the title of Puerto Rico includes the word “commonwealth” (just like the titles of Massachusetts and Kentucky), that word has no legal meaning in the United States. Puerto Rico is simply a territory belonging to the United States.
This year, Puerto Rico finally voted to gain a permanent political status. The Puerto Rico Report will be covering the news throughout this historic process.