Puerto Rico’s statehood party has launched a campaign to collect 100,000 signatures on a petition to President Obama and the Congress for statehood.
The petition is a “demand” for “immediate action … to begin the process of admitting Puerto Rico” as a State, including a referendum in the territory on admission “using the funds already appropriated by Federal law to resolve Puerto Rico’s status.”
The petition is also a “demand” for “equality” for Puerto Ricans that notes that because of Puerto Rico’s territory status “its residents are treated unequally” by “and lack representation and voting rights in the government that approves the laws that rule their daily lives.”
The petition points out that on “November 6th of 2012, the people of Puerto Rico went to the polls and a majority of voters, 54% of them, rejected the current status and 61% chose statehood” as the alternative to the current status, which referred to as “colony.”
The effort is not the first to collect a large number of petitions for statehood. Three decades ago, a group named Puerto Ricans in Civic Action began to collect what wound up being 300,000 petitions for statehood when delivered to the Congress.
Its petition drive was led by a medical doctor from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer. She initiated it after hearings of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs on Puerto Rico’s underdeveloped “commonwealth” economy.
The overwhelming consensus of witnesses during the hearings was that the question of the territory’s ultimate status needed to be resolved to positively change its economy. (President Obama’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status stated the same conclusion in its 2011 report.)
Committee Chairman Morris Udall told Ramirez during the hearing that Puerto Ricans needed to petition for statehood if they wanted it.
When the group presented the petitions, he clarified that the petition for statehood needed to be by a vote open to the entire population.
That occurred in the plebiscite on all of Puerto Rico’s political status options — the first ever limited to possible statuses — that was held along with the November 2012 elections.
The Government of Puerto Rico, very narrowly taken over by the “commonwealth status” party through the elections then lobbied against a positive Federal response to the self-determination decision of Puerto Ricans.
The Federal government’s response 13 months ago was to enact a law providing for another plebiscite — but one limited to options that would “resolve” the issue and proposals that would not conflict with the Constitution, laws and policies of the U.S.
It provided the funds that the statehood party petition drive proposes be used for a U.S. authorized local vote on admitting Puerto Rico into the U.S. union as a State.
A plebiscite under the Federal law would not include the current territory status or the “commonwealth” party’s status proposal, which the Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton Administrations rejected as impossible for constitutional and other reasons.
A territory status cannot be an option because it cannot resolve the Puerto Rico status question: Puerto Ricans would continue to be able to petition for statehood or nationhood.
The party used the non-inclusion of a proposal like its current status plan on the 2012 ballot as the reason for lobbying against the decision of the Puerto Rican people in the 2012 plebiscite.
Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, who heads the “commonwealth status” party, proposed an option for the plebiscite provided for by Federal law last July 25th. His party did not adopt it, however, because Puerto Rico would still have been subject to congressional governing authority under the Constitution’s Territory Clause.
A number of party leaders instead want to propose that Puerto Rico become a nation in an association with the U.S. Under their nationhood proposal, however, the U.S. would continue to grant national citizenship, which would contradict the concept of nationhood, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Filipinos retaining U.S. nationality after independence.
Nationhood also requires that either nation be able to end the association, a requirement that it is not clear they want.
Four party leaders have been tasked with drafting a compromise proposal for the party for the plebiscite. They have not, however, been able to reach agreement in six months of talks.
Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi, has led 62 other members of the U.S. House of Representatives, in sponsoring a bill that provides for action on statehood for the territory, as requested in the petition. Pierluisi heads the territory’s statehood party.
The bill authorizes an insular plebiscite on statehood within a year of the bill’s enactment. It would be able to use the funds appropriated 13 months ago for a plebiscite to resolve the question of Puerto Rico’s ultimate status. If statehood wins, the bill provides for Puerto Rico’s admission as a State on January 1, 2021. A presidentially-appointed commission would recommend measures to transition Puerto Rico into equal treatment with the current States in Federal laws by the date of admission.