An Issue for all Americans: Puerto Rican Self-Determination

Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States.  Its residents are United States citizens, but they have no voting rights or representation in the government that makes and implements their national laws, and they are not treated equally in federal programs.  This unequal treatment violates the most basic principles of equal citizenship in the United States.  It is also inconsistent with our international commitments to advance democracy, suffrage and self-determination around the world.

  • Puerto Rico’s 3.725 million residents are represented in their national government by a sole Resident Commissioner in the U.S. House who cannot vote in the full House.   The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico cannot vote for President.  Even Puerto Rican veterans and active members of the U.S. armed forces cannot vote for their Commander-in-Chief.  Puerto Ricans may vote for President and voting Members of Congress upon establishing residence in any of the 50 States; conversely, individuals born in the United States lose voting rights if they establish residence in Puerto Rico.
  • The United States spends billions of dollars to promote democracy overseas.
  • On June 20, 2011, the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization adopted a consensus text calling on the United States to expedite a process that would allow “Puerto Ricans to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence[.]”  A delegate from Cuba introduced the measure, and representatives from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia, Syria and Iran spoke in support of it.  This was not the first time these nations highlighted the lack of democratic freedom in Puerto Rico.
  • Residents of Puerto Rico have resorted to U.S. international commitments to demand suffrage.  In 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected the claim that United States obligations under the 1976 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – or international law more generally – create federal voting rights in Puerto Rico.  A judge on the Court noted, however that:

 We cannot overlook, and in fact we should take judicial notice of, the many official actions of the United States in promoting democratic elections throughout the world-not the least of which is its support for the recently held national elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, places where thousands of U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico serve, at least twenty-five* of whom have lost their lives in support of the rights of the citizens of those countries to vote.  The situations in Iraq and Afghanistan present the further anomaly of two classes of U.S. citizens, both fighting and dying side by side, only one of which was able to vote for its Commander in Chief.”  [Torruella, J.]

*    More recent data counts over 80 servicemen and servicewomen of Puerto Rican descent among the fatalities of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congressional Recognition of Puerto Rican Requests for Action

Committee on Natural Resources Report, Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2007 (H.R. 900), Report No. 110-597, April 22, 2008, pp. 4 and 6.

Rep. Young (R-AK), House Floor  Debate on H.R. 856, United States Puerto Rico Political Status Act, March 4, 1998, Congressional Record, p. H773.

Resolutions Enacted by the Puerto Rican Legislative Assembly and sent to Congress

Concurrent Resolution 2,  January 23, 1997

Concurrent Resolution 62,  December 14, 1994

Resolutions Passed by at Least One Chamber of the Puerto Rican Legislative Assembly

Substitute to House bills 1014, 1054 and 1058,  February 11, 2005

House Concurrent Resolution 25,  April 21, 2005

House Concurrent Resolution 102,  February 12, 2007

 

Resolution Enacted by the Municipality of San Juan

Resolution Number 41, February 16, 1989

 

Letters to Congress

Letter from Governor Hernandez Colon (Commonwealth Party), Senator Rubén Ángel Berrio (Independence Party) and former Resident Commissioner Baltazar Corrada-Del Rio (Statehood Party) to Congress, as quoted by Baltazar Corrada-Del Rio in testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, June 16, 1989, p. 18

 

Puerto Rican Elected Officials

Kenneth D. McClintock, President of the Puerto Rican Senate, Interview in the Anchorage Press, July 23, 2008

Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño (R-PR), Testimony before joint subcommittee oversight hearing, House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs and House Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and National Archives, “Census Data:  Special Issues Related to U.S. Territories,” May 21, 2008

Jose F. Aponte-Hernandez, Speaker of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, April 25, 2007, pp. 2, 6-7

Kenneth D. McClintock, President of the Puerto Rican Senate, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, April 25, 2007, pp. 1 and 6

Carlos Romero-Barceló, Former Governor and Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, April 25, 2007

Resident Commissioner Luis G. Fortuño (R-PR), Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, March 22, 2007, pp. 5-6

Resident Commissioner Luis G. Fortuño (R-PR), Testimony before the Senate Energy Committee, November 15, 2006, pp. 30 – 33

Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero-Barceló (D-PR), Testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee, October 4, 2000, pp. 2 – 3

Charles A. Rodriguez, President of the Senate of Puerto Rico, Testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee, October 4, 2000, pp. 43-45

Pedro Rosselló, Governor of Puerto Rico, Testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, May 6, 1999

Rafael Hernandez Colon, Governor of Puerto Rico (1973–77; 1985–93), “Doing Right by Puerto Rico: Congress Must Act”, Foreign Affairs, July/August 1998

Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero-Barceló, House Floor Debate on H.R. 856, United States Puerto Rico Political Status Act, March 4, 1998, Congressional Record, page H767

Nestor S. Aponte, Representative, Puerto Rico House of Representatives and former House Majority Leader, Testimony before the House Committee on Resources, Field Hearing in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, April 21, 1997, pp. 34 and 36

Ramón Luis Rivera, Mayor of the City of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Letter to Representative Don Young (R-AK), April 4, 1997, as published in the Transcript of House Committee on Resources Field Hearing on H.R. 856, United States-Puerto Rico’s Political Status Act, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, April 21, 1997, pp. 278-79

Mayor Angel F. Rodriquez Cabrera, Chairman, Association of Republican Mayors of Puerto Rico, Letter to Speaker Newt Gingrich, August 15, 1997

Charlie Rodriguez, President of the Puerto Rico Senate, Testimony before the House Resources Committee, Field Hearing on Puerto Rico Status, San Juan, Puerto Rico, April 19, 1997, p. 10

Kenneth McClintock-Hernandez, Designee for President of the Puerto Rico Senate, Testimony before the House Resources Committee, Field Hearing on Puerto Rico Status, San Juan, Puerto Rico, April 19, 1997, pp. 180-181

Former Governor Luis Ferré, President of the New Progressive Party, Statement before the House Resources Committee, March 19, 1997, p. 83-84

Former Governor Carlos Romero-Barceló (D-PR), Testimony before the Senate Energy Committee, January 30, 1991, p. 121

 

Puerto Rican Organizations and Individuals

Veronica Ferraiuoli, Federal Bar Association, Puerto Rico Chapter, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, March 22, 2007, pp. 1

Luis E. Gonzalez Vales, Official Historian of Puerto Rico, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, March 22, 2007, pp. 1-3

Jorge E. Pedroza, President of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Puerto Rico Council, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, March 22, 2007

José Luis Fernández, President, Inter-American Entrepreneurs Association in Puerto Rico, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, March 22, 2007, pp. 1-2

Manuel A. Mejia, Chairman of the Board, Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, March 22, 2007, pp. 1, 3 and 9

Professor Carlos Iván Gorrín-Peralta, Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, March 22, 2007, pp. 4 and 10

Zoraida Fonalledas, New Progressive Party Member and Republican National Committeewoman, Testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, May 6, 1999

Dr. Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer, President, Puerto Ricans in Civic Action, Testimony before the House Committee on Resources, April 21, 1997, pp. 18-19.

Etienne Totti Del Valle, Esq., Testimony before the House Resources Committee, Field Hearing on Puerto Rico Status, San Juan, Puerto Rico, April 19, 1997, pp. 210 and 219

Ruben Velez Lebron, President of the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association, Testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, June 16, 1989, p. 207

Dr. Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer, President, Puerto Ricans in Civic Action, Testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, June 16, 1989, p. 258

Professor Ana Irma Seijo-Marks, Puerto Rican Studies Group, Testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, June 17, 1989, pp. 466-67

Jesus Hernandez Sanchez, Counsel, Puerto Rico Veterans Association, Testimony before to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, June 19, 1989, pp. 785-788

Dora Pasarell, Former Parks and Recreation Administrator, Testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, June 19, 1989, p. 817

Dr. Aida N. Montilla, Retired Professor, University of Puerto Rico, Testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, June 19, 1989, p. 861

 

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