Puerto Rico has held its referendum on political status, and statehood won.
But that doesn’t mean that Puerto Rico is now a state. The process of becoming a state requires a law, and laws begin in the U.S. Congress.
There are currently several bills which have been introduced or in the process of being introduced.
One is HR 900, a bill “to recognize Puerto Rico’s sovereign nationhood under either independence or free association” introduced by Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) in February. The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs.
The Gutiérrez proposal was introduced prior to the June 11th plebiscite, and includes a referendum in which Puerto Rico’s voters would choose between two versions of independence, though independence has never been a popular option in Puerto Rico. “The colonial relationship with the United States has never been starker,” Gutiérrez said at the time. “It is time to return sovereignty back to the Puerto Rican people.”
In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that Puerto Rico has no sovereignty under its current territorial status. Prior to its territorial relationship with the United States, Puerto Rico was a colony of Spain for 400 years. Gutierrez rejected statehood for Puerto Rico in his remarks on the bill and said instead, “Let the Puerto Rican people decide if now is the time for our Declaration of Independence.”
However, it is quite clear that independence is not a popular option on the Island. Votes for independence in Puerto Rico’s status plebiscites:
- 2017: 1.5%
- 2012: 5.54%
- 1998: 2.5%
- 1993: 4.4%
- 1967: 0.6%
What’s more, the U.S. Department of Justice emphasized the similarity of the two options (independence with and without a compact of free association) in their letter asking for changes to the initial plebiscite ballot. Writing on behalf of the Department, Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana J. Boente expressed concern that some voters would think the Free Association option was the old “enhanced commonwealth” option, whereas “the reality is that both choices would result in complete and unencumbered independence and both would require an assessment of a variety of issues related to citizenship.”
The Department of Justice also insisted that the current territorial status be included on the ballot, which was originally designed as a vote between the two possible non-territorial options of statehood and independence.
A recent guest post at El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper, discusses Gutierrez’s reaction to the June 11th vote.
“Every time Congressman Luis Gutiérrez speaks against a people that has repeatedly chosen statehood as a decolonizing formula, it is as if it were a crime to demand what the Federal Constitution establishes as rights for each citizen,” says former Puerto Rico Senate President Charlie Rodriguez. “While Gutierrez sympathizes with independence for the island, he can not rejoice that over 95% of Puerto Ricans support permanent union with the United States. He wants to discredit the result of the recent plebiscite in which effectively 97% supported the claim of statehood.”
Rodriguez goes on to say that Gutierrez fails to support Puerto Rican leaders and other legislators favoring statehood because they are on the opposite side of the aisle, even though statehood for Puerto Rico has historically gained bipartisan support. “The reality is that both national parties have expressed themselves in favor of the decolonization of the island,” says Rodriguez. “In fact, the Democratic Party in which Gutiérrez militates establishes that it is up to Puerto Ricans to determine their final political status among permanent options, such as statehood.”
The article was a response to Gutierrez’s floor speech in which he said, following warnings about “an elephant in donkey clothing” and scornful remarks about the plebiscite, “I plan to retire to Puerto Rico some day and be buried there some day and I hope that when that happens, I will be in a free and sovereign nation that has thrown off the yoke of colonialism and dependence on an overseas master —just as this country, the country of my birth— has done.”
Another current bill pending before Congress is HR 260, the Puerto Rico Admission Act, introduced by Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon [R-PR]. This bill, “to enable the admission of the territory of Puerto Rico into the Union as a State,” was introduced 10 days before the Gutierrez bill and was also referred to the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs.
HR 260 provides that, “If the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico reaffirm the territory’s choice of statehood through a plebiscite under Public Law 113–76, Federal laws that do not apply to Puerto Rico or apply differently to the territory than to the several States are amended or repealed to phase in the equal treatment of Puerto Rico with the several States by January 3, 2025, as shall be provided for in a plan submitted to the Congress and the President not later than 270 days after the enactment of this Act by the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, and Puerto Rico shall become a State on January 3, 2025.”
This bill is essentially a call for action following the plebiscite, if statehood were the winning choice. Since statehood garnered 97% of the votes in the referendum, HR 260 is presumably still under consideration.
Representatives Don Young (R-AK) and Darren Soto (D-FL), both members of the House Natural Resources Committee, of which the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs is a part, have expressed their intention to craft a bipartisan bill for admission for Puerto Rico. De Soto is a co-sponsor of HR 260.