Democratic Presidents Recognize Need to Move Beyond Puerto Rico’s Current Status

Both major national parties have recognized that Puerto Rico’s current relationship as a U.S. territory is untenable.  Republican presidents have unequivocally supported statehood, and Democrats in the White House have spoken about the need to determine Puerto Rico’s permanent “future status.”

President Obama

President Barack Obama noted in the release of the 2011 Report by the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, “I am firmly committed to the principle that the question of political status is a matter of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico. I am pleased that the Task Force has outlined recommendations to enable the people of Puerto Rico to determine their political future. Both the President and Congress have roles to play to help Puerto Rico settle on its future status; I am committed to working with Congress to ensure that a fair, clearly defined, and transparent process is available for the people of Puerto Rico to decide on their future for themselves.”

In a 2009 letter to then-governor Luis Fortuno, Obama wrote, “We also pledged during my campaign to work with Congress and all groups in Puerto Rico to enable the question of Puerto Rico’s status to be resolved during the next four years. I am fully aware of the difficulties that Puerto Rico has faced in the past when dealing with this issue, but self-determination is a basic right to be addressed no matter how difficult. Your right to self-determination is deepened even further by the brave service that Puerto Ricans have provided to the nation’s armed forces, protecting all our people from foreign dangers throughout the past century. We will work to give a voice to the people of Puerto Rico to enable them to determine their political future.”

The question was not resolved during Obama’s first or second term as President of the United States.

President Clinton

President Bill Clinton identified the reason that his administration also failed to settle Puerto Rico’s status. “I think the root of the problem [is] the unwillingness of the Congress to give a legislatively sanctioned vote to the people to let them determine the status of Puerto Rico,” he said in a news conference in Puerto Rico in 2000. “If it were just up to me, if I could sign an Executive order and let them have a sanctioned election, I would do it today.”

Clinton spoke up for equality for Puerto Rico and struck a moral tone in remarks at the Democratic Governors’ Association dinner: “We have made Puerto Rico citizens. We have drafted them into the Armed Forces. We extend most laws to them, especially those that are convenient to us–the rest of us. To use their culture, to bar them from voting rights or responsibilities in our country if they so choose to seek them by majority vote is wrong. And this is not primarily about Puerto Rico, but about the rest of us. What are our values? What is our culture?”

President Carter

“I have been firmly committed to self-determination for Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands, and have vigorously supported the realization of whatever political status aspirations are democratically chosen by their peoples.” This statement from President Carter in 1981 preceded all but the 1967 referendum.

President Johnson

President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke at the first meeting of a task force on the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, saying, “I am especially pleased that the initial meeting of the United States-Puerto Rico Commission on the Status of Puerto Rico is being held in the White House. I welcome this opportunity to express my own deep personal interest in the work you are undertaking. Warmth and mutual understanding have characterized the relationship between the people of Puerto Rico and the people of the United States. I am confident this will continue. We on the Mainland have watched with admiration and pride the remarkable economic growth that has taken place in Puerto Rico in recent years. That growth will undoubtedly continue and we hope it may accelerate in the years ahead. The United States has a traditional and deep-seated national commitment to the principle of self-determination. That is why the administration and the Congress responded promptly and affirmatively to the resolution of the Puerto Rican Legislature requesting a review of the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico.”

This statement preceded the plebiscites on Puerto Rico’s status.

Read the full statements.

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