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Melissa Mark-Viverito Misses the Mark on Puerto Rico Statehood

Melissa Mark-Viverito recently wrote an opinion piece at The Hill claiming that statehood for Puerto Rico is not a good idea. She used Florida Governor Rick Scott’s support of statehood as her starting point, but the post is not about Governor Scott or his views.

Mark-Viverito is instead trying to claim that Puerto Rico’s voters do not want statehood. Gov. Scott said that the federal government should ‘respect the will of the people of Puerto Rico.’ Mark-Viverito agrees. Now, what’s the will of the people?

Puerto Rico has three viable status options.

Under the U.S constitution, Puerto Rico can become an independent nation. Independence has never gotten more than 5% of the vote in any plebiscite. No Independence Party governor has ever been elected. It is clear that the voters of Puerto Rico do not want independence. What’s more, the latest bill for independence in Puerto Rico introduced in Congress, HR 900, had one sponsor and zero co-sponsors, and died in committee without discussion. Independence is popular among some communities of Puerto Ricans who have chose to move to the States, but is not appealing to Puerto Rico or to Congress.

Mark-Viverito herself is known as a supporter of independence activist Oscar Lopez.

A second possibility is statehood. Puerto Rico can become a state, as 32 other territories have done so far.The referenda held in 2012 and 2017 favored statehood. More on this later.

The third possibility under the U.S. Constitution is for Puerto Rico to remain an unincorporated territory, as it is now.

Why is Puerto Rico sometimes called a Commonwealth?

These are the only viable options for Puerto Rico’s political status, according to the federal government. Puerto Rico leaders have in the past asked for an “enhanced commonwealth” option, but this possibility has been firmly rejected by all three branches of the federal government, many times.

The continued fantasy of enhanced commonwealth is important, because it has been one of the choices on some of the referendum ballots. It has even won. However, Congress has ignored those plebiscites completely, because that is not a possible outcome under the U.S. Constitution.

What happened in the plebiscites?

The first status vote was held in 1967. “Commonwealth” was presented on that ballot as an alternative equivalent to statehood or independence. Actually, “commonwealth” is legally meaningless in the United States. Kentucky and a number of other states have “commonwealth” in their names just as Puerto Rico does. The “commonwealth” option got the most votes, but it was in effect a vote to continue as a territory.

In 1993, the same options were provided, and “commonwealth” received the largest number of votes (48.9%), but not a majority. After the 1993 vote, Congressman Don Young expressed his sorrow that the people of Puerto Rico had been tricked into voting for a status – a definition of “commonwealth” with autonomy from federal tax laws, and greater tax, trade, and social programs benefits – that would not be accepted by the federal government. It was determined to be unconstitutional by the Clinton administration.

In 1998, the “commonwealth” option was therefore left off the ballot. Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner, Carlos Romero-Barcelo, said that it “would not be acceptable to Congress. So therefore, to submit a proposal, as such, to the people of Puerto Rico, would be unfair to the people of Puerto Rico. It would be mischievous to the people of Puerto Rico… And to have it in a bill offering it to the people of Puerto Rico would be fooling the people of Puerto Rico.”

This is what Mark-Viverito describes as “the statehood movement attempted to rig the process and held a referendum in 1998 which excluded the Commonwealth option.”

In that election, the winner was “none of the above.” It is true that people in Puerto Rico have in the past voted for the so-called “commonwealth,” option and the “none of the above” vote might (or might not) have been a vote for that option.

It doesn’t really matter. An enhanced “commonwealth” is not a viable option. It might sound good to people, but it is not actually one of the possible status choices. Voters in Puerto Rico do not have the power, because of the Territory Clause of the U.S. Constitution, to make unilateral decisions about their relationship with the United States.  Puerto Rico couldn’t even ratify its own Constitution without Congress first mandating changes to it.

Having had multiple votes choosing an option which the United States could not accept — and did not accept — Puerto Rico tried again to hold a status vote with only the viable options.


In 2012, another referendum was held. This one asked two questions:

First, should Puerto Rico keep the current territorial status. These were the results:

  • No: 970,910   (53.97%)
  • Yes: 828,077   (46.03%)
  • Blank: 67,267
  • Invalidated: 12,948

Second, regardless of the answer to the first question, which of the viable options should become the permanent political status of Puerto Rico. These were the results:

  • Statehood: 834,191  (61.16%)
  • Sovereign free associated state: 454,768   (33.34%)
  • Independence: 74,895   (5.49%)
  • Blank: 498,604
  • Invalidated: 16,744

Read the certified results and see the document.

Mark-Viverito claims that statehood received 46% of the vote because some people didn’t vote on the second question. Even with that rationale,the numbers above show that 834,191 people voted for statehood on the second question, while only 828,077 voted for the current territorial option in the first question.

Regardless, 53.97% said that they did not want to continue as a territory. This is a clear majority. Independence, with 5.49% of the vote, was rejected. Continuing as a territory, with 46.03% of the vote, was rejected. Mark-Viverito says that “the statehood party once again tried to rig the ballot by excluding ‘None of the Above.'”

“None of the Above” is clearly not a viable status option.


In 2017, another referendum was held. The elected leaders of Puerto Rico said that the territorial status had already been rejected by a majority of voters in 2012. The numbers above show that this was true. They proposed a choice between independence and statehood.

As always, the supporters of “enhanced commonwealth” insisted that this option be included. Even though the U.S. government had clearly and repeatedly said that the enhanced commonwealth option was “not viable,” this group wanted it to be listed.

The Department of Justice did not accept either of these ideas. They wanted voters to be able to choose to continue as a territory. They also wanted it to be clear that “Free Associated State” means independence, not “enhanced commonwealth.”

The changes were made, and Puerto Rico went ahead with the scheduled referendum.

The opposition parties called for a boycott. As many observers pointed out, no one calls for a boycott when they expect to win. In addition, boycotts don’t matter in democracies – voters either come to the polls or don’t have a voice.

97% of the votes were for statehood.

Voter participation was low — for Puerto Rico. In fact, there is no quorum requirement for votes in the United States, and the turnout was not unusually low for American votes. The results of the 2017 referendum, like those of the 2012 referendum, were conclusive.

What does Mark-Viverito want?

Supporters of the fantasy option of “enhanced commonwealth” have a history of sabotaging plebiscites by, most notably, using unviable ballot definitions or boycotting and then claiming insufficient turnout. Independence Party supporters have a history of saying that they will not accept any result but independence, whether the residents of Puerto Rico vote for it or not.

Mark-Viverito says that “What Puerto Rico deserves is a fair and inclusive self-determination process to end more than 100 years of U.S. colonialism in the island.”

Many processes have been tried.  The current elected leaders of Puerto Rico have officially requested statehood. A shadow delegation has come to Congress.  A referendum is not legally required — Alabama, for example, never held a plebiscite on statehood. The decision is with Congress.

4 thoughts on “Melissa Mark-Viverito Misses the Mark on Puerto Rico Statehood”


  2. Thank you PRR for taking the time and making the effort to meticulously demonstrate that Mark Vivecito was not just expressing a difference of opinion. She was telling lies and accusing pro-statehood party of doing exactly with in truth the anti-statehood party did by rigging multiple votes.

    In 2016 Just Kagan wrote the majority opinion for the U.S. Supreme Court in the Valle case, ruling that territorial status with a “commonwealth” regime of local self-government was not a fully democratic or permanent status, and did not confer equal dignity and rights on the people compared to statehood or independence. That was known in Congress and in Puerto Rico ruling elites, but the anti-statehood party junta convinced Washington and the U.N. to pretend “commonwealth” was a choice that made it unnecessary to decide between statehood and independence.

    Melissa Mark Viverito is a New York lobbyist living in the past when pretending independence was what they wanted was ideologically fashionable among the far left academic and cocktail party metropolitan socialists.

    Since the voters in Puerto Rico rejected independence and statehood would make Puerto Rico a success story, people of her ilk pretended calling the territory “commonwealth” and that it could be converted into a permanent status was the best and only way to prevent a real democratic choice by the people. Knowing that was not so the goal was to prevent statehood by offering “commonwealth” on the ballot, but as non-territorial form of nation-to-nation status with features of both statehood (i.e. U.S. citizenship and other rights of state residents) and independent nationhood (i.e. tax and trade “autonomy” that other nations enjoy).

    It was obvious in the 1950’s that the anti-statehood party could not get Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court to agree to “commonwealth” as anything more than a territory with home rule allowed by Congress, much less as a permanent status. So people like Marks Viverito have ever since simply claimed territorial status that truly is colonial truly is a form of nationhood and “commonwealth” is permanent. That hoax was used to fraudulently induce commonwealth party voters to believe the choice between statehood and independence was not necessary, and Puerto Rico could have it both ways by combining features of both.

    So the voters were lied to in 1967, told “commonwealth” was equivalent in dignity and permanence to independen and statehood. So a majority actually voted for commonwealth based on a false ballot option. That was the last time it got a majority. In 1993 the commonwealth option was nationhood with the rights of states, but by then enough voters knew it was a fraud that statehood got the highest vote it ever had and commonwealth failed to win a majority.

    In 1998 the anti-statehood party knew the accurate definition of the current status as a territory and a real choice between statehood and independence would mean a majority for statehood, so they added the “none of above” option and told all voters who wanted to reject both independence and statehood to vote “none of above.” It worked and neither statehood nor independence got a majority, but statehood got the highest vote it ever had.

    It was not until the the ballot was structured to allow a majority vote on the current status separate from a majority on the real options for a permanent status that a majority vote was attained, and it was for statehood. That majority for statehood could have been achieved in 1967 or even the 1950’s in time for Puerto Rico to be admitted as a state with Alaska and Hawaii, or allowed to become an independent nation like the Philippines.

    But it was the anti-statehood “commonwealth” and “autonomy” party that derailed informed democratic self-determination and treated Puerto Rico like it had more in common with Cuba than the USA. As a result the people have been denied a standard of living and freedom possible under statehood or independence. Generations of children have not realized their potential under territorial “commonwealth,” generations have not received the health care or education possible in a state or as a real nation.

    The freedom and opportunity of the people was sacrificed so the anti-statehood party could cling to power and wealth based on a false promise. Marks Vivecito believes that is clever, shrewd, and outsmarts the U.S. and pro-statehood party. In reality she and her ilk have enjoyed freedom and equality that they have helped deny to the children and senior citizens, farmers and small businesses owenrs in Puerto Rico.

    Of course she would write an article telling all the same clever and shrewd lies that allowed the anti-statehood party when it was in power to end English in schools, lobby Congress to remain “neutral” by not defining the real options. Of course, that was not neutral at all, it was corruption to prevent self-determiantion on real options.

  3. People like this are the ones who are keeping the island the way it is- Gutiérrez and her doesn’t represent PR – the island Ricans are the ones- they need real representation in Congress and that will only happens with statehood. I can’t stand those parasites and maggots that hate the US but sucks the hell out of system. They claim to do everything for P.R. except live in it.

  4. Pingback: Blaming America | Puerto Rico 51st

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