Obtaining Full Self Government for Puerto Rico

The late Rep. Don Young (R-AK) is well known – and in many quarters beloved –  for introducing a bill calling for a referendum on status options for Puerto Rico.

H.R. 856, the United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act, was clear that “[f]ull self-government for Puerto Rico is attainable only through the establishment of a political status which is based on either separate Puerto Rican sovereignty and nationality or full and equal United States nationality and citizenship through membership in the Union and under which Puerto Rico is no longer an unincorporated territory subject to the plenary authority of Congress arising from the Territorial Clause.”

The three status options for Puerto Rico in the original text of the bill were these:

    • “Puerto Rico should retain Commonwealth,” specifying that this would mean Puerto Rico would remain an unincorporated territory of the United States
    • “Puerto Rico should become fully self governing through separate sovereignty leading to independence or free association”
    • “Puerto Rico should become fully self governing through United States sovereignty leading to Statehood”

The clarity of “self governing”

In a debate often characterized by confusion – and the possible misleading of voters – based on the terms presented on ballots, the proposal’s adherence to the term “self governing” provides a dose of clarity.  A territorial status is not self governing.  PROMESA made that clear.

States and nations are self governing.  They are self governing in different ways – states are self governing within the nation, and sovereign entities (including the three small freely associated states) are self governing outside of the nation – but they are both self governing.

The Enduring Fallacy of the “Self Governing Commonwealth”

Presidential response

President Clinton responded to an initial draft of the Young proposal with some concerns, and the bill went through several amendments before going to a vote. In a statement on the final bill,  President Clinton wrote that he “strongly approved” of the bill.

Because Puerto Ricans cannot unilaterally determine what their relationship with the United States will be, they have petitioned for years for legislation that would provide clear and uncomplicated options and for implementation of their choice.

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