We have previously reported on a letter Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi sent to President Obama in which he asked for the president’s “time, resources and – above all – leadership to help resolve the question of Puerto Rico’s political status.” Pierluisi has also sent a similar letter to congressional leaders, including House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The content of the two Pierluisi letters is similar, but his letter to congressional leaders highlights Congress’s “clear responsibility to act” under the U.S. Constitution and the 1898 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War and made Puerto Rico a U.S. possession. The letter concludes: “Finally, and most fundamentally, the United States is the greatest democracy in history and a champion of peaceful self–determination around the world. A clear majority of the American citizens of Puerto Rico have now expressed a desire to end the Island’s current undemocratic status and to have a fully democratic status. This expression of the democratic will must be met with meaningful action by Congress.”
It is not the first time that a credible, high ranking Puerto Rican official has reached out to the Federal government asking for critical support. For decades, the leaders and the people of Puerto Rico have asked for Federal leadership to resolve the matter of Puerto Rico’s status. The full history of these efforts, including links to primary source documents, can be found in “The People of Puerto Rico Seek Congressional Leadership to Resolve Their Territorial Status.”
Rep. Don Young of Alaska reminded Congress in 1998 that “the legislature [of Puerto Rico] sent joint resolutions to Congress in 1993, 1994, and 1997 requesting congressional action…to define the political status and establish the process to resolve Puerto Rico’s political status dilemma.” He went on to say that “U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico had been advocating action for over a decade. I remember the submission to Congress in 1985 and 1987 of over 350,000 individually signed petitions for full citizenship rights.”
Kenneth D. McClintock, in a statement in 2007 that might be said to foreshadow some of the current controversy surrounding the 2012 plebiscite were it not for the fact that today’s issues are essentially just a continuation of the same discussion, said,
[T]he argument that I’ve heard the most to excuse 108 years of Congressional inaction is that the American citizens of Puerto Rico have to speak with one voice to resolve the status dilemma, a standard that hasn’t kept you from dealing with other highly divisive domestic issues such as racial segregation – in the past – and more recently, oil drilling in the ANWR, protection of the Everglades, and the very delicate issue of immigration reform.
I believe that the [Territorial] Clause’s drafters, who only five years before had won a war against colonialism, never intended for you to continue ruling indefinitely over Puerto Rico as a territory. If you share our belief, inaction is no longer an alternative. The only alternative is to establish a process that will allow you to dispose of the territory of Puerto Rico or admit us into the Union.
The Puerto Rican Legislative Assembly explained to Congress in 1997: “[T]he reality of the situation is that after almost a century during which Puerto Rico has been under the sovereignty of the United States, the Federal Government has never approved or implemented specific measures geared to promoting a process in a conclusive, binding manner, by which the American citizens of Puerto Rico may democratically express their wishes regarding their final political status.”
The United Nations echoes the people of Puerto Rico each year when its Special Committee on Decolonization considers Puerto Rico’s colonial status. In 2012, the Special Committeee approved a resolution 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.”
Congress has not yet responded to these pleas.