Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s only representative in the U.S. Congress, wrote a letter to President Obama on January 6th, 2015, asking for either the President or Attorney General to provide guidance to the people of Puerto Rico as to whether a federally sponsored yes-or-no vote on statehood would satisfy the requirements of the January 2014 federal law calling for a new plebiscite in Puerto Rico .
Pierluisi began by noting that “[b]etween 2009 and 2014, much ground has been gained by those of us who have dedicated our lives to achieving equality for Puerto Rico through statehood, the only democratic and dignified status option that has broad public support on the island.” Pierluisi then enumerated the gains the statehood movement has achieved:
- The Federal government has made it clear that there are only two real options for Puerto Rico’s status, statehood and independent nationhood perhaps within a compact of free association which either nation could terminate. “Your administration and Congress have consistently rejected the status proposal called ‘enhanced commonwealth‘,” Pierluisi pointed out. Making it clear that there is no possibility of enhanced commonwealth allows Puerto Rico to make a choice between the real options rather than putting further investment into a potential status that will never become a reality.
- HR 2499, the bill which allowed the historic plebiscite of 2012, was passed by the House of Representatives.
- The 2011 Report from the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico confirmed that Puerto Rico is a territory, that enhanced commonwealth is not an option, and that Puerto Rico’s economic woes stem from the current territorial status.
- President Obama made the first visit to Puerto Rico by a sitting president since President Kennedy’s 1961 visit, and pledged support for Puerto Rico’s self-determination.
- The 2012 plebiscite found that 54% of the voters rejected the current territorial status and 61% chose statehood from the viable options.
- The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing on Puerto Rico’s status in 2013 at which they publicly acknowledged that the people of Puerto Rico had rejected territory status, and that resolution of the island’s status was necessary.
- $2.5 million was set aside for the first Federally-sponsored plebiscite, to be held in Puerto Rico to resolve at last the question of status.
Pierluisi went on to point out that it has been nearly a year since the $2.5 million in funding was approved. He acknowledged that much of the delay in putting the law into action has been caused by the local government of Puerto Rico, while also pointing out that the law does not dictate how the ballot should be structured. He emphasized that the federal appropriation “does require the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure that any option of the ballot is combatable with the constitution, laws and public policy of the United States. ”
Pierluisi further explained that the law has “expose[d] and deepen[ed] divisions within the island’s Popular Democratic Party, which currently controls the governorship and both chambers of the Legislative Assembly.” He predicted that if Party leader are able to agree on a status proposal, it would “almost certainly be rejected by the federal government as inconsistent with U.S. law or policy.”
In light of this delay, Pierluisi reminded President Obama of his own simple proposal: a yes or no vote on statehood. The other viable option, independent nationhood, has gained only single digit support in previous plebiscites. The “enhanced commonwealth” option has been soundly rejected by the U.S. government, which would have to agree to it for this option to be put in place. Pierluisi pointed out that opponents of statehood can vote against statehood with such a referendum, and that the results of this vote would be clear and unquestionable.
“I ask that you or the Attorney General formally respond to this letter,” he concluded, “advising the people of Puerto Rico whether your administration concurs with my conclusion that a ballot which poses the following question satisfies all the requirements of the federal law enacted in January 2014.”
The question Pierluisi references is this:
Shall Puerto Rico be admitted into the Union as a state?
Copies of the letter were also sent to Attorney General Eric Holder, Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, Director of White House Intergovernmental Affairs and Co-Chair of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status Jerry Abramson, and Acting Associate Attorney General and Co-Chair of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status Stuart Delery,