The 2012 Republican Party platform begins its section on Puerto Rico and the other territories by honoring “the extraordinary sacrifices of the men and women of the territories who protect our freedom through their service in the U.S. Armed Forces.”
The 2012 platform also contains a full paragraph about Puerto Rican self determination:
We support the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state if they freely so determine. We recognize that Congress has the final authority to define the constitutionally valid options for Puerto Rico to achieve a permanent non-territorial status with government by consent and full enfranchisement. As long as Puerto Rico is not a State, however, the will of its people regarding their political status should be ascertained by means of a general right of referendum or specific referenda sponsored by the U.S. government.
The Puerto Rico section of the Republican Party platform has changed little over the years. The 2008 Republican platform also opens with recognition of the “extraordinary sacrifices” of men and women in uniform from the territories “to protect our freedom through their service in the U.S. Armed Forces,” and further mentions the importance of fully extending all the “rights and responsibilities” under the Constitution to the territories.
When it comes to self determination for Puerto Rico, the Republican platform remains virtually the same since 2000.
Each of the past four Republican platforms explicitly recognize that Puerto Ricans are, in fact, U.S. citizens. They also support the admittance of Puerto Rico as a “fully sovereign state” if Puerto Ricans so choose. Much has been written about the unlikelihood of the federal government ever making Puerto Rico a state. The established plank of this platform, however, indicates that if Puerto Rican self determination points to statehood, there is at least a core of internal support within the Republican Party for this option.
In a nod to the complicated history of Puerto Rico’s past three plebiscites, the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 platforms all recognize that Congress ultimately determines which options for Puerto Rico’s status are constitutionally valid. Each of the three “commonwealth” definitions in the 1967, 1993 and 1998 plebiscites had different definitions, all of which have been soundly rejected by Congress as unconstitutional.
If Congress is going to reject ballot option definitions for being unconstitutional, including these definitions in referenda to a population of 3.7 million people would not make sense. It is likely with this in mind that each of the past four Republican platforms ends its Puerto Rican section by calling for periodic referenda in Puerto Rico “sponsored by the U.S. government.” This November will mark the fourth time Puerto Ricans have gone to the polls to select their political status, and the fourth time the U.S. government has been uninvolved. Will this matter? We will have to wait until November to find out.