In January, in pursuance of the Tennessee Plan for statehood, Puerto Rico sent a bipartisan shadow delegation to Washington to represent Puerto Rico and advocate for statehood.
- former Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño
- Republican National Committeewoman Zoraida Fonalledas
- activist Alfonso Aguilar
- former Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rosselló González
- former Gov. Carlos Romero Barceló
- former Puerto Rico Senate President Charles Rodríguez
- Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez.
In June, they issued their first report, which begins with a summary of Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory and related implications of that status:
For over one hundred and twenty years, the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico have lived under the American flag, and now for more than 100 years we have shared the sacred bond of citizenship with our fellow Americans in the states. During that time, we have borne the burdens of freedom by answering the call of duty though military service. We have contributed to America’s greatness with our ingenuity, our labor, our creativity, and our culture. We have found that there is no contradiction in being proud to be Puerto Ricans and simultaneously being proud to be Americans. Undeniably, the multitude of ties that have come to bind Puerto Rico and the United States are at this point simply irreversible.
However, the lack of full participation in the federal government that makes and executes the laws that we live under in Puerto Rico and the ability of the U.S. Congress to treat us unequally under those laws has proven a fundamental limitation on the fulfillment of the full potential of our people as well as the full potential of what we can contribute as part of the American family. The multiple overlapping crises that the people of Puerto Rico suffer today (economic, fiscal, demographic, political, health, safety, quality of life, etc.) are all interconnected to the root cause of our undemocratic and unequal territorial condition.
Reminding readers that Hurricane Maria both showed the inequality of Puerto Rico as a territory and pushed Puerto Rico into a state of economic crisis, the Commission pointed out the problem of the United States governing 3.4 million U.S. citizens without their consent.
The principle of government by the consent of the governed was enshrined by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence to expressly oppose colonial governance, and both in 2012 and 2017 voters in Puerto Rico invoked that principle to declare our lack of consent for continued territorial governance, and to express an overwhelming preference for statehood among the non-territorial options.
The report outlines the history of the Commission and of the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States.
AMERICA’S COLONIAL LEGACY IN PUERTO RICO For over 400 years, Puerto Rico was a colony of the Spanish Empire, and when the United States of America occupied Puerto Rico in 1898 and eventually acquired it through the Treaty of Paris1 at the end of the Spanish American War, there was great hope that the condition of colonial subordination would soon come to an end. Unfortunately, 120 years later Puerto Rico remains under the territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution…
[E]fforts to get the U.S. Congress to approve legislation to grant statehood for Puerto Rico date back to 1934 when then Resident Commissioner Santiago Iglesias Pantín (D-PR) presented the first Puerto Rico admission bill in response to a resolution approved by the territorial legislature of the time. Since then there have been over thirty bills dealing with Puerto Rico statehood that have been introduced in both the House and Senate by members of both the Republican and Democratic parties. While two bills have been approved in the U.S. House of Representatives in the last twenty years, neither of them was considered on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Now in the 115th Congress, the challenge of getting attention and action in Congress is still there, but there have been significant changes in the national political landscape as well as in the conditions of the territory that present a unique window of opportunity to definitively end Puerto Rico’s territorial status and put the island on a definitive path to statehood. The goal of the PRSC is to learn from these past experiences and to work hand in hand with the Resident Commissioner, the Governor and PRFAA to maximize our chances of success in this century long cause.
The report goes on to analyze the plebiscites of 2012 and 2017, concluding that both returned a valid result supporting statehood. The 2017 plebiscite’s turnout was reviewed and the report argues in favor of accepting that vote as the will of the voters of Puerto Rico:
The plebiscite was also overseen by a distinguished and bipartisan group of national and international electoral observers, that included two current and one former member of Congress, who unanimously concluded that it was a free, fair and transparent process where all eligible voters had the opportunity to participate.
The report includes a number of statements in support of the 2017 vote from legislators such as Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Don Young (R-AK), and Marco Rubio (R-FL).
The history section of the report concludes with a list of the actions taken by the Commission since their arrival in Washington, D.C. This includes 59 meetings with members of Congress, both Democratic and Republican. They participated in a range of other events and supported the introduction of the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act of 2018.
They have also reached out to a range of organizations and media outlets, including the website Yes2PR.org. Specific media coverage designed to “create awareness and change the narrative” has been built over the past year. The commission plans to focus on Hispanic and Spanish language media in the coming year.
The report concludes with a list of principles the commission plans to adhere to and to highlight in their work:
PRINCIPLES • Equal Representation: U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico must have equal voting representation in the federal government that enacts and executes the laws that we live under, so that we can contribute our perspectives to national political and policy decisions, and advocate for the needs challenges and aspirations of our island.
• Equal Rights & Responsibilities: We must ensure all U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as their fellow citizens in the states to obtain better and more abundant opportunities for island residents to flourish and thrive, and contribute equally to the Nation as a whole.
• Connected Families and Communities & Increased Commerce and Trade: Continue providing for and increase the free flow of capital, ideas, culture and people between Puerto Rico and the states to strengthen families and communities on both sides. Increase the capacity for Puerto Rico to be able to compete economically at the national and global level in a way that benefits both the states and the island through increased interstate commerce and international trade.
• 21st Century Infrastructure for Sustainable Economic Growth: A smart, sustainable and resilient infrastructure that meets the demands of a 21st century economy. Develop a vibrant diversified economy that incorporates technology and innovation, can create jobs and sustain growth.
• Fiscal Responsibility & Government Efficiency: A fiscally sound and transparent government that is efficient and responsive to the needs of the population and can facilitate private sector growth.
• Partnership with State and Federal Governments: A strong partnership with federal and state stakeholders to ensure the effective and efficient use of federal and state resources, programs through coordination, cooperation and accountability.
There are extensive appendices with documents and references supporting the report, including the rules by which the Commission operates and the press received or created by the Commission.