Some 10 members of the Puerto Rico Pro-Statehood Veterans Commission, a group of Puerto Rican veterans, are visiting congressional offices this week to deliver a simple message: They defended democracy for the United States abroad and now they want it at home.
Because the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is a territory and not a State, the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico do not have an essential element of democracy: voting representation in the government that makes and implements their national laws (and can make their local laws if it wishes). The 3.6 million people of Puerto Rico — U.S. citizens by birth in the territory — do not have representatives in the U.S. Senate and in the election of the president and vice-president of the U.S. and have a sole representative in the U.S. House of Representatives — instead of five — who can only vote at the committee level.
Additionally, Puerto Rico along with the 2012 elections, voted to petition the President and the Congress of the U.S. to begin the territory’s transition to statehood.
One of the veterans lobbying this week was wounded in Iraq in 2005. He is confined to a wheelchair as a result of a homemade bomb used in unconventional warfare. He is currently awaiting surgery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Although he is limited in his ability to participate in the outreach, he “is making a huge effort to be part of this,” according to a source close to the group.
The other veterans have traveled from Puerto Rico. One is a Purple Heart recipient, and all have engaged in combat for the United States.
Puerto Rico sends a disproportionate number of men and women to the U.S. military, and has done so for more than a century. Even when the U.S. military required Puerto Ricans to serve in segregated regiments, as soon as they were allowed to serve, the people of Puerto Rico volunteered in large numbers. More than 20,000 Puerto Rican men served in the Borinqueneers, an all-volunteer Puerto Rican regiment that served with distinction in the conflicts of the 20th century.
More statistics were cited by Jesus Hernandez Sanchez, counsel of the Puerto Rico Veterans Association, in testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources:
18,000 Puerto Ricans served in the United States armed forces in the First World War; 65,000 the Second World War, out of which 23 died in action; 61,000 during the Korean War, out of which 371 died in action. More than 3,000 were wounded in Korea; 48,000 [fought] in the Vietnam War, out of which 342 died in action and 3,000 were wounded.
U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Juan Torruella made the point even more boldly:
We cannot overlook, and in fact we should take judicial notice of, the many official actions of the United States in promoting democratic elections throughout the world – not the least of which is its support for the recently held national elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, places where thousands of U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico serve, at least twenty-five of whom have lost their lives in support of the rights of the citizens of those countries to vote. The situations in Iraq and Afghanistan present the further anomaly of two classes of U.S. citizens, both fighting and dying side by side, only one of which was able to vote for its Commander in Chief.
The Puerto Rico Pro-Statehood Veterans Commission is asking the U.S. government to respect the vote of 2012 and take action toward accepting Puerto Rico as a State of the Union.