Puerto Rico has three dominant political parties rather than the two major national parties which are of primary importance in the 50 states. However, the Democratic and Republican parties also have a presence in Puerto Rico. Perhaps more importantly, both hold official positions on Puerto Rico’s status and have typically announced those positions every four years in Party platforms.
The 2020 Democratic Party Platform
The Democratic Party drafted a new party platform on July 27, 2020. Puerto Rico is mentioned several times.
“We must lead the world in taking on the climate crisis, not deny the science and accelerate the damage,” the document says. “From Houston, Texas, to Mexico Beach, Florida; from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Davenport, Iowa, the last four years have seen record-breaking storms, devastating wildfires, and historic floods.”
The inclusion of Puerto Rico and its needs is heartening. However, the platform stops short of calling for equality for the territory.
The section of the platform specifically about Puerto Rico is called “The people of Puerto Rico deserve self-determination on the issue of status.” Since the people of Puerto Rico have already voted twice for statehood and are prepared for a yes/no vote in November, this claim appears to be recognizing the current reality rather than moving forward to address Puerto Rico’s colonial status.
“Disaster response in Puerto Rico must be given the same priority and be conducted on the same basis as federal responses to natural disasters elsewhere in the United States. We will forgive disaster relief loans issued to Puerto Rican municipalities following Hurricanes Irma and Maria to help expedite the island’s economic recovery.”
The section continues, “The unequal treatment of Puerto Rico’s residents must end. We will invest in the island’s future through economic development initiatives, increased education funding, construction of affordable housing, and innovative energy and climate resilience programs. Democrats support accelerating access to disaster recovery funds so the island can improve its infrastructure and transform itself into one of the fastest-growing, most prosperous parts of the United States. We also believe Puerto Rico should be treated equally with respect to federal programs, including Medicaid, SNAP, and the Child Tax Credit.”
There is no further discussion of the issue of status, though the section finishes up with a commitment to dismantle the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board.
The next section of the platform is called, “Supporting the U.S. Territories.” It does not include Puerto Rico. In fact, since it lists the other four inhabited territories and does not include Puerto Rico in its list of territories, the platform gives the appearance that Democrats do not accept that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory.
Yet the statement in the territories section also applies to Puerto Rico. “The people of the U.S. territories have played a vital role in American democracy for more than 120 years, and have for too long been met with unequal treatment by the federal government,” the document continues. “We support establishing a Congressional task force to gather findings on voting rights in the territories, and recommend changes to Congress to allow for the full and equal voting rights of U.S. citizens who are residents of the territories in federal elections, and for full and equal voting representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. The American citizens of the U.S. territories should have the right to vote for President of the United States. Democrats will support self-determination for the people of the U.S territories, including respecting their right to decide their future status in a fair, binding, and equitable manner.”
The 2016 Democratic Party Platform
Calling for voting rights and full legislative representation for Guam and the US Virgin Islands, but not for Puerto Rico, seems like a surprising turn for the Democratic Party.
The 2016 platform was quite different.
Fighting for the People of Puerto Rico
And we are committed to addressing the extraordinary challenges faced by our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico. Many stem from the fundamental question of Puerto Rico’s political status. Democrats believe that the people of Puerto Rico should determine their ultimate political status from permanent options that do not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the United States. Democrats are committed to promoting economic opportunity and good-paying jobs for the hardworking people of Puerto Rico. We also believe that Puerto Ricans must be treated equally by Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs that benefit families. Puerto Ricans should be able to vote for the people who make their laws, just as they should be treated equally. All American citizens, no matter where they reside, should have the right to vote for the President of the United States. Finally, we believe that federal officials must respect Puerto Rico’s local self-government as laws are implemented and Puerto Rico’s budget and debt are restructured so that it can get on a path towards stability and prosperity.
The 2016 platform called for voting rights for all U.S. citizens, and for equality for Puerto Rico.
Earlier Democratic Party platforms have also spoken up for Puerto Rico and the other territories, though in different terms. In 2000, for example, the platform made this statement:
Just as our country has been the chief apostle of democracy in the world, we must lead by example at home. This begins with our nation’s capital. The citizens of the District of Columbia are entitled to autonomy in the conduct of their civic affairs, full political representation as Americans who are fully taxed, and statehood. Puerto Rico has been under U.S. sovereignty for over a century and Puerto Ricans have been U.S. Citizens since 1917, but the island’s ultimate status still has not been determined and its 3.9 million residents still do not have voting representation in their national government. These disenfranchised Citizens – who have contributed greatly to our country in war and peace – are entitled to the permanent and fully democratic status of their choice. Democrats will continue to work in the White House and Congress to clarify the options and enable them to choose and to obtain such a status from among all realistic options. Democrats believe the people of Guam, American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands have a right to be fully self-governing. We are committed to fair treatment in economic and social policies as well as improvement in federal-territorial relations in accordance with the needs of each area. Elected representatives of these areas will be regularly consulted on policies, laws, and treaties that affect the areas and we will ensure fair treatment for our fellow Citizens in the territories.
The Republican Party Platform
The Republican Party decided not to draft a new platform this year, citing the pandemic as the reason.
The 2016 party platform was very bold in its treatment of Puerto Rico.
The Territory of Puerto Rico
We support the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state. We further recognize the historic significance of the 2012 local referendum in which a 54 percent majority voted to end Puerto Rico’s current status as a U.S. territory, and 61 percent chose statehood over options for sovereign nationhood. We support the federally sponsored political status referendum authorized and funded by an Act of Congress in 2014 to ascertain the aspirations of the people of Puerto Rico. Once the 2012 local vote for statehood is ratified, Congress should approve an enabling act with terms for Puerto Rico’s future admission as the 51st state of the Union.
However, the Republican Party has traditionally supported statehood for Puerto Rico. For example, this is the statement on the Island from the 1944 Republican Party platform:
Statehood is a logical aspiration of the people of Puerto Rico who were made citizens of the United States by Congress in 1917; legislation affecting Puerto Rico, in so far as feasible, should be in harmony with the realization of that aspiration.
In 1968, the Republican Party platform said, “We will support the efforts of the Puerto Rican people to achieve statehood when they freely request such status by a general election.”
The 2000 Republican Party Platform was similar to the current platform, though it naturally did not mention the 21st century plebiscites:
We support the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state after 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 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 United States government.