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STATUS 101

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Puerto Rico (Maps)



[FLAGS]

Five equal horizontal bands of red (top and bottom) alternating with white; a blue isosceles triangle based on the hoist side bears a large, white, five-pointed star in the center; the white star symbolizes Puerto Rico; the three sides of the triangle signify the executive, legislative and judicial parts of the government; blue stands for the sky and the coastal waters; red symbolizes the blood shed by warriors, while white represents liberty, victory, and peace.

Puerto Rico Coat of Arms (1511-Present)

Great Seal of the "Commonwealth" of Puerto Rico


[POLITICAL PARTIES]

Partido Nuevo Progresista (New Progressive Party):

  • Short Form: PNP, Penepé, La Palma
  • Electoral Color: Blue
  • Philosophy: Puerto Rico should join the American union of states with all rights and responsibilities.
  • Strategy: win by super majority vote in a popular (simple majority rule) plebiscite.

Partido Popular Democratico (Popular Democratic Party):

  • Short Form: PPD, Populares, La Pava, Autonomistas
  • Electoral Color: Red
  • Philosophy: Puerto Rico should remain a territory belonging to the American union of states, but both sides should work toward “enhancement” of the territorial status.
  • Strategy: Continue to offer the “enhancements” and win by default due to inaction (Puerto Rico is already a territory).

Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño (Puerto Rican Independence Party):

  • Short Form: PIP, Independentistas, Pipiolos
  • Electoral Color: Green
  • Philosophy: Puerto Rico should be an independent republic leaving the door open to a future treaty of free association with the United States.
  • Strategy: Wait it out even if it takes 100 more years because only 3 percent of Puerto Ricans support independence, or convince Congress to grant Puerto Rico its independence unilaterally.

Movimiento Union Soberanista (Sovereign Union Movement):

  • Short Form: MUS, Soberanistas
  • Electoral Color: TBA
  • Philosophy: TBA
  • Strategy: TBA
[POLITICAL STATUS TIMELINE]

1508-1898 – Puerto Rico was a subjugated colony of the Empire of Spain.

1898 – Treaty of Paris of 1898 between the Kingdom of Spain and the United States ended the Spanish-American War; Puerto Rico became an American territory.

1900 – Foraker (Organic) Act established Puerto Rican citizenship and granted Puerto Rico a limited civilian government: a Governor, an Executive Council (cabinet), a Supreme Court, and judicial system appointed by the U.S. President, and a popularly elected Resident Commissioner 35-member House of Representatives. The Act made clear Congress intended fully to exercise its Territorial Clause powers.

1901 –The first five Insular Cases decided: Armstrong v. United States; De Lima v. Bidwell; Dooley v. United States; Downes v. Bidwell; and Huss v. New York and Porto Rico.

1917 – Jones-Shafroth Act granted Puerto Ricans statutory American citizenship (just in time to send Puerto Ricans to fight in WWI), provided for a popularly elected Senate, and established a Bill of Rights.

1922 – The last of the Insular Cases decided: Balzac v. People of Porto Rico.

1948 – Elective Governors Act of 1947 took effect; Puerto Ricans can elect a Puerto Rican governor.

1950 – Congress approved Public Law 81-600, which allowed Americans in Puerto Rico to draft their own constitution for self-government, but Congress retained all powers of the Territorial Clause.

1952 – Congress amended and approved the Puerto Rico Constitution. The Constitution of 1952 gave limited self-government to Puerto Rico, but Congress reserved plenary (total) powers over Puerto Rico. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Estado Libre Asociado) became the territory’s temporary status.

1967 – First locally sponsored plebiscite was held to solve the status question. Puerto Ricans chose from among three permanent options: statehood, independence, and commonwealth. (Now we know “Commonwealth” status cannot be permanent!) Commonwealth status wins with 60 percent of the vote. Independent- and statehood supporters boycotted the plebiscite.

1993 – Second locally sponsored plebiscite was held to solve the status question. Puerto   Ricans, again, chose from among three permanent options: statehood, independence, and enhanced commonwealth. (“Enhanced Commonwealth” is also territorial and cannot be permanent.) No permanent status option received a clear majority. Statehood and the    status quo received roughly 48- and 46 percent, respectively.

1998 – Third locally sponsored plebiscite was held to solve the status question. Puerto Ricans, now, chose from among five options: statehood, independence, commonwealth, free association, and none of the above, which received a majority of 50.3 percent. Statehood followed in second with 46.5 percent.

2008 – Puerto Rico’s statehood New Progressive Party ran on a status platform that promised a congressionally sponsored plebiscite to end the unequal Commonwealth status. The PNP won the 2008 elections by landslides: the governorship, the resident commission, super majorities in the Puerto Rico House and Senate, and 48 of the 78 mayorships throughout the territory.

2009 – Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi, introduced H.R. 2499, The Puerto Rico Democracy Act. This Act took real aim at the status question; it no longer placed the territorial, temporary Commonwealth status competing directly with the   permanent options. Thus, under the new scheme, it would take a majority of Puerto Ricans to consent to the territorial status before they could keep it. If a majority consented, it would also be temporary because another vote would be held every 8 years. If a majority supported a different status, then the permanent status option would be given to Puerto Ricans for selection. The permanent options are statehood, independence, and independence in free association. H.R. 2499 was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, but not before it was amended to include the non-permanent status of Commonwealth as a permanent option.

2010 – The President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status will issue its report in December. Who knows what the report will say, but Puerto Rico’s legislature will probably push a “Statehood vs. Independence” vote by early or mid-2001–simple because the U.S. Congress and the Office of the President cannot come up with a path for Puerto Rico. Again, Puerto Rico is on its own.

SOON – Puerto Ricans will vote on statehood or independence, and finally Puerto Rico will be free and sovereign.

[PAST PLEBISCITES/REFERENDA]

1967 1993 1998
“Commonwealth” 425,132 (60.4%) 826,326 (48.6%) 993 (0.06%)
Statehood 274,312 (39%) 788,296 (46.3%) 728,157 (46.49%)
Independence 4,248 (0.6%) 75,620 (4.4%) 39,838 (2.5%)
Free Association 4536 (0.29%)
None of the Above 787,900 (50.3%)
TURNOUT 66% 74% 71%
[FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS]

What is the Status Question?

Given that Puerto Rico’s current territorial status under the Commonwealth title is not a sovereign form of government and the U.S. Congress holds all power over said territory, Americans in Puerto Rico have to make a decision on which constitutionally viable, permanently sovereign form of government they want for their island. As recognized by the U.S. Constitution, which is the controlling legal document, there are only two permanent statuses available to the territory: statehood or independence. However, the real fight is between statehood and the territorial (colonial) status quo.

Have Puerto Ricans ever “voted down” statehood?

No. Puerto Ricans have been bamboozled into believing there is a status option that can grant them the benefits of independence AND statehood while choosing none. The “enhanced Commonwealth” idea is one that has been debunked by various Congresses and Administrations. The President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status reports of 2005 and 2007 have made it clear that the “Commonwealth” status is a temporary mechanism instituted under the U.S. Constitution, and that such mechanism cannot be turned into a sovereign status outside the Territorial Clause powers of Congress. When Puerto Ricans get to choose between real alternatives (statehood or independence) they will choose STATEHOOD.

Why does Puerto Rico need a process of decolonization?

For more than one hundred years, Puerto Rico has been a territory of the United States, subject to the sovereignty of Congress under the “Territorial Clause” of the Constitution (Article IV, § 3, clause 2) but denied representation in the federal government. In 1917, the Jones Act extended U.S. citizenship to the people of Puerto Rico. In 1952, the island became a “Commonwealth,” adopting a local Constitution and full local self-government, similar to that of the states. However, these changes did not address Puerto Rico’s lack of representation at the federal level: the nearly four million U.S. citizens who live in Puerto Rico are still subject to federal laws, yet they cannot elect voting representation in Congress or participate in presidential elections. All they have is a “Resident Commissioner,” who sits in the House, but is not allowed to vote on legislation. For this reason, Puerto Rico’s status is colonial: the people of Puerto Rico need a process of decolonization in order to make a transition out of their current colonial status, and into a status of full dignity and equality.

Isn’t it true that residents of Puerto Rico don’t vote because they don’t pay taxes?

Residents of Puerto Rico who are not federal employees, do not pay federal income taxes. They pay all other federal taxes, and they pay local taxes of rates as high as nearly 40%. While one might be tempted to view this as a fair trade-off, it is the position of most Puerto Ricans that an exemption from federal income taxation does not suffice to redress a lack of representation and a colonial status. For that reason, most Puerto Ricans favor a transition out of Puerto Rico’s current colonial status.

What are the political parties in Puerto Rico, and what status solution do they advocate?

There are four status political parties in Puerto Rico: the New Progressive Party (NPP) advocates statehood; the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) advocates “enhanced Commonwealth” status (explained below); the Sovereign Union Movement (MUS) advocates independence in free-association; and the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) advocates independence. Puerto Rico’s political parties do not divide along Democratic or Republican lines; instead, they divide based on status preference. Status is the major issue in Puerto Rico’s elections, has been throughout the 20th century, and will likely continue to be until Puerto Rico’s status problem is resolved. Indeed, in 1989 the leaders of all three political parties in Puerto Rico put aside their differences and approached Congress together to seek a resolution to the status dilemma.

Where do Republicans and Democrats stand on Puerto Rican Self-Determination?

Both parties have expressed their support for Puerto Ricans to exercise their right to decolonization. The following are the appropriate section from the respective 2000 party platforms:

Republican Party

“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 the 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.”

Democratic Party

“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 chose and to obtain such a status from among all realistic options.”

Didn’t the people of Puerto Rico vote to keep the current Commonwealth status?

No. Puerto Ricans have voted for “enhanced Commonwealth” – a status significantly different from the status quo – in two local plebiscites. The breakdown in these plebiscites was as follows: in 1967, 60.11% of the electorate voted for “enhanced Commonwealth,” 37.78% voted for statehood, and 0.60% voted for independence. In 1993, 48.58% voted for “enhanced Commonwealth,” 46.49% voted for statehood, and 2.54% voted for independence. In a third plebiscite, in 1998, the option that prevailed was “none of the above,” with 50.3% of the vote. At that time, 46.49% of the voters chose statehood, 2.54% chose independence, 0.29% chose Free Association, and 0.06% chose Commonwealth status, which was defined as “territorial” rather than “enhanced.”

What is “enhanced Commonwealth” status?

Most importantly, it is not the status quo. “Enhanced Commonwealth” status, an option supported by the pro-Commonwealth party of Puerto Rico, is intended to be an improved version of the current status. It seeks to combine the “best of both worlds”-that is, the best features of both statehood and independence, without the burdens of each of those options. Enhanced Commonwealth would include: an end to “territorial” status (the Territorial Clause would no longer apply); permanent union between Puerto Rico and the United States; a permanent guarantee of U.S. citizenship for persons born in Puerto Rico; federal benefits without federal income taxes; a power of the Puerto Rico legislature to enter into international treaties, as if it were an independent country; and a power of the Puerto Rico legislature to exercise a selective veto over federal laws. Under enhanced Commonwealth status, Puerto Rico and the United States would share sovereignty, as Congress does with the states. However, Puerto Rico’s special powers would give it greater sovereignty than a state, while U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico would still have no representation at the federal level. It is unlikely that Congress would, or even could, approve such a status.

Can the “Commonwealth” status be enhanced so that Puerto Ricans are sovereign?

No! Lipstick on the pig will not make it stop being a pig! As a matter of fact, Puerto Rico is currently in this political status crisis because the last 100 years have seen nothing but lipstick for the pig. The “Commonwealth” status is enhanced territorialism.

Why didn’t the U.S. Congress respond to the results of the 1967 and 1993 plebiscites?

The U.S. Congress has never spoken with one voice concerning the results of Puerto Rico’s plebiscites. Some members of Congress have raised questions about the constitutionality of enhanced Commonwealth status. For instance, the chairmen of two committees and two subcommittees with oversight of Puerto Rico wrote a letter in 1996 stating that the definition of Commonwealth on the 1993 ballot raised constitutional problems. In addition, the House passed decolonization legislation in 1998 (discussed below) which excluded “enhanced Commonwealth,” on the reasoning that the “best of both worlds” arrangement is not constitutional and the people must choose between statehood and separate sovereignty. However, the U.S. Senate failed to act and the legislation died at the end of the session. As a result, the U.S. Congress has effectively remained silent on the matter of Puerto Rico’s status.

Wasn’t the 1998 vote for “none of the above” a vote for the status quo?

It is impossible to say for certain what a vote for “none of the above” means. After the 1998 plebiscite, all sides claimed victory, yet nothing happened simply because the results of the plebiscite provided no mandate. If anything, the 1998 plebiscite is powerful evidence of the need for Congressional decolonization legislation clearly defining the status options.

Why should Congress define the status options?

The choice of an ultimate status option is up to the people of Puerto Rico. However, the voters cannot make an informed decision on status until they know the options and their consequences. So far, all of Puerto Rico’s plebiscites have been locally rather than federally enacted, with definitions provided by either the local political parties or the legislature. But only Congress has the answers to crucial questions. For instance, if Puerto Rico chose statehood, would Congress impose English-only requirements? Would federal income taxes apply immediately, or would they be phased in gradually? If Puerto Rico chose enhanced Commonwealth, would Congress implement it? Or would it continue to raise objections to its constitutionality? And if Puerto Rico chose independence, would persons currently holding U.S. citizenship by virtue of birth in Puerto Rico lose their citizenship? Would future generations born in Puerto Rico still acquire U.S. citizenship at birth? Would they be free to travel to or work in the United States? Only Congress can provide the answers to these and other important questions. Without these answers, the people of Puerto Rico cannot make an informed decision regarding their ultimate status. For this reason, Congress must pass decolonization legislation clearly defining the options.

Didn’t the U.S. House of Representatives pass decolonization legislation in 1998?

Yes, the House passed H.R. 856, the “U.S.-Puerto Rico Political Status Act” (also known as the “Young Bill”) on March 4, 1998 by a vote of 209-208. However, the bill died in the Senate. Even as it failed to take action, the Senate did pass a Unanimous Consent Resolution calling for a resolution to Puerto Rico’s status problem.

Didn’t some Puerto Ricans oppose H.R. 856?

Yes. In Puerto Rico, both the pro-statehood NPP and the pro-independence PIP supported H.R. 856. However, the PDP opposed the bill because it excluded the “enhanced Commonwealth” option. During hearings on the bill, all of the political parties in Puerto Rico were asked to submit definitions of their preferred status options. However, the drafters of the bill ultimately agreed with the view that the “enhanced Commonwealth” option raises constitutional problems and should not be offered. Instead, the bill offered statehood, independence, and free association as final status options. It also offered the current, territorial Commonwealth status as a transitional option, which would require another plebiscite every ten years. As a result, the PDP, which supports enhanced Commonwealth and believes it to be constitutional, opposed the bill.

Puerto Rico’s colonial status must come to an end, and that this can only happen with federal decolonization legislation providing for a federal plebiscite with clearly defined status options. This in turn will require Congress to answer numerous questions, including not only whether “enhanced Commonwealth” as defined by the PDP is constitutionally possible, but also whether Congress would be willing to grant statehood to Puerto Rico. Under international law (and Congressional policy), Puerto Rico may choose independence at any time. However, because both enhanced Commonwealth and statehood would involve permanent union with the United States, both Congress and Puerto Rico must agree to accept and implement either one of these options. If it is Congress’ conclusion that enhanced Commonwealth is not constitutional, Congress must say so clearly, and that option must not be offered on a plebiscite ballot. Similarly, if Congress is not willing to grant statehood, Congress must say so clearly, and that option must not be offered on a plebiscite ballot. Otherwise, a federally enacted plebiscite would become just another opinion poll without consequences, as has been the case with every status plebiscite in Puerto Rico thus far.

Is Puerto Rico’s current status, listed as commonwealth, a position that represents the voice of its citizens?

All political parties reject the current status and Puerto Rico’s last local plebiscite illustrated less that 0.06% of the population supports the current status.

How much would Puerto Rico cost the federal government if it were a state?

There is very little information on the matter, but something remains true for all 37 territories that became states (albeit after the original thirteen colonies): each experienced a massive economic boom in almost every economic sector. If Puerto Rico were to become a state, then two things would almost certainly happen: 1) immediately after the statehood vote, Puerto Rico would enjoy certain congressionally approved benefits to help it transition economically into a state–that would cost, but not much more than what Puerto Rico gets under the current stagnant “Commonwealth” system. Second, after a decade-long transition period, Puerto Rico’s economy should experience enough sustained growth to enter into all the obligations of a state. Puerto Rico currently has plenty of room for growth, and arguing that “Puerto Rico is too poor to be a state” should be changed for “Puerto Rico is too poor because it is not a state.” The most complete objective assessment available is a book called “Pay to the Order of Puerto Rico.” (PDF COPY AVAILABLE FOR FREE; SEE BELOW IN “MUST AXXESS FILES” BOX.)


[DEMOGRAPHICS]
Population:
Total: 3,966,213 (July 2010 est.)
Age Structure:
Total: 3,966,213 (July 2010 est.)
0-14 years: 19.8% (male 402,473/female 384,655)
15-64 years: 66.1% (male 1,260,191/female 1,361,359)
65 years and over: 14.1% (male 239,957/female 317,578) (2010 est.)
Median Age:
Total: 36.8 years
Male: 35 years
Female: 38.5 years (2010 est.)
Population Growth:
Total: 0.298% (2010 est.)
Birth Rate:
Total: 11.72 births/1,000 population (2010 est.)
Death Rate:
Total: 7.78 deaths/1,000 population (July 2010 est.)
[GEOGRAPHIC INFORMATION]
Area:
Total: 13,790 sq km (~9,200 sq mi; slightly less than three times the size of Rhode Island)
Country comparison to the world: 162
Land: 8,870 sq km
Water: 4,921 sq km
[GOVERNMENT]

Three-Branch Government
Legislative:
Bicameral Legislative Assembly consists of the Senate (at least 27 seats; members directly elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms) and the House of Representatives (51 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms).
Election results (2008): Senate – percent of vote by party – PNP 81.5%, PPD 18.5%; seats by party – PNP 22, PPD 5; House of Representatives – percent of vote by party – PNP 72.5%, PPD 27.5%; seats by party – PNP 37, PPD 14.
Note: Puerto Rico elects, by popular vote, a resident commissioner to serve a four-year term as a nonvoting representative in the US House of Representatives; aside from not voting on the House floor, he enjoys all the rights of a member of Congress.
Executive:
Chief of State: President Barack H. Obama; Vice President Joseph R. Biden.
Head of Government: Governor Luis Fortuno.
Cabinet: Appointed by the governor with the consent of the legislature.
Elections: Under the US Constitution, residents of unincorporated territories, such as Puerto Rico, do not vote in elections for US president and vice president; however, they may vote in Democratic and Republican party presidential primary elections; governor elected by popular vote for a four-year term (no term limits)
Election results: Luis Fortuno elected governor with 52.8% of the vote.
Judicial:
U.S. Supreme Court; PR Supreme Court; Appellate Court; Court of First Instance composed of two sections: a Superior Court and a Municipal Court (justices for all these courts appointed by the governor with the consent of the Senate).
Local Governments:
Territory has no first-order administrative divisions (Counties) as defined by the US Government, but there are 78 municipalities (municipios, singular – municipio) at the second order: Adjuntas, Aguada, Aguadilla, Aguas Buenas, Aibonito, Anasco, Arecibo, Arroyo, Barceloneta, Barranquitas, Bayamon, Cabo Rojo, Caguas, Camuy, Canovanas, Carolina, Catano, Cayey, Ceiba, Ciales, Cidra, Coamo, Comerio, Corozal, Culebra, Dorado, Fajardo, Florida, Guanica, Guayama, Guayanilla, Guaynabo, Gurabo, Hatillo, Hormigueros, Humacao, Isabela, Jayuya, Juana Diaz, Juncos, Lajas, Lares, Las Marias, Las Piedras, Loiza, Luquillo, Manati, Maricao, Maunabo, Mayaguez, Moca, Morovis, Naguabo, Naranjito, Orocovis, Patillas, Penuelas, Ponce, Quebradillas, Rincon, Rio Grande, Sabana Grande, Salinas, San German, San Juan, San Lorenzo, San Sebastian, Santa Isabel, Toa Alta, Toa Baja, Trujillo Alto, Utuado, Vega Alta, Vega Baja, Vieques, Villalba, Yabucoa, and Yauco.
[ECONOMIC]
Overview:
Puerto Rico has one of the most dynamic economies in the Caribbean region. A diverse industrial sector has far surpassed agriculture as the primary locus of economic activity and income. Encouraged by duty-free access to the US and by tax incentives, US firms have invested heavily in Puerto Rico since the 1950s. US minimum wage laws apply. Sugar production has lost out to dairy production and other livestock products as the main source of income in the agricultural sector. Tourism has traditionally been an important source of income with estimated arrivals of more than 3.6 million tourists in 2008. Growth fell off in 2001-03, largely due to the slowdown in the US economy, recovered in 2004-05, but declined again in 2006-09.

Puerto Rico GDP, 2001 (~$68 Billion)

Puerto Rico GDP, 2001 (Relevant Comparison)

GDP:
$67.82 billion (2009 est.)
$70.45 billion (2008 est.)
$72.5 billion (2007 est.)
note: data are in 2009 US dollars
Labor Force:
Agriculture: 2.1%
Industry: 19%
Services: 79% (2005 est.)
Industries:
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