Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Congress’

Why U.S. Statehood for Puerto Rico is Inevitable

In Citizenship Equality, Commentary and Analysis, Enemies of Equality, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Democracy Act, Puerto Rico Independence, Puerto Rico Statehood, Self-Determination, Soberanistas vs. Autonomistas, The Big Lie: The PPD's "Commonwealth" on September 26, 2012 at 2:21 PM

THE FOLLOWING ESSAY is from ABC-CLIO‘s World Geography: Understanding a Changing World website

By Javier Arvelo-Cruz-Santana

Puerto Ricans have repeatedly made clear that their American citizenship is non-negotiable. Successive presidents and Congresses have elucidated their official welcome to Puerto Rico as a state if petitioned. The commitment to the union and its ideals borne out in the prolific participation of Puerto Ricans in the armed forces is a matter of record. Both major mainland political parties have enshrined their support of Puerto Rico’s right to statehood in their respective platforms. The precipitous decline in support for the “Commonwealth” has been well documented since the early 1990s.[1] The notion of an “enhanced Commonwealth” status is universally rejected by both chambers of Congress, various presidential reports, and the U.S. Department of Justice. Similarly, Puerto Ricans have rejected sovereignty through independence or free association. The original intent of the U.S. territorial status as temporary has regained its currency and recognition. Inviolable, natural American citizenship is now inextricably coupled with the Puerto Rican desire to be free and equal, and participate in their national government. In so doing, Puerto Ricans will finally control their political, economic, civic, and legal destinies.

These facts necessarily lead reasonable observers to conclude that the small-in-size, but big-in-population archipelago inevitably will become America’s 51st state.


Congress holds, under the U.S. Constitution’s Territorial Clause, all powers over Puerto Rico. When the first Congress established the  Northwest Ordinance (1787) to manage the first of many organized territories, it worked to design a blueprint for administering the powers derived from the Territorial Clause. In Puerto Rico’s case, a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases between 1901 and 1922, known as the Insular Cases, distorted the traditional territory-to-statehood trajectory partly for socio-cultural, religious, and ethnic reasons.

Puerto Rico still struggles with the residue of those biased distortions, mainly the Supreme Court’s concoction of the idea of unincorporated territories “appurtenant and belonging to the United States, but not a part of the United States.”[2] Before these rulings, every organized territory under the power of the federal government was understood to be on its way to statehood, as territorial status was considered temporary tutelage in republican democracy and economic development. When the residents of a territory with a large-enough population organized a republican system of government, they could petition for admission to the union and Congress would accept them as equals. Things rapidly changed when the U.S. territorial expansion that began with the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and continued with Manifest Destiny through the Mexican-American War (1848) culminated with the acquisition of Pacific and Caribbean islands after the short-lived Spanish-American War (1898). Despite these now-moot, radical decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, Puerto Rico remains an exemplary candidate for statehood. Puerto Rico will be the next state precisely because the Americans of the territory want U.S. citizenship in perpetuity and equality in benefits and responsibilities (as all free people do), and the federal government supports the goal, following Puerto Ricans’ petition.

Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States more than a century ago after the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1898)[3] with the Kingdom of Spain. After American forces landed in Guánica Bay and wrested control of the small archipelago from Spain, most Puerto Ricans welcomed the Americans not as occupiers but as liberators. That sense of liberation was buttressed by the words of General Nelson A. Miles upon the American arrival on July 25, 1898: “We have not come to make war upon the people of a country that for centuries has been oppressed, but . . . to bring you protection . . . to promote your prosperity, and to bestow upon you the immunities and blessings of the liberal institutions of our Government [emphasis added].”[4]

Despite the promises of “protection,” “prosperity,” and “immunities and blessings,” the sovereign power of Congress over Puerto Rico has remained unchanged since. Though afforded enfranchisement through limited local self-government in 1952, 3.7 million Puerto Ricans remain subordinate to laws enacted by Congress without their participation. The “Commonwealth” status, translated by island-based supporters as “Free Associated State,” is neither free, nor associated, nor a state, and cannot provide citizenship equality with full democratic rights. Puerto Rico can only attain equality through the attainment of statehood, which brings proportionate voting representation in Congress and the right to vote for electors in the presidential election. There can be no political or citizenship equality within the union without statehood.


Myths and lies abound about Puerto Rico’s status and are put forward with the purpose of denying equality to Puerto Rico to benefit a few who have found it politically convenient, and others who find it impermissible. Although U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans are routinely linked to immigration and assimilation debates they should not be subjected to, with the intention of marginalizing island residents who are overwhelmingly Hispanic. Puerto Ricans are Americans, residing on American soil, and citizens since 1917 who have fought alongside their mainland fellow citizens. Only a small minority in Puerto Rico would readily discard U.S. citizenship for political independence, but island-based supporters of the territorial status seek to protect the status quo for narrow political and economic ends, and a majority of them would never discard their American citizenship.

Puerto Rico’s American citizenship has three unpalatable classes. Though granted statutory citizenship in 1917—meaning by act of Congress, not by the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment—Congress passed and President Harry Truman signed a law on June 27, 1952,[5] that retroactively declared all persons born in Puerto Rico on or after January 13, 1941, to be natural-born U.S. citizens and all persons born between April 11, 1899, and January 12, 1941, to be statutory citizens of the United States as of January 13, 1941.

Thus, one can argue, there are three classes of American citizenship in Puerto Rico. Someone born before 1941 remains a statutory citizen and Congress can take that citizenship away. Comprising the second class are persons born in Puerto Rico who have natural citizenship that Congress cannot take away through law, but who reside in the island without full political rights. Finally, first-class-citizenship Puerto Ricans are those born in Puerto Rico and who for various reasons—principally economic exile—decide to relocate to a state; they enjoy full political equality as bona fide residents of the states.

A further argument can be made that yet a fourth class exists: that of the Puerto Rican unborn, whose impermanent citizenship rests in the hands of future Congresses. This is one of the embroiling differences between a U.S. state and an “unincorporated” territory.

Language & Culture

Arguments offered by opponents of statehood—in the pro-status quo Popular Democratic Party (PPD) and on the mainland—mislead the uninformed, lack foundation, and are often intellectually dishonest. Equality opponents cite Spanish as an obstacle to statehood, a position for which there is no precedent in the admission of new states. Supporters of English-only claim it would protect America’s linguistic culture. Both opponents of statehood and supporters of English-only misrepresent their intentions.

Hawai’i is an officially bilingual state. The States of Maine and Louisiana have no official language, but recognize English and French. New Mexico publishes government documents in English and Spanish. Alaska recognizes Native languages. California has official English, but recognizes eight languages for government documentation, nine languages for a commercial driver’s license, and an outstanding 32 languages for a regular driver’s license. Arizona has made English official but recognizes a variety of Native languages for elections. The States of New Mexico, Rhode Island, Oregon, and Washington promote multiple languages through “English Plus.”[6] The 2010 federal Census was made available in over 60 languages.

Puerto Rico is officially bilingual since 1902, and its constitution is written and its laws promulgated in English and Spanish. No state officially recognized English before Puerto Rico! In fact, most states with “official” English have carved out many exceptions required by statute, state constitutions, and/or the U.S. Constitution. Ultimately, most state-based official English laws simply require state governments to print and promulgate their official business in English, at least.

Many states have adopted English as their official language, others have chosen not to adopt an official language, a few have recognized multiple, and one is officially bilingual. As such, choice of official language is an established states’ right. Multitudes of communities throughout the country speak languages other than English without detriment to the national or state social identity.

Opposition to Puerto Rican statehood based on sociological cohesion among island Americans conveniently overlooks that Puerto Rican self-identity is as strong as it was in 1898, and that culture is not static. Puerto Ricans pride themselves in their multicultural ancestry, and have absorbed as much American culture in the last century as they did Caribbean and Spanish culture during the 400-year-long Spanish domination.

Opponents of statehood suggest that social and cultural identity are barriers to statehood and suggest Puerto Ricans could never integrate successfully, ignoring the fact that California, Vermont, and Texas were independent countries, and Hawai’i an independent kingdom, with non-English-speaking populations before their admission as states. To pretend that their identity, culture, language, and nationhood were impediments to their successful integration belie the facts![7]

Neither language nor social identity has ever been a prerequisite for statehood. Rather, a working government and population size have, and Puerto Rico more than meets those requirements. The local economy is what Puerto Ricans have not been able to build to the fullest under the deficient, territorial “Commonwealth” status. That is a problem.

Territorial Economics

While congressional process is integral to ending territorialism in Puerto Rico, the economic promise and benefits of statehood for all Americans cannot be understated. In 2009, federal transfer payments to Puerto Rico cost mainland taxpayers over $22 billion—over $400 per household[8]—and another $11 billion in tax expenditures for mainland and foreign corporate interests on the island. Though economic advances were made after the 1950s, growth has been flat since the 1980s, and the uncertainty of the island’s territorial status is to blame. Some argue federal taxes in Puerto Rico would sink the local economy, but do not mention the disproportionately high local taxes, their effects on the economy, and most importantly the federal income tax thresholds. Once the federal income tax system is integrated, local taxes will require adjustment to rebalance taxpayer burden.

Like mainland taxpayers, Puerto Ricans participate in the federal payroll tax system, which funds Social Security and Medicare. Statehood will alleviate the public costs of inequity with an initial infusion of federal funding, which will be reciprocated to the U.S. Treasury as island-based corporations and individuals pay federal taxes after statehood.

Americans in Puerto Rico do not get their proportionate share of federal healthcare,[9] transportation, or infrastructure funding. For example, Puerto Rico gets 50% of its Medicaid funding from the federal government; if it were a state, the federal formula would award the maximum 83%. Simultaneously, Puerto Rico operates quasi-independently of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) structure with a patchwork of preferential tax treatments for various commercial interests that cost mainland taxpayers billions per year. Territorialism imposes artificial constraints on the island’s economy. With parity, Puerto Rico will be able to manage its economic future with reliability the “Commonwealth” cannot supply. Statehood will reduce the unbalanced fiscal burdens that the “Commonwealth” status forces all Americans to endure, and it will progressively produce billions for the U.S. Treasury.

Statehood for Puerto Rico will not be a burden to Americans on the island or the mainland. Besides, if it were, for justice it should be viewed as the inevitable result of a century of neglect in territorial limbo. Regardless, any “extra fiscal burden” will be short-lived because it is indisputable that territorial economies—after statehood—experience faster-than-average economic growth.[10]

If Puerto Rico had chosen statehood in 1952, instead of “Commonwealth,” by 1994 island real per capita income would have been—conservatively—at least $6,000 higher, or $13,000.[11] Nevertheless, if the island had chosen statehood in 1993, the per capita income would have increased over $8,000 by 2010 and another $15,000 by the year 2025—all in addition to the anemic growth under “Commonwealth.” In other words, if statehood had been achieved in 1994, when the real per capita income of the island territory was $7,000, by 2010 the island’s real per capita income of a little over $16,000 would have stood at about $24,000. That same year, 2010, Mississippi had a per capita income of roughly $31,000, or 93% higher than Puerto Rico’s[12]. In 2010, Mississippi would still have outranked Puerto Rico as a state, but remarkably by only 29%. This “economic opportunity gap” is the direct result of the “Commonwealth” status, sustained by its creators and defenders in the Popular Democratic Party.

‘Commonwealth’ & the PPD

“Commonwealth” status won the 1967 referendum with 60.4% of the vote, and though supporters of statehood boycotted the plebiscite, statehood garnered 39% and independence 0.6%. In 1993, “Commonwealth” won a plurality of the vote with 48.6%, statehood 46.3%, and independence 4.4%. Notably, it was the first time a majority of Puerto Ricans voted against territorial status. By 1998, the territorial option had dwindled to a 0.06% share of the vote with statehood garnering the plurality among the permanent options with 46.49%, independence with 2.5%, and independence in free association with 0.29%. “None of the Above” captured a 50.3% majority.

The pro-status quo PPD, founded in 1938, evolved from an independence party. In the lead-up to the adoption of the local constitution approved by Congress, Luis Muñoz Marín, the charismatic leader of the PPD, settled the fight between the sides that advocated statehood or independence for the island. Muñoz Marín proposed a temporary compromise—the “Commonwealth” status—through which Puerto Rico could build up its government institutions, lagging economy, and civic strength so that at a not-too-distant future, a choice could be made between statehood and independence. Muñoz Marín’s plan succeeded. In 1948, he became the island’s first popularly elected governor since Christopher Columbus claimed the island on behalf of the Spanish Empire in 1493.

Muñoz Marín served four four-year terms as governor. In that longest-of-gubernatorial-reigns, he worked to consolidate power to make his party indispensable to Puerto Ricans. From the beginning, Governor Muñoz Marín decided that the temporary “Commonwealth” status was to remain in place permanently, so the PPD began a campaign to build the arguments in favor. First, the PPD embarked on a scheme to portray the “Commonwealth” status as permanent. In fact, four years later, in 1952, when Congress allowed the island a local constitution, he lobbied Congress to name the new status the “Free Associated State of Puerto Rico,” which the Congress rejected as misleading. Having failed to garner congressional support, the governor used the English-Spanish language divide to promote the misleading title in the island. He chose the word “Commonwealth,” which in English is devoid of meaning as a political status, but once in Puerto Rico, the constitutional convention decided to use “Free Associated State” as the name for the “new” entity.

Subsequently, the PPD leadership moved to build the now-universally-rejected argument that Puerto Rico stopped being a territory of the United States under the Territorial Clause. Their argument’s central point was that Congress ceded its plenary powers over the territory. Simultaneously, dissatisfaction with the “Commonwealth” status began to simmer as the local economy stagnated. Immediately, the PPD began its now-infamous campaign of “enhancement,” which promised Puerto Ricans that the PPD would convince Congress to grant more local autonomy. Congress rejected the idea, stating that the territorial status will remain as is—no more, no less. The PPD still promises “enhanced Commonwealth” as an “acceptable solution,” while continuing to claim (erroneously at best, misleadingly at worst) that Puerto Rico has a bilateral treaty with the U.S.

To add insult to injury, the PPD now rejects any plebiscite put before the people of Puerto Rico. It is clear its leadership is content to keep a majority of Puerto Ricans under the territorial status. Surely, a minority in Puerto Rico does not have the democratic right or the moral authority to keep a majority of its compatriots under the shackles of inequality and the shadow of economic stagnation. That the “Commonwealth” status has cost Puerto Rican families thousands of dollars in economic growth is irrefutable.


Admission to the union does not require extraordinary constitutional measures; neither constitutional amendment nor state convention is required. Statehood merely requires petition, simple majorities in Congress, and the president’s signature on a Statehood Enabling Act. The fact is that after the original 13 colonies, Congress has admitted 37 states and has never refused a petition for statehood. Though it did temporarily ignore eight requests for admission, those states joined through the now-famous Tennessee Plan.

Puerto Ricans have contributed significantly to all facets of American national life and have served in all branches of the armed forces.  Puerto Rico’s participation in the military is one of the highest among the states, yet hundreds of thousands of island veterans do not share the equal rights enjoyed by their mainland counterparts. Unequal citizenship is the result of continued territorial status and the absence of equal representation in Congress. Puerto Ricans elect one delegate with no voting rights to the House of Representatives instead of a full, voting delegation of up to five representatives. They remain voiceless in the U.S. Senate. Without voting representation, Puerto Ricans do not have a say as to whether their sons and daughters will fight wars approved by Congress; similarly, they cannot vote for their commander-in-chief.

That Puerto Ricans have demonstrated their commitment to the United States during this longest-of-territorial-relationships is undeniable. To suggest that a lower class of citizenship is acceptable by virtue of limited self-governance must be anathema to the just principle of equity. That suggestion belongs to times in our national history when paternalism and bigotry once held that minorities desired to be led by others and had neither capacity nor yearning for political rights and empowerment. Such beliefs are unacceptable and opposed to America’s values and principles.

“Almost complete administrative autonomy,” as the PPD claims, cannot supplant full citizenship equality, for the price of being a democratically deficient colony and an economically starved society already has proven too heavy a price. The peddled notion that Puerto Rico should not concern itself with the status issue because of the “more pressing” social issues facing residents exposes the intellectual disconnect the PPD manipulates and exploits. The brain drain, crime, and continued destruction of the social fabric in Puerto Rico due to the lack of economic progress is the true threat to the very society the PPD pretends to defend through its obstruction. The fact is these problems—as serious as they are—are but acute symptoms of a chronic disease called “Commonwealth” status, which is territorial and has stagnated Puerto Rico’s economic progress to the detriment of multiple generations of American citizens. Worse, it continues to give them an uncertain future.

Justice dictates that equal rights and citizenship should not be usurped by intellectual dishonesty. Language, culture, and geography have never been prerequisites for the admission of states; rather, commitments to republican governance, democratic principles, patriotism, population size, and economic considerations have. Puerto Rico meets all those necessary requirements to become the 51st state. Absent statehood, Puerto Rico can never be equal under the U.S. Constitution and will never attain economic parity with the states. Americans in Puerto Rico deserve equal citizenship, democratic and civil rights, and a sovereign voice in their political and economic futures. Equality through statehood, now!


[1]    To see the decline of the “Commonwealth” option’s favorability through the three status plebiscites held in Puerto Rico, visit:

1967    <http://eleccionespuertorico.org/cgi-bin/events.cgi?evento=1967>,
1993    <http://eleccionespuertorico.org/cgi-bin/events.cgi?evento=1993>,
1998    <http://eleccionespuertorico.org/cgi-bin/events.cgi?evento=1998>.

[2]    Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244 (1901) and Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298 (1922).

[3]    A Treaty of Peace Between the United States and Spain, U.S. Congress, 55th Cong., 3d sess., Senate Doc. No. 62, Part 1 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1899), 5-11.

[4]    Karl Stephen Herrman, A Recent Campaign in Puerto Rico by the Independent Regular Brigade under the Command of Brigadier General Schwan (Boston: E. H. Bacon, 1907), 10.

[5]    Persons Born in Puerto Rico on or After April 11, 1899. United States Code, Title 8, Chapter 12, Subchapter III, Part I, § 1402.

[6]    Statement of Purpose: Founding document of the English Plus Information Clearinghouse, EPIC, accessed March 18, 2012, <http://www.massenglishplus.org/mep/engplus.html>.

[7]    Of course, it would be a bit disingenuous to say California was a republic without mentioning the fact that the “Bear Republic” lasted less than a month; however, the fact that the land and many of its inhabitants pre-statehood felt and were different: they  were Californianos! In much the same fashion, the people of Texas to this day feel “American” but also strongly “Texan.”

[8]    Alexander Odishelidze and Arthur Laffer, Pay to the Order of Puerto Rico (Fairfax: Allegiance Press, 2005), 11.

[9]    Kathryn G. Allen, U.S. Insular Areas: Multiple Factors Affect Federal Health Care Funding, (Washington, D.C.: Government Accountability Office, October 2005) <http://www.gao.gov/assets /250/248141.pdf>.

[10]    Glenn P. Jenkins and J. Tomas Hexner, Puerto Rico: The Economics of Status (The Citizens Educational Foundation, 1994), 11-20.

[11]    Ibid., 18.

[12]    Personal Income and Per Capita Personal Income, by State and Region, 2006-2010, Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed March 3, 2012, <http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/regional/ spi/2011/xls/spi0311.xls>.

“Why U.S. Statehood for Puerto Rico is Inevitable.” World Geography: Understanding a Changing World. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 26 Sept. 2012.

Three-Way Fight: Statehood vs. Independence vs. … Independence?

In Citizenship Equality, Commentary and Analysis, Enemies of Equality, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Independence, Puerto Rico Statehood, Self-Determination, Soberanistas vs. Autonomistas, The Big Lie: The PPD's "Commonwealth" on August 26, 2012 at 4:00 PM
How Puerto Rico’s Plebiscite Unfairly Opens the Back Door to an Unwanted Status

The latest status plebiscite in Puerto Rico will be held on Election Day (November 6, 2012). On that day, the people of the American territory will be asked to vote “yes,” or “no” on whether to keep the current territorial “Commonwealth” status. A “yes” vote would perpetuate the current unequal, colonial status; a “no” vote would reject, but would not end, the colonial “Commonwealth” status per se. To do that, the voters will have to answer a second question on the same ballot: which sovereign option do you want?—statehood, independence, or … independence!

Yes, the “independence” option appears twice. Why?

First, let us ask a different question: what is the purpose of all these plebiscites we all hear about?

The answer: to terminate a territorial status that very few in Puerto Rico believe in, and to achieve sovereignty for the people of the island. “Sovereignty,” as such, is the power of a people to make decisions about its own political future without the interference of outsiders. Sounds like “independence,” huh? Well, the American system operates under a sovereignty model we call federalism. In federalism, the people of a sovereign “state” (in this case an American state and not an independent nation-state) agrees to delegate a degree of its own sovereign powers to the federal government so that through the collective delegation of 50 sovereigns ALL members of the union can maximize their own fortunes in an equal union of different peoples—politically and economically. The states and their respective peoples retain all sovereign powers NOT delegated to the federal government, and the other states in the union are not seen as “outsiders” by each other but as partners—family!

Sovereignty for Puerto Rico, then, comes in two flavors under American and international law: full annexation through American statehood, or full disintegration through international independence.

What are other forms of sovereignty? There are no others.

There is what in international law is known as “free association,” which is created between two independent nations and which can be broken at the desire of either nation and at any time and for whatever reason. The actual treaty that creates the free association status is typically known as a Compact of Free Association. The U.S. is currently a signatory to three such agreements with the independent nations of Palau, The Federated States of Micronesia, and The Marshall Islands.

These free association treaties can last forever, but are not perpetual in-and-of-themselves. They only can last forever if the two nations that signed the Compact of Free Association remain satisfied with the association.

In Puerto Rico’s November plebiscite there is a third option written into the law as “ELA Soberano.” “ELA” is an acronym that stands for Estado Libre Asociado (Free Associated State) and it is the official, Spanish name of the island’s government, so combined with the word “Soberano,” it means “Sovereign Free Associated Nation-State.” “ELA” in Puerto Rico means what “Commonwealth” means to the rest of the world as it relates to American federal territorial law and not as it relates to actual states of the union that use the old term. The “Commonwealth” of Puerto Rico is not the same (legally) as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or Virginia, or Massachusetts, or Kentucky.

So there is the second “independence” option. Puerto Rico cannot enter into a Compact of Free Association with the United States of America unless it declares independence, and nothing could stop Puerto Rico from entering into a free association treaty with a different country, i.e. Venezuela, China, or Russia if it so desired. Some say that Puerto Rico can indeed enter into free association without declaring independence from the U.S., but that belies the fact that the very essence of free association is that it can only happen between two sovereign, independent nations. A U.S. territory cannot sign a Compact of Free Association with the U.S. because all sovereign powers reside on one side: Congress. So, the third option in Puerto Rico’s plebiscite makes the island a republic separate from the U.S. and out of the control of Congress. Why is this important?

The Americans of Puerto Rico do not want independence and they have shown as much in every plebiscite and poll in the past 114 years. To independence supporters this is just the result of mass brainwashing. To the vast majority of Puerto Ricans who love their American citizenship and their Puerto Rican identity this is just the result of democratic sanity and political shrewdness.

The danger is that this third “option” will confuse the voters. In their minds, “ELA Soberano” must be something different, or else why would it be there?

The pro-territorial “Commonwealth” Popular Democratic Party (PPD) in the island has been offering voters something “different” for the past 60-plus years. The PPD contends that neither statehood, nor independence is good enough. The party has promised something better. The leadership of the PPD wants the benefits of both statehood and independence; all the rights and benefits of American statehood and all the perquisites of international recognition—including the ability to veto federal laws that the governor of Puerto Rico sees as “inoperable” in the island and the ability to join international bodies as a nation. The federal government has rejected the proposal as incompatible with the U.S. Constitution. In other words, if Puerto Rico wants to end the current territorial status it has two—and only two—options: statehood or independence.

Once Puerto Rico becomes an independent nation—if the people of the island so choose—then the new, separate nation of Puerto Rico can work with the American government to bilaterally enact a Compact of Free Association.

The pro-statehood New Progressive Party (NPP) currently controls the governorship and both chambers of the legislature by supermajorities. So why would a statehood supermajority write a law that distorts the statehood-versus-independence reality that is needed to end the territorial status? The NPP is calling the PPD’s 60-plus-year bluff.

Today, the PPD is internally split between two wings: the so-called Autonomistas and the Soberanistas. The Autonomistas want more … well … autonomy. They are the establishment wing, the conservative wing, and they wish to remain a territory of the U.S. under the Constitution’s Territorial Clause, but they want Congress to devolve many of its powers to the people of Puerto Rico. Congress has made it clear that Puerto Rico has all the autonomy that the federal government is willing to grant—no more!

The Soberanistas are the liberal wing of the PPD and they want sovereignty—just not under statehood. They want sovereignty and the only other options for sovereignty is independence, but they will not say that because the word “independence” is political suicide in Puerto Rico. They have come up with a more elegant way of asking for independence that does not actually use the word independence: free association or “ELA Soberano.” Very clever indeed. Independence through the back door.

Unless the statehood party supplements its desire for U.S. annexation with a robust education effort, the results of the latest plebiscite will at best be another indecisive failure in the part of a confused electorate, or at worse the ostensible rejection of statehood by two independence pluralities that would add up to an independence majority.

The same way Congress will not accept a statehood petition with less than a strong majority (55 percent plus), it will not accept an independence petition with any less. However, independence and independence in free association supporters can already be heard claiming a majority for a petition for independence if between the former and the latter there is a combined 50.1 percent vote. That would be unfair to statehood supporters.

In that case, perhaps the statehood party in charge should amend the law if not to delete the superfluous “ELA Soberano,” at minimum to balance the ballot with a fourth option: “ELA Statehood.” Make it a Statehood vs. Independence vs. Independence vs. Statehood! Why not?

Seventy-something days away from the general election and the referendum on status, and without a robust educative effort in the part of the pro-statehood NPP things could get messy. On the day after the election, the results will be fodder for all political parties willing to spin confused chaos into logical voter support, but those same results will not provide a solution to the century-old problem of democratic inequality, lack of political sovereignty and human dignity in Puerto Rico.

“Enhanced Commonwealth” Rejected … AGAIN!

In Commentary and Analysis, Enemies of Equality, H.R. 2499, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Democracy Act, Puerto Rico Statehood, Self-Determination, The Big Lie: The PPD's "Commonwealth" on December 4, 2010 at 2:21 PM
Bingaman and Murkowski Send Letter to White House after Senate Gives up Chance to Take up H.R. 2499

In what should come as no surprise, Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (which has jurisdiction over the American territories), officially sent a letter to the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status (Task Force) in which they say the federal government has “failed” to make Puerto Rico’s status options clear to voters of the American island-territory. In the missive, the committee’s top members made clear that the idea of an “enhanced Commonwealth” status is not constitutionally viable.

According to various reports, Bingaman and Murkowski have asked the Task Force to recognize only four status options: 1) the territorial “Commonwealth”; 2) statehood; 3) independence; and 4) independence in free association. With those viable status options on the table, the senators went further and asked the Task Force to unequivocally reject the Popular Democratic Party’s (PPD) idea of the so-called “enhance Commonwealth,” which seeks to combine the best features of both independence (at the international level) and statehood (at the national level). In essence, the idea is a form of confederacy in which Puerto Rico would be allowed to veto federal legislation and take part in international bodies, but it is wholly incompatible with the U.S. Constitution because it would give Puerto Rico more powers than states themselves have.

Although it is not a surprise to all who have followed the Puerto Rico status debate, for the PPD it is just another reality they wish not to entertain. To the  PPD “Commonwealth” party, the idea of “enhanced Commonwealth” is the biggest invention since that of the wheel! And anybody who does not agree with its supposed constitutional viability–including the federal government itself–is an enemy who is simply trying to upset their plans, so they will not recognize any negative conclusions on the idea. For example, even though the same Senate committee killed H.R. 2499, Rep. Hector Ferrer (president of the PPD) now he has attacked Bingaman and Murkowski as “allies” of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP). Allies? One would think that these powerful “allies” would have done more to push forward on the PNP-sponsored legislation. Ferrer and the PPD, however, are not interested in following the process; instead, they are interested in confusion, chaos, and misinformation as the only way forward–which is “Commonwealth” territorialism by default.

These are important developments, but some facts remain unvoiced. For example, why should the Americans of Puerto Rico have in any ballot the very option they are trying to change? In other words, why, if the “Commonwealth” status is territorial, should Puerto Ricans suffer it as an option? Further, why should two versions of independence appear on the same ballot? Could this be another way to keep any status from gathering a majority of the votes?

These are important points. Here at La Chuleta Congelá’, we believe in the simplest way: Statehood vs. Independence. After all, if independence wins, Puerto Ricans could always have another vote to choose between the two flavors of independence, with or without a free association treaty with the U.S. This is important because in Puerto Rico those parties that want “free association” are beginning to sound much like the early leadership of the PPD when it devised the “Commonwealth” status. In essence, they speak out of both sides of their mouths. Today, nobody in the Sovereign Union Movement party (MUS), which is a new Puerto Rican party interested in “sovereignty in association,” calls their status option by its real name of “independence.” There is plenty of good reasons for them not to. After all, Puerto Ricans hate the idea of independence–in ANY flavor. But at least, they are pushing a viable idea and that has to be lauded.

In the meantime, we still wait for the latest installment of the White House report on the status.


NOTE FROM LCC: Soon we will be publishing a long piece on the economics of the territorial “Commonwealth” status in Puerto Rico. Stay tuned!



The Status: 2011

In Citizenship Equality, Commentary and Analysis, Enemies of Equality, H.R. 2499, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Democracy Act, Self-Determination, Tennessee Plan, The Big Lie: The PPD's "Commonwealth" on October 21, 2010 at 12:31 AM

H.R. 2499’s Failure in Congress and Its Success in Puerto Rico

Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR) has confirmed to El Nuevo Dia that once the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico Status (Task Force) releases its report at the end of December, the territory’s New Progressive Party (PNP), pro-statehood government will begin the necessary work to carry out a local (not congressionally sanctioned) plebiscite, which means a vote could happen by mid-2011. During the roundtable with various Spanish-speaking newspapers and news agencies, Res. Comm. Pierluisi expressed his support for the White House’s work on the Puerto Rico status, although the administration postponed to December the release of the report, which was due in October. The territory’s sole (non-voting) representative also expressed his contentment with the administration’s reestablishment of its commitment to the status issue.

Puerto Rico's governor-elect Luis Fortuño, left, and Resident Commissioner-elect Pedro Pierluisi, elected nonvoting delegate to U.S. Congress, celebrate during the victory rally in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Puerto Rico’s representative in Washington specifically said that “Once the White House recognizes the status options available to [Puerto Rico], we will be ready to carry out the next plebiscite in the island.”

A day before the Resident Commissioner’s remarks, President Obama (during his own press conference) restated his administration’s commitment to ending the citizenship inequality that exists in Puerto Rico. Although the President has also said that his principal focus is on the status of the territory, the Task Force has been charged with immediate economic development of the island—regardless of whether the status gets resolved or not.

The comments by Res. Comm. Pierluisi and the President are the latest in the status debate in the “H.R. 2499 Era.” The Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009/10 (H.R. 2499) began as the most bipartisan effort on Puerto Rico’s status, only to see its Republican (and some Democratic) support in the House erode in the hours before the final vote in the lower house. It passed the House with a comfortable margin, but only after it came really close (four votes close) to capitulating to a motion to recommit, which would have sent it back to committee never to be seen again.

A year after having been introduced in the House, H.R. 2499 was handed to the Senate for consideration, where it was received by the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources with the usual senatorial disdain; the bill died before it arrived in the upper house—or at least once it entered the chamber, who knows? What we do know is that senators could not find “consensus” on the measure to move it out of committee and into the full senate.

Although Res. Comm. Pierluisi’s bill did not make to the President’s desk, the work that the House Committee on Natural Resources and many other devoted members of the chamber did on behalf of H.R. 2499’s passage cannot be understated. As such, the Resident Commissioner must walk a fine line between encouraging his New Progressive Party about a locally sanctioned status plebiscite, and keeping with the letter of the bill his peers did report out of the House (post-Foxx Amendment H.R. 2499). The reason is that the Resident Commissioner still has two more years in office because he is the only member with a four-year term, and he will need friends when he goes back.

This is a tough spot in which to be for Res. Comm. Pierluisi. After all, H.R. 2499 in its original form was a (just) stroke of genius. As introduced, the bill did three important things in the history of the “status”: 1) it separated the permanent, sovereign options (i.e. independence and statehood) from the non-permanent, territorial option of “Commonwealth”; 2) because of (1), it allowed the “Commonwealth” a chance to vie for continued existence through a democratic majority vote; and 3) because of (2), it placed an eight-year cycle on the “Commonwealth” status so that voters in Puerto Rico could only extend the status quo temporarily (because the territorial status cannot be permanent).

That was on May 19, 2009; a year later, however, things had changed—H.R. 2499 had changed. Although the bill surmounted many frivolous obstacles and underwent a few insignificant changes (e.g. Congress mandated bilingual ballots and put the financial burden of the plebiscite on Puerto Rico’s government), it lost its originality on the status question (and its likely solution) when the House adopted the Foxx Amendment. The effect of the amending motion upon the bill, arguably, might have made it viable and likely to succeed out of the House, but it turned it into a useless bill fit for recommittal—and even withdrawal in conspicuous protest.

Post-Foxx Amendment, H.R. 2499 became an instrument of perpetual obstruction because it now asked the Americans of Puerto Rico to first vote on whether they wanted to change the current (“Commonwealth”) territorial status, and then included the status quo in the second round of voting—you know, the round that was supposed to give Puerto Ricans a permanent solution. All that, with the added bonus of legitimizing the “Commonwealth” status once again as a possible permanent option.

Cynicism was not the only reason for the drastic change; instead, it was a combination of cynical congressional paternalism, ignorant political calculus, and ill-willed irrational policymaking at their best.

The prevailing argument against H.R. 2499 was that it was not “fair” because it separated the “Commonwealth” option from the statehood and independence options in a supposed attempt to “stack the deck” in favor of statehood. While it is true that under the original terms of H.R. 2499 Puerto Rico would have most likely been on track to statehood than to independence, the essential aspects of the status matter need not be ignored once that “conclusion” has been reach.

For example, whether statehood (or independence for that matter) “appears” like the likely “winner” upon the letter of the bill, we need not forget that the “status problem” is the “Commonwealth” status, and that any permanent option’s winning is what victory in the status problem looks like. Is that not what Congress, the President, all parties in Puerto Rico, the United Nations, Castro and Chavez all want? Why, then, should Congress mix two distinct status classes (i.e. permanent non-territorial and non-permanent territorial) in any plebiscite? A minority of Puerto Ricans cannot be allowed to hold the status issue hostage to progress. Concurrently, there should have been no problem with granting Puerto Rico’s “Commonwealth” supporters an opportunity to extend temporarily the territorial status if (and only if) they could garner a simple majority. Supporters of equality for the four million American citizens of Puerto Rico detest the idea of extending the territorial status any further, but given the fact that the only way that could happen was through a majority vote, we were satisfied that this was “the right way.”

H.R. 2499 in its original form might have failed in Congress, but the Puerto Rican electorate approved it long before that occurred. In fact, Governor Luis Fortuño and Res. Comm. Pierluisi campaigned on the plan; they won by the largest margin in Puerto Rico politics. Their slogan: “Every vote for the New Progressive Party is a vote for Statehood.”

Now, the Americans of Puerto Rico must accept the consequences of their stalled efforts for self-determination. A Congress that cannot pass a bill that will certify the permanent status options for Puerto Rico that most everybody understands are available (i.e. statehood and independence); a White House that insists on promoting territorial economic development to the dual detriment of equality and—ironically—true (democratic) economic development; an ever-growing series of political parties vying for their own (detached from constitutional reality) versions of a permanent status; and the vast majority of Americans in the states not having a clue as to what all of this means—all place the legislature of Puerto Rico in the unenviable position to take the lead in solving this problem, finally.

As such, the territory’s legislative chambers should implement their own recipe for status success; one bolder than the original Pierluisi bill. H.R. 2499 may not have had “consensus,” but it enjoyed an abundance of equity and moral fortitude. If the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) did not like H.R. 2499, it should like the legislature’s new plan even less. The plebiscite that will ultimately be carried out in Puerto Rico should not look like H.R. 2499. It ought to take out any concessions made to the enemies of equality, mainly the promotion and promulgation of the “Commonwealth” status as a viable permanent option.

Any plebiscite in which the people of Puerto Rico are asked to vote for legitimate, permanent, sovereign options should (and will) be welcomed by all sides; it just has to be done! H.R. 2499’s failure in Congress and the ostensibly weak-on-substance report expected from the Obama Administration’s Task Force should not deter supporters of self-determination in the Puerto Rico legislature from instituting what they think will, once and for all, rid Puerto Rico of its colonial history and pseudo-democratic “Commonwealth” status.





In Enemies of Equality, The Big Lie: The PPD's "Commonwealth", Self-Determination, Commentary and Analysis, Citizenship Equality, Puerto Rico Democracy Act, Puerto Rico, Tennessee Plan, H.R. 2499 on October 17, 2010 at 12:57 AM
How Puerto Rico’s Territorial Status Has Gotten out of Congressional Control and What It Means for Citizenship Equality

The Americans of Puerto Rico still wait for a chance to vote between statehood and independence, Congress wants nothing to do with legislating on the matter until petition, the U.S. House votes against and for the “Commonwealth” status quo in the same bill, the U.S. Senate is simply not interested and says nothing, the White House wants to focus on economic development of the territory while ignoring the biggest (democratic and economic) stimulus offered by certainty and equality, the Americans in the states are misinformed about the most elemental points of the status question, and the political parties of the island territory continue to clamor for everything under the status sun—it is official: Puerto Rico’s status is out of control!

Statehood or Independence? How about "Commonwealth" or "Free-Association"? ... Congress?

To be sure, Puerto Rico’s status per se (i.e. constitutionally) has not changed. In 1898, Puerto Rico was a “colony,” by 1917 it was a “territory,” in 1952 it became a “Commonwealth,” and in 1998, when Puerto Ricans revoked the 1952 mandate for “Commonwealth” status, Puerto Rico returned to its colonial status. Moreover, through that century the only status alternative that continues to grow is statehood.

For all that can be said about Puerto Rico’s status, one has been a constant: the enemies of equality are relentless in their obstructionism. So much so that the U.S. Congress (with its limited attention span) has punted again on the status question and the unequal citizenship that results from it. Congress has no other option. It hides under the constitutional principle that one Congress cannot bind another Congress (other than through constitutional amendment) to deny a law that unequivocally states Puerto Rico’s sovereign status options (outside the Territorial Clause powers), which the readers of La Chuleta Congelá know are independence or statehood. Their defense is to continue to say that Puerto Rico already has “authority” to call forth a referendum on the matter.

When Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) offered her amendment to the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009/10 (H.R. 2499) ordering that Puerto Ricans be offered the “Commonwealth” status quo after (presumably) having voted against it in the first round of voting, supporters of self-determination knew they were not dealing with a reasonable adversary. Once a reasonable compromise, Puerto Rico’s (constitutionally temporary) territorial transition has morphed over the past six decades (both at the national and local level) into a sort of permanent thought experiment on political organization in which all “scientists” are offering their unique projections.

In Puerto Rico, there are now five political parties. One, for all purposes, remains irrelevant to solving Puerto Rico’s status ills; the PPP, Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico, is a policy-only party, not a status-and-policy party, and enjoysmarginal support among voters in Puerto Rico. The New Progressive Party (PNP) advocates for statehood, and the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) does so for independence; these are the only two constitutional options available to territories. The Popular Democratic Party (PPD) advocates for the “Commonwealth” status quo and now finds itself divided from within. The Movement for a Sovereign Union (MUS), will undoubtedly draw most of its support from members of the PPD who do not want to continue with the “Commonwealth” status and who want something more akin to Free-Association, which is independence with a treaty of association with the U.S.

On its face, the MUS appears to (and does) hurt the PPD the most because it threatens to decimate its ranks, but there are direct consequences for the supporters of statehood because—as far off as a plebiscite victory might be because the Americans of Puerto Rico do not want to lose their American citizenship—the MUS can have the same effect that the PPD has had on the ballot for the past 60-year period in the island.

The PPD depends heavily on the number of its ranks to “prove” to everybody else that it is a “legitimate” option. Thus, if the MUS achieves enough support for its status option of, basically, Free-Association, then it can vie for control of certain legislative spots in 2012. All that will happen with the hopes of appearing on any future plebiscite on status in Puerto Rico.

Those developments could be harmful to self-determination for the Americans of Puerto Rico if there is not a concerted effort to keep the status plebiscite as a two-option plebiscite. Whether it is the PPD on the ballot as an equal and permanent status option (which it cannot be), or any other (third) status option, the results will be the same: the current “Commonwealth” status will prevail by default. Coupled with the fact that Congress, once again, has refused to intervene and rule on the matter, the prospects of more territorialism by default ought to be rejected and fought against.

The idea of statehood—its core philosophy, its definition of the future, its constitutionality, its promise—rests on fact. Territories are not perpetual. Their sub-constitutional order ends the minute the people of said territory vote in a democratic plebiscite for an option that is equal in law, balanced in civil burden, and absolutely clear in democratic representation.

The Americans of the territory want to keep their American citizenship, and statehood is the only non-territorial option that will give them equality in citizenship and secure it in perpetuity. No other party in the island territory can affirm as much. With American citizenship in mind, the push for self-determination, which hereto has been the means for the statehood end, must hence become the end to the statehood means. In other words, instead of pushing the idea of self-determination, which has been accepted universally, let us now push for statehood. Under a statehood mentality, we need not think of a political party made up of individuals who cannot make up their minds vis-à-vis the status issue because even those voters have made up their minds that their American citizenship will not be compromised.

Self-determination for Puerto Rico is far from complete, but the fact that all parties involved (and of consequence) have thus far admitted that Puerto Rico can become an independent republic or a state of the union leaves supporters of statehood free to carry out the necessary policies. The principal policy of statehood-centered attack on the enemies of equality must be the approval of a two-option plebiscite: statehood versus independence. The independence option would cover all such forms of the status; thus, “free-association” would be covered under the independence definition because the notion of free-association does not change the constitutional reality that Puerto Rico would be a nation of Puerto Rican (not American) citizenship.

Let the plebiscite be about what we all know it is about: citizenship!

A statehood-versus-independence plebiscite will cut through the status bickering, and the endless posturing by the PPD and PIP about Puerto Rican “nationhood.” Let us put the measure on the ballot as a matter of citizenship and let them vote for their preference. Be it in the PIP, or the PPD, or the MUS, or the PPP, they all have their preference of citizenship. Those of the PNP have unequivocally stated their preference, now the rest must be pushed to make theirs known.

%d bloggers like this: