Why does Puerto Rico need a process of decolonization?
more than one hundred years, Puerto Rico has been a territory of the
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.
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.
the political parties in Puerto Rico, and what status solution do they
There are three
main political parties in Puerto Rico: the New
Progressive Party (NPP) advocates statehood; the Popular
Democratic Party (PDP) advocates "enhanced Commonwealth" status (explained
below); 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.
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
“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
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
however, the will of its people regarding their political status should
be ascertained by means of a general right of referendum or specific
sponsored by the United States government.”
“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
the options and enable them to chose and to obtain such a status from
among all realistic options.”
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?
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
the U.S. House of Representatives pass decolonization legislation
Yes, the House passed
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
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,
PDP, which supports enhanced Commonwealth and believes it to be constitutional,
opposed the bill.
CEF's position on H.R. 856?
CEF supported H.R. 856. CEF's position
is that 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
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.
it is Congress' conclusion that enhanced Commonwealth is not constitutional,
Congress must say so clearly, and that option must not be offered on
plebiscite ballot. Similarly, if Congress is not willing to grant statehood,
Congress must say so clearly, and that option must not be offered on
plebiscite ballot. Otherwise, a federally enacted plebiscite would become
just another opinion poll without consequences, as has been the case
every status plebiscite in Puerto Rico thus far.
Rico's current status is listed as commonwealth, a
position that does not represent a voice for its citizens.
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.