Where is the Status Issue Headed?
Where is the Status Issue Headed?
An abridged walk through Puerto Rico’s self-determination process
Impossible to write the entire history of the 113-year-old sisterhood between the States and Puerto Rico, the ups and the many downs, but the status timeline can be surmised into a few superficial attempts to placate a people’s yearning for citizenship equality.
That the island’s American citizens consented in 1952 to the current relationship of “united but unequal” is an undisputed fact. While rhetorically different from “separate but equal,” the relationship remains institutionally the same. At that time, the people of Puerto Rico placed dependent security above sovereign rule and citizenship equality. In 1967, 1993, and 1998, Americans in Puerto Rico delivered inconclusive results in three status plebiscites, under political settings unique to each. The unequal status quo won by default. Today, the fourth plebiscite is in the final stages before implementation, but its birth was on the day Puerto Ricans elected Governor Luis Fortuño and Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi. “Every vote for the PNP,” their campaign declared, “is a vote for statehood!”
On May 19, 2009, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi introduced H.R. 2499 in the U.S. House of Representatives where it eventually passed with the Foxx Amendment poison pill. The Foxx Amendment introduced the non-permanent “Commonwealth” status quo into the column of permanent choices and made the self-determination mechanism within H.R. 2499 irrelevant. The beauty of H.R. 2499 was the simplicity of its solution. The foundational idea behind the Pierluisi bill is that the territorial “Commonwealth” status needs to change and that the only way it could be kept was through a majority vote. Even though such an approach lent some legitimacy to the status quo “Commonwealth” option, the bill restricted the potential extension of the status quo to a temporary period and only through majority-rule. Consisting of two votes, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009 (H.R. 2499) asked the Puerto Rican voters to first vote on whether they wished to maintain the current status or seek a permanent status through statehood or independence/free association. If Puerto Ricans chose to remain a “Commonwealth,” the bill would self-execute the entire process eight years later—until the Americans of Puerto Rico voted for a permanent, non-territorial status.
One year-to-the-date later, the U.S. Senate shelved the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, but not before it issued a sober note on the question of “enhanced Commonwealth.” The idea of “enhancement” became popular immediately after the adoption of the “Commonwealth,” and it was the then-omnipotent PPD’s way of holding on to power. Originally meant as a temporary status, “Commonwealth” built a following that now surpasses 700,000 supporters. The corner stone of “enhancement” is the PPD’s belief that the nature of the relationship between the States and Puerto Rico is not territorial in nature. Instead, the PPD believes, the nature of the relationship is one driven by a Compact (a Treaty), or a bilateral agreement between two sovereigns. From that belief emanates the idea of “enhancement” because it seeks to “improve” the so-called Compact. The PPD’s proposals for improvement have included (and are definitely not limited to): recognizing the governor internationally as a head of state, giving concurrent authority to the governor and the legislature to veto federal law, transferring federal lands to the government of Puerto Rico, guarantying the American citizenship of Puerto Ricans and their right of movement to the States in perpetuity, increasing the flow of federal dollars to parity with the States, and allowing Puerto Rico to conduct its own foreign policy and join international bodies. “The free beer and BBQ option,” as Sen. Jeff Bingaman called it. According to the U.S. Senate, it is not going to happen—it cannot happen! [CLICK TO READ MORE]
Self-Determination in the United States
Territorial Lifespan before Admission
Territorial Population at Admission
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