Democratic Presidents Recognize Need to Move Beyond Puerto Rico’s Current Status

Democratic Presidents Recognize Need to Move Beyond Puerto Rico’s Current Status

Posted March 27, 2019

Both major national parties have recognized that Puerto Rico’s current relationship as a U.S. territory is untenable.  Republican presidents have unequivocally supported statehood, and Democrats in the White House have spoken about the need to determine Puerto Rico’s permanent “future status.”

President Obama

President Barack Obama noted in the release of the 2011 Report by the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, “I am firmly committed to the principle that the question of political status is a matter of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico. I am pleased that the Task Force has outlined recommendations to enable the people of Puerto Rico to determine their political future. Both the President and Congress have roles to play to help Puerto Rico settle on its future status; I am committed to working with Congress to ensure that a fair, clearly defined, and transparent process is available for the people of Puerto Rico to decide on their future for themselves.”

In a 2009 letter to then-governor Luis Fortuno, Obama wrote, “We also pledged during my campaign to work with Congress and all groups in Puerto Rico to enable the question of Puerto Rico’s status to be resolved during the next four years. I am fully aware of the difficulties that Puerto Rico has faced in the past when dealing with this issue, but self-determination is a basic right to be addressed no matter how difficult. Your right to self-determination is deepened even further by the brave service that Puerto Ricans have provided to the nation’s armed forces, protecting all our people from foreign dangers throughout the past century. We will work to give a voice to the people of Puerto Rico to enable them to determine their political future.”

The question was not resolved during Obama’s first or second term as President of the United States.

President Clinton

President Bill Clinton identified the reason that his administration also failed to settle Puerto Rico’s status. “I think the root of the problem [is] the unwillingness of the Congress to give a legislatively sanctioned vote to the people to let them determine the status of Puerto Rico,” he said in a news conference in Puerto Rico in 2000. “If it were just up to me, if I could sign an Executive order and let them have a sanctioned election, I would do it today.”

Clinton spoke up for equality for Puerto Rico and struck a moral tone in remarks at the Democratic Governors’ Association dinner: “We have made Puerto Rico citizens. We have drafted them into the Armed Forces. We extend most laws to them, especially those that are convenient to us–the rest of us. To use their culture, to bar them from voting rights or responsibilities in our country if they so choose to seek them by majority vote is wrong. And this is not primarily about Puerto Rico, but about the rest of us. What are our values? What is our culture?”

President Carter

“I have been firmly committed to self-determination for Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands, and have vigorously supported the realization of whatever political status aspirations are democratically chosen by their peoples.” This statement from President Carter in 1981 preceded all but the 1967 referendum.

President Johnson

President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke at the first meeting of a task force on the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, saying, “I am especially pleased that the initial meeting of the United States-Puerto Rico Commission on the Status of Puerto Rico is being held in the White House. I welcome this opportunity to express my own deep personal interest in the work you are undertaking. Warmth and mutual understanding have characterized the relationship between the people of Puerto Rico and the people of the United States. I am confident this will continue. We on the Mainland have watched with admiration and pride the remarkable economic growth that has taken place in Puerto Rico in recent years. That growth will undoubtedly continue and we hope it may accelerate in the years ahead. The United States has a traditional and deep-seated national commitment to the principle of self-determination. That is why the administration and the Congress responded promptly and affirmatively to the resolution of the Puerto Rican Legislature requesting a review of the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico.”

This statement preceded the plebiscites on Puerto Rico’s status.

Read the full statements.Filed under: Archives

U.S. Presidential Elections and Puerto Rico StatehoodApril 3rd 2019

The Enduring Legacy of “Commonwealth”April 1st 2019

Soto Introduces Puerto Rico Admission Act of 2019March 31st 2019

A Page from History: The Puerto Rico Statehood Act of 1977March 30th 2019

Rep. José E. Serrano to RetireMarch 27th 2019

Democratic Presidents Recognize Need to Move Beyond Puerto Rico’s Current StatusMarch 27th 2019


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Statehood Wins Again

On June 11, 2017, Puerto Rico held a plebiscite in which 97% of the voters rejected the island’s current status as a U.S. territory in favor of statehood.

An independence/free association option received 1.5% of the vote, and 1.3% of the voters chose for Puerto Rico to remain a U.S. territory.

Statehood opponents dismissed the vote due to low voter turnout. Several elected officials in Washington D.C. joined pro-statehood Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzáles-Colón in calling for a Congressional response, and there is an Admissions bill in committee.

As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico can request statehood, but ultimately Congress has the power to determine Puerto Rico’s future.

Puerto Rico (San Juan) by Ricardo Mangual on Flickr


Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. Puerto Rico was ceded to the U.S. by Spain in 1898, and the Island has belonged to the United States ever since. In 1917, Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens, and everyone born in Puerto Rico is a citizen of the United States.

But Puerto Rico is not a state. It continues to be a territory. Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress has “plenary” – complete – power over Puerto Rico. It is legal for Congress to treat Puerto Rico differently from states, and Puerto Ricans do not share in the same rights and responsibilities as their fellow U.S. citizens.

There are no senators or voting congressional representatives for Puerto Rico. The Island has just one non-voting representative in the legislature. The people of Puerto Rico cannot vote in presidential elections, and they have no electors in the Electoral College.

With so little representation, and no legal requirement that Congress treat Puerto Rico equally, it’s no surprise that Puerto Rico receives less federal attention than the states.

In funds for highways, federal grants and contracts, healthcare funds, and many other areas, Puerto Rico receives much less than any of the 50 states.

Puerto Rico is also not a country. While Puerto Rico fields sports teams in international sporting events and competes in international beauty pageants, the government of Puerto Rico can’t make trade deals with nations or make decisions about its currency, or take any other steps available to countries.

And, while the title of Puerto Rico includes the word “commonwealth” (just like the titles of Massachusetts and Kentucky), that word has no legal meaning in the United States. Puerto Rico is simply a territory belonging to the United States.

In 2017, Puerto Rico once again voted to gain a permanent political status. The Puerto Rico Report will be covering the news throughout this historic process.

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