Underlining the position held by the majority of the candidates is a calculated strategy, which aims to straddle the political factions that drive insular politics while avoiding any specific commitment concerning its status. It should be noted that of these candidates, Sanders, Biden, Warren and Klobuchar are, or have been, senators in Congress for many years — and have studiously ignored Puerto Rico’s status issues throughout their respective tenures.
It is well to remind these senators that it is Congress – not the presidency – that has plenary powers over the territories under Article IV, Section 3, of the Constitution. Any politician that claims to favor whatever the people of Puerto Rico decide, while failing to take specific actions to address the issue, is just kicking the can down the road.
Even though Puerto Ricans are American citizens, they do not vote in presidential or congressional elections. This is the major constitutional consequence of being an unincorporated territory. We do participate, however, in the national party’s respective primaries. This limited participation in the democratic process has led to the inclusion in their respective platforms of language regarding the political future of Puerto Rico, which traditionally has been honored in the breach. Puerto Rico has 58 delegates to the Democratic convention, and 23 delegates to the Republican convention.
With regard to President Trump and the Republican Party, nothing should be expected on the status issue. In its 2016 platform the GOP declared that it supported “the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state.” Contrary to this statement, the last four years under Trump and Republican congressional leaders have been, if anything, duplicitous and in opposition to statehood. It remains to been seen what language the Republican Party will include in its platform concerning Puerto Rico.
Given the growing importance of the Hispanic vote and the identity politics that drives much of the current national debate, the Puerto Rican vote has a role to play. The past 2018 midterm election of Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) with the support of the Puerto Rican vote is an indication of its importance in the national stage. It is not accidental that Scott favors statehood for Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans who have settled in Florida in recent years need to take notice of their political weight, particularly in light of the importance of the Electoral College in the presidential election.
The Democratic Party, on the other hand, included in its 2016 platform the bromide that it believes “that the people of Puerto Rico should determine their ultimate political status from permanent options that do not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the United States.” Since the Democratic Party regained the House in 2018, the majority under the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi has deliberately stalled Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González’s efforts to move a statehood admission bill that would settle the status issue.
It is well known that the political factions in Puerto Rico are driven by the issue of status. Notwithstanding the imploded administration of then Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, the Legislative Assembly is still controlled by the New Progressive Party (PNP), which favors statehood. Current Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garcéd is identified with the Republican Party, and though claims to favor statehood, does not appear to be too interested in promoting it. Former Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, a member of the Democratic Party who is now a PNP candidate for governor, endorses Mike Bloomberg for president.
Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly recently submitted legislation for holding a “Statehood: yes or no” plebiscite. Given the low electoral turnout in the June 2017 plebiscite — which statehood opponents in Washington have used as an argument to delegitimize its overwhelming results in favor of statehood — it is politically sound to schedule it on the same day as the general election. Although it is unlikely that the Department of Justice will endorse this plebiscite, as provided by Public Law 113-76, statehood leadership should submit the ballot for its approval. No stone should be left unturned.
Given that Mike Bloomberg is the only candidate that favors statehood for Puerto Rico, it behooves pro-statehood Puerto Rican Democrats to vote in favor of his nomination.
Andrés L. Córdova is a law professor at Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, where he teaches contracts and property courses. He is also an occasional columnist on legal and political issues at the Spanish daily El Vocero de Puerto Rico.
Pedro Pierluisi, who was the Resident Commissioner for Puerto Rico at the time, wrote a letter to President Obama in 2015 recommending a yes-or-no vote on statehood for Puerto Rico.
“Thomas Jefferson wrote the ‘the ground of liberty is to be gained by inches’,” Pierluisi began his letter. He went on to define statehood as “the only democratic and dignified status option that has broad public support on the island.”
Statehood receive majority votes in plebiscites in 2012 and 2017, while independence received less than 6%.
“Although some people have yet to fully appreciate it,” he continued, “the statehood movement — which is a civil rights movement — has advanced further and faster toward our ultimate goal within the last six years that during any other period since Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898.”
Pierluisi stated that he had been able to persuade Congress “to be honest about the status options available to Puerto Rico if it does not wish to remain a U.S. territory. Without exception, your administration and Congress have affirmed that the only other options for Puerto Rico are to become a state or a sovereign nation, either fully independent from the U.S. or with a compact of free association with the U.S. that either nation can terminate.”
Pierluisi ran through the timeline of the preceding few years, including the choice of statehood by the voters of Puerto Rico, several additional rejections of the concept of “enhanced commonwealth“, the appropriation of $2.5 million for a federally-sponsored plebiscite, and the passage of a law to use those funds for a plebiscite in Puerto Rico.
“It has been nearly a year since the provision appropriating $2.5 million for the first federally-sponsored plebiscite in Puerto Rico’s history became law,” Pierluisi wrote. By now, five more years have passed.
Pierluisi’s letter proposed a simple yes-or-no vote on statehood. He gave five reasons to support this plan:
There is precedent for an up or down vote on statehood. Both Alaska and Hawaii, the most recent territories to become states, both used this format.
This approach is logical, since statehood received the most votes in 2012. Statehood also received the vast majority of the votes in 2017, following Pierluisi’s letter.
The format allows everyone to vote, whether they approve of statehood or not. “Yes to statehood” and “No to statehood” cover all the bases.
The vote would provide a clear result. Following both the 2012 and the 2017 referenda, anti-statehood factions came up with specious arguments against accepting the vote.
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