The Problem with Puerto Rico’s Current Political Status
The current political status of Puerto Rico is officially called Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico. When it is literally translated into English, it means Free Associated State of Puerto Rico. Over time, supporters of this political status have conveniently referred to it as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Territorial status is meant to be a transitional step to usher in a permanent status, such as statehood or independence. Established in 1952, the territorial arrangement it was meant to serve as a transitional step to something greater.
In the 1980 Harris v. Rosario case, The Supreme Court of the United States acknowledged that Puerto Rico fell directly under the territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution and under the authority of Congress: “Congress, pursuant to its authority under the Territory Clause of the Constitution to make all needful rules and regulations respecting Territories, may treat Puerto Rico differently from States so long as there is a rational basis for its actions.” In effect, Congress has the authority to regard The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico as an ordinary territory and treat Puerto Rico in a different and unequal way from the other 50 states. In other words, Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States of America.
This current colonial status does not allow Puerto Ricans to vote for the President of the United States. Puerto Ricans do not have representation in the U.S. Senate and no voting representation in Congress. Instead, the 4 million U.S. Citizens of Puerto Rico only have one “Resident Commissioner” who cannot even vote on the House floor. Therefore, Puerto Ricans have no say in the making of the laws and statutes that apply to them. Even though the U.S. Supreme Court has absolute jurisdiction over Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans do not have representation in the U.S. Senate to cast an up or down vote on Supreme Court nominees. In the end, Puerto Rico is governed by a Congress in which they are not allowed to participate in, an Executive whom they did not elect, and a Judiciary whose justices they did not confirm. The 4 million U.S. Citizens of Puerto Rico are not allowed to fully participate in the democratic process of their nation. Consequently, they are the victims of political discrimination. The people of Puerto Rico are treated as disenfranchised and second-class U.S. citizens.
The United States of America is supposed to be a free and democratic republic, not an empire. All of its citizens should be entitled with the right to pursue the American dream.
Why should Puerto Rico become a state?
Historical & Moral Aspects
Throughout history, the United States citizens of Puerto Rico have always responded to the call of defending our Nation in the name of liberty. Puerto Rico's participation in the U.S. Armed Forces is disproportionately greater than that of the 50 states. Approximately 18,000 Puerto Ricans fought in the battlefields of World War I. During World War II, 65,000 Puerto Rican soldiers served in combat. In the Korean War, 61,000 Puerto Ricans once again fought in the name of freedom. In Korea, the 65th Infantry Regiment comprised mostly of Puerto Rican soldiers, distinguished themselves for bravery. General Douglas McCarthur paid tribute to these Puerto Rican heroes when he said in Tokyo in 1961: “The Puerto Ricans forming the ranks of the gallant 65th Infantry in the battlefields of Korea are writing a brilliant record of achievement in battle and I’m proud indeed to have them in this command. I wish that we may have many more like them.” Also in the Korean War, Puerto Rico officially became the third “state” per capita to lose men in combat. During the Vietnam War, Puerto Rico sent over 48,000 soldiers and faced over 3,000 casualties. In the Desert Storm campaign, approximately 2,600 Puerto Rican National Guardsmen and Reservists served in combat.
Above, flag-draped coughins are placed on the steps of the Puerto Rico State Capitol to symbolize Puerto Rican combat fatalities suffered in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Recently, Puerto Rico officially became the 9th “state” with boots on the ground in the undergoing war in Iraq.
Portrayed above is Puerto Rico’s 65th Infantry Regiment in Korea. During this particular battle against a Chinese Division, they bravely conducted what would become the last documented bayonet charge in the history of the United States Army.
As history has shown us, Puerto Ricans have made significant sacrifices and contributions to our American nation. However, the brave soldiers who gave their lives in the defense of the United States were never given the right to vote for the person who made the decision between war and peace: their Commander-in-Chief. To this day, Puerto Ricans continue responding to the call of duty even though they are not allowed to vote for their President. Thus, the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico are free to serve, but not to vote.
Above, President George W. Bush visits Army Specialist Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz, who sustained wounds during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Specialist Melendez-Diaz, from Comerio, Puerto Rico, was recovering from his injuries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and met the President during a visit to the facility Friday, July 1, 2005.
As a state, Puerto Rico will no longer be draining approximately $22 billion per year from the American taxpayer. Thus, Puerto Rico will no longer be dependent on federal grants and will greatly contribute to the U.S. Treasury and the national economy.
Opponents of statehood have argued that Puerto Ricans would be worse off financially since statehood would mean the repeal of the federal income tax exemption. This argument is misleading. While Puerto Ricans (with the exception of federal employees) do not pay federal income taxes, they do pay federal taxes on Medicare and Social Security benefits like all other U.S. citizens. Most importantly, since Puerto Rico is exempt from federal income taxes, Puerto Ricans have the highest local income tax rate in the United States. Thus, it can be said that the funds that would go to the federal government in income taxes, go to the local government in the form of local income taxes. With statehood, Puerto Ricans would contribute their fair share to the federal government, while seeing a sharp reduction in their local income tax rate. In just like any other state, the larger share of the taxpayer’s money would go to the federal government instead of the state government. Moreover, federal income taxpayers are allowed to deduct the amount paid in local income taxes from their adjusted gross income on the Form 1040 of their federal income tax return. Studies have shown that Puerto Ricans, especially the ones in the lower social classes, would financially benefit with statehood.
Another argument frequently used by statehood opponents is that Puerto Rico is “too poor” when compared to the states, and therefore is not ready for statehood. This argument has no standing whatsoever. To begin with, any such poverty is the result of the current colonial status, where the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico do not have equal rights in regards to benefits, rights, and responsibilities. For Puerto Ricans with low incomes, statehood would mean that they will have the same access to federal support and tax relief programs, in contrast to the current territorial status where they do not have equal rights. Throughout history, every single territory that has gained admission to the Union has witnessed a period of sharp economic growth, and Puerto Rico would be no exception. Statehood has always meant economic growth and a greater standard of living for all territories that have joined their destinies with the United States. In a recent study called Puerto Rican Statehood: A Precondition to Sound Economic Growth, by Hexner, Jenkins, Lad and Lame, the case is clearly made that statehood is necessary and essential for Puerto Rico’s economic growth.
Some opponents of statehood have also argued that having Puerto Rico as a state would mean the loss of the island’s cultural heritage, identity, and even the Spanish language. They also claim that Puerto Rico cannot become a state because Puerto Ricans “do not speak English”.
The reality is that English, along with Spanish, is already an official language in Puerto Rico. In fact, Puerto Rico made history by becoming the first U.S. jurisdiction to declare English a national language. English is a required elementary subject in public schools and throughout high school. English is also the language used in all federal agencies in Puerto Rico and serves as the common language of multiple industries, like tourism, commerce, and banking. However, the U.S. Government has never imposed a language requirement on any would-be state. Such action would be unconstitutional, since matters of language and culture are delegated to the individual states to determine, not the federal government. A good example of a historical precedent where this principle can be seen lies with the state of New Mexico. The state constitution of New Mexico was originally written in Spanish and most of its residents spoke Spanish as a first language at the time it attained statehood.
The people of Puerto Rico will never lose their identity. After interacting with the United States for over a century, Puerto Rican culture and identity continue to flourish and remain strong. After all, statehood is a political change, not a cultural one. While the United States is a melting pot of different cultures, it is also a nation of nations.
Prominent Supporters of Statehood and Self-Determination for Puerto Rico
“Let us talk about history again. This is the last territory of the greatest democracy, America. A territory where no one has a true voice, although our government does an excellent job, but there are approximately 4 million Puerto Ricans that have one voice that cannot vote. This is not America as I know it. This is an America that talks one thing and walks another thing. This is an America that is saying, if members do not accept this legislation, “no” to who I think are some of the greatest Americans that have ever served in our armed forces and are proud to be Americans but do not have the representation that they need.
This legislation is just the beginning. It is one small step of many things. It is a step for freedom, it is small step for justice, it is a small step for America. But collectively it is a great stride for democracy and for justice.”
-Rep. Don Young (R-AK)
March 4, 1998
On the Floor of the U.S. House of Representatives making remarks about
H.R. 856 (The United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act).
The legislation was approved in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"We've always been a land of varied cultural backgrounds and origins and we believe firmly that our strength is our diversity. There is much Puerto Rico can contribute to our nation which is why I personally favor Statehood. We hope you will join us."
-President Ronald Reagan
"I have been a pro-statehood believer and I remain one...Estadidad Ahora!"
-President George H.W. Bush
"I do not care about politics-I care about what is right. For Puerto Rico to be a state would be good, but at the end, the people of Puerto Rico will have the last word about statehood."
-President George W. Bush
"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."
-2004 Republican Party Platform
“We believe that four million disenfranchised American citizens residing in Puerto Rico have the right to the permanent and fully democratic status of their choice.”
-2004 Democrat Party Platform
"We pledge to support the right of the people of Puerto Rico to choose freely, and in concert with the U.S. Congress, their relationship with the United States."
-President Bill Clinton
Some of the other prominent political figures who have expressed their support for statehood and self-determination in the past include:
President Gerald Ford
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich
Former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO)
Former Vice President Dan Quayle
Former Senator Bob Dole (R-KS)
Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX)
Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL)
Rep. Jerry Weller (R-IL)
Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA)
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA)
Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-TX)
Rep Mike Pence (R-IN)
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN)
Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI)
Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID)
Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)
Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL)
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)
Former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL)
General Wesley Clark
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL)
Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL)
Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN)
Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL)
Governor Frank Murkowski (R-AK)
Governor Hailey Barbour (R-MS)
Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN)
Rep. José Serrano (D-NY)
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD)
Rep. Lynn A. Westmoreland (R-GA)
Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX)
Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX)
Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-TX)
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC)
Rep. John Mica (R-FL)
Rep. John Peterson (R-PA)
Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL)
Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA)
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)
Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT)
Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-MI)
Rep. Melissa Hart (R-PA)
Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL)
Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL)
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX)
Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA)
Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ)
Rep. James Moran (D-VA)
Rep. Albert Wynn (D-MD)
Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI)
Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL)
Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)
Rep. Gene Green (D-TX)
Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA)
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV)
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA)
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) - New!
Why raise this issue now? Can’t it wait?
Puerto Ricans have been waiting 108 long years for an end to colonialism. They are tired of waiting. The United States must set the example of a free society that guarantees equality in rights and responsibilities for all its citizens.
In the wise words of former Puerto Rico Governor Carlos Romero-Barceló, simply ask the following question: “Do we cherish our democracy enough to put an end to 100 years of colonialism?”
Number of Years under United States Government Territorial Control before Attaining Statehood
Name of Jurisdiction
108 and counting
To be determined