Conditions for Statehood

 

Puerto Rico’s Archbishop Roberto González Nieves was quoted in the Miami Herald as expressing qualms about statehood for Puerto Rico.

“The United States hasn’t said what the conditions are to allow Puerto Rico statehood,” he said. “And until we know those conditions this debate is premature.”

The debate about statehood is not premature, because members of the U.S. government, including the president, have said that the decision is up to Puerto Rico. If Puerto Rico is not ready for statehood, conditions don’t really matter. If Puerto Rico is ready for statehood, then the U.S. government — history shows — will sort it out. 32 territories have already become states.

But the comment is an interesting one. Just what conditions for statehood has Congress set for territories in the past?

Check out first the Northwest Ordinance, which is older than the Constitution.

And, whenever any of the said States shall have sixty thousand free inhabitants therein, such State shall be admitted, by its delegates, into the Congress of the United States, on an equal footing with the original States in all respects whatever, and shall be at liberty to form a permanent constitution and State government: Provided, the constitution and government so to be formed, shall be republican, and in conformity to the principles contained in these articles; and, so far as it can be consistent with the general interest of the confederacy, such admission shall be allowed at an earlier period, and when there may be a less number of free inhabitants in the State than sixty thousand.

This early document lists some requirements for statehood:

  • 60,000 free inhabitants — check! Puerto Rico certainly has a large enough population to become a state.
  • The constitution and government must be republican– check! The U.S. Congress already signed off on Puerto Rico’s Constitution.

So the basics are covered.

There have been some specific requirements for specific states. For example, Michigan had to settle a boundary dispute with Ohio before being admitted as a state. Kansas and Texas had to cope with some serious political issues (such as the question of slavery and whether Texas actually belonged to Mexico or not) before they could be admitted. Utah had to outlaw polygamy before they could become a state.

There is no issue for Puerto Rico that has to be overcome before Congress would allow Puerto Rico to become a state. Some individuals would like to see complete consensus — 100% agreement — on status before Puerto Rico can become a state. There are some individuals who would like to see Puerto Rico take care of the debt crisis before becoming a state. But at this point, there are no specific issues that are likely to cause Congress to set up a checklist of actions Puerto Rico would have to complete before statehood could be considered.

Even in cases like that of Utah or Kansas, where Congress made specific requirements, it was usually a matter of removing a specific law from the state constitution. Puerto Rico’s constitution has already been approved, so the Archbishop’s concern over “conditions” is not realistic.

At his blog, Victor “Papo” Rodriguez Villanueva points out that the ballot is a petition, a request, and therefore would not affect any conditions Congress might com up with.

“It should be recognized,” says Rodriguez Villanueva, “that the ELA, in any of its modalities (improved, enlarged, perfumed) has no place in this consultation because it is a colonial and territorial status and would not solve the problem of decolonization that both the Congress and the people of PR seek solve.”

So far, this is the only condition the U.S. government has demanded. All the branches of the federal government have simply said repeatedly that the U.S. will not participate in anything like “enhanced commonwealth.” It has been making this announcement for many years, just as Congress repeatedly told Utah that they would not have a state that allowed polygamy. History shows that Congress is straightforward about these things. Statehood isn’t a matter of delicate negotiations.

Sign the petition. It’s time for statehood for Puerto Rico now.

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