Tourists enjoying Puerto Rico often wonder whether it is in fact a State already. They don’t need passports to visit, they can use U.S. dollars, so… maybe it’s a State?
No, Puerto Rico is not a state. But the tourist website GoPuertoRico.about.com gives an answer to this question that might be somewhat misleading.
No, Puerto Rico is not a state, but rather a Commonwealth of the United States. This status provides local autonomy to the island and allows Puerto Rico to publicly display its flag.
Puerto Rico is not a state, but a territory. There are several states which have “commonwealth” in their official names just as Puerto Rico does. That has no legal meaning at all, and it certainly does not determine whether or not Puerto Rico gets to display a flag. In fact, the U.S. flag code uses the phrase “State, territory, or possession” in all its discussions of state flags, and never uses the term “commonwealth.”
Being a commonwealth like Kentucky is also not part of the degree of “local autonomy” Puerto Rico has. It’s true that Puerto Rico has less local control than States do, but that is because it is a territory.
GoPuertoRico continues with another popular question: Are Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens? The answer, of course is that the people of Puerto Rico have been citizens since 1917. Here’s how GoPuertoRico puts it:
Yes, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, and make up about 1.3% of the total population of the United States. They enjoy all the benefits of citizenship, save one: Puerto Ricans who live in Puerto Rico cannot vote for the U.S. President in the general elections (those who live in the United States are allowed to vote).
To be accurate, no U.S. citizens who live in Puerto Rico can vote in presidential elections, even if they are Texans or Californians. All U.S. citizens who live in States can vote for the President of the United States.
But residents of Puerto Rico don’t enjoy all the other benefits of citizenship. For example, they are not eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit and do not have equality in several other federal programs. They do not have voting members in the House and Senate who can support them and give them the political power enjoyed by citizens living in States.
GoPuertoRico goes on to make a surprising claim:
The vast majority of Puerto Ricans want to keep the status quo and remain a Commonwealth.
In fact, 54% of voters in Puerto Rico said they did not want to continue in their current status as a territory, in the 2012 plebiscite and 61% favored statehood. In 2020, 53% of voters chose statehood, with the remainder saying “No” to statehood. So it is not the case that the vast majority want to keep the status quo, but rather that a minority of voters want this.
GoPuertoRico is a travel site for tourists, not a political site. But they should provide accurate information for tourists. We hope this clears it up.