U.S. Senator Bob Menendez supported the “Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act,” a poorly named rehash of bills from the 20th century intended to bypass Puerto Rico’s votes for statehood. Instead of that problematic bill, the House of Representatives passed a compromise bill, the Puerto Rico Status Act, which would have given Puerto Rico voters a choice among three non-territorial options had it become law.
It did not become law. It passed in the house, but laws must also pass in the Senate before they go to be signed by the president. In this case, President Biden has already said that he will pass the Puerto Rico Status Act if it reaches his desk. It has passed once in the House and may do so again this year, but it has not yet been introduced in the Senate. Senator Menendez could change that.
Menendez wrote an editorial in El Nuevo Dia, highlighting the injustices faced by Puerto Rico as a territory. “These injustices are unsustainable,” he wrote. “We can and must do better. To leave Puerto Ricans in permanent political limbo betrays our values as a country and our commitment to democratic self-government. In the face of this pervasive injustice, we can no longer afford to ignore the need for Puerto Rican self-determination. It is time for the U.S. government to empower the people of Puerto Rico to decide their own future by creating a legitimate, inclusive, and democratic process for addressing the question of Puerto Rico’s political status.”
We agree with Sen. Menendez.
Senate actions on Puerto Rico status
The last time the Senate passed a bill on Puerto Rico’s political status was in 1998. S472, and its companion bill in the House, HR856, led to the 1998 status referendum in Puerto Rico. Earlier that year, the Senate made this resolution: “the Senate supports and recognizes the right of United States citizens residing in Puerto Rico to express democratically their views regarding their future political status through a referendum or other public reform, and to communicate those views to the President and Congress.”
In 2012, Puerto Rico held another plebiscite, and 61% voted for statehood. Following this vote, the Senate held a hearing on the political status of Puerto Rico. At the close of this hearing, the Senate asked the leaders of the various political parties in Puerto Rico to agree on a formula for the ballot. Unless that happened, said Senator Wyden, the argument would just continue.
“The process for determining what the options will be on the ballot and how they will be defined is as critical as anything we have discussed today,” said Senator Murkowski.
Since then, the Senate has held no further hearings.
However, Senator Wicker introduced a version of the Puerto Rico Status Act — a bill on which leaders of the various viewpoints in Puerto Rico had at last agreed — in the Senate last year. Wicker’s bill included the “Commonwealth” option, which had been eliminated by the House Natural Resources Committee. There was no debate or discussion of this bill.
The Senate going forward
Now, the Senate has an opportunity, after a decade of neglect, to take leadership on the issue of Puerto Rico’s political status. The Puerto Rico Status Act, without Wicker’s addition of the “commonwealth” option, includes all the viable, non-territorial options for Puerto Rico’s political status.
Sen. Menendez has a long history of support for Puerto Rico. He is an acknowledged leader in the federal government on the issue, and the highest ranking Latino member of Congress. With his support, the Senate can work together with Congress to settle the question of Puerto Rico’s political status. This action can spell the end of the United States as a colonial power, strengthen U.S. security, and bring justice to the three million U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico.
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