There are currently two status bills being considered in Congress for Puerto Rico. HR 1522, the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Bill, will make a state of Puerto Rico. HR 2070, the Self-Determination Bill, will hold a status convention and call another plebiscite on status.
“To one of us,” they wrote, “the Statehood Admission Act would offer statehood to a woefully under-informed public, risking dire and irreversible consequences. To the other, the Self-Determination Act would consign Puerto Ricans to the same futile status debate that has produced colonialism-by-stalemate for decades. Yet despite the apparent gridlock, we believe there is a path forward: a solution that combines the best features of each bill.”
Status bill compromise
The authors point out that the Statehood Admission Act calls for Congress to offer statehood to Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico voters would not be voting on a pig in a poke. In previous votes, votes have made choices but Congress hasn’t responded, or has responded by saying that the option voters chose is not possible. With an offer from Congress first, the vote would lead to action.
“The Statehood Admission Act makes an offer, but includes only one option,” the authors say. “The Self-Determination Act includes all options, but requires Puerto Ricans to make the offer. This gets it exactly backwards. A U.S. territory is in no position to decolonize itself. Puerto Ricans can shout statehood, independence or anything else from the housetops, yet Congress can simply ignore them. But if Congress offers Puerto Rico decolonization options, Puerto Ricans would have, for the first time ever, the real power to decolonize by choosing one.”
Puerto Rico has been offered independence (under the Tydings Act in 1934, for example). However, there has never been an offer from Congress of statehood or of independence with free association. With a commitment from Congress to accept the results of a referendum limited to the viable status options, another referendum could take place in Puerto Rico with an expectation of action from Congress.
“Under domestic and international law, the options are statehood, independence and a status known as free association, in which Puerto Rico’s relationship to the United States would be governed by a treaty between them,” the authors conclude. “The law defines their essential features. For statehood, they include equality and representation under the U.S. Constitution. For independence and free association, they include separate sovereignty under international law.”
Any questions about any of these three viable options can be answered by Congress before another vote takes place.
Will Natural Resources create a compromise bill?
The House Committee on Natural Resources intends to mark up the two bills and present some bill to the Congress in the fall. A committee can create an entirely new bill if they choose, and a compromise bill would be an option.