Puerto Rico’s Statehood Commission has produced a report on their first year in action. The Statehood Commission is made up of seven extraordinary leaders from Puerto Rico who were chosen to represent the senators and congresspeople Puerto Rico will have as a state. They have spent the past year advocating for the end of the current territorial status and the admission of Puerto Rico as a state.
In meetings with more than 90 members of Congress and their staffs, the PRSC has worked to educate the Congress about Puerto Rico and the Island’s political status. They have also worked to develop strategic partnerships with other organizations and to use the media to keep this issue in front of the American people.
“Ultimately, the PRSC defines its success more broadly than merely passing a bill during any given session of Congress,” the report explains. “True success is in building a broad -based movement in support of Puerto Rico, in transforming Puerto Rico in a way that improves quality of life and unleashes its full potential, and in doing so allowing the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico to fully contribute to America and to making it a more perfect Union.”
The report reminds readers that Puerto Rico was a colony of Spain for 400 years. Spain gave Puerto Rico to the United States after the Spanish-American War, and Puerto Rico has been a territory of the United States since then — for more than a century.
The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico live at a perpetual disadvantage compared to our fellow citizens in the states. Puerto Ricans are subject to federal laws but do not have voting representation in the U.S. House of Representatives or any representation in the U.S. Senate. Our sons and daughters in uniform can be sent to war by the President of the United States, but even when they serve honorably, they cannot vote for the Commander-in-Chief. Congress can and does treat Puerto Rico unequally under federal laws, leading to incoherent and arbitrary policies that limit the Island’s opportunities to maximize its economic potential. We are treated domestic for some purposes, yet foreign for others. And although we deeply cherish our American citizenship, our rights as citizens are not guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Instead, we rely on a now 101-year-old statute Congress could repeal if it desired.
Recalling the pro-statehood votes in 2012 and 2017, the report calls on Congress to act on that mandate from the people of Puerto Rico, and to admit Puerto Rico as a state.
This is not a very complicated process. There is a bill for statehood in Congress now, and it only takes a simple majority to admit a state. However, the report says, “obtaining the attention of Congress and then the support to get the issue of Puerto Rico’s political status on the Congressional agenda is not an easy or simple task.”
30 Admission Bills
There have been 30 admission bills for Puerto Rico since the first one was introduced in 1934. The report suggests that the current bill should be different, because Congress has realized — in the wake of the debt crisis and Hurricane Maria — that the current territorial status doesn’t work for Puerto Rico or for the United States. There have been two plebiscites with statehood gaining the largest number of votes.
The anti-statehood parties have worked hard to discredit those votes, so the report addresses their claims:
[I]n 2017, Texas approved seven amendments to its state constitution with a voter participation rate of 11%. The legitimacy of those elections been upheld and the amendments as approved have taken the full effect of law. Any supposition about the possible intention of non-participants in the electoral event must be discarded since valuing those suppositions over the actions of lawful voters would undermine electoral institutions in a fundamental way and render any democratic society ungovernable. In Puerto Rico, like in any democracy in the world, only the expression of those voters that participate in a free and fair electoral event represents the sovereign will of the people. And as the results of the 2012 and 2017 plebiscites clearly showed, the sovereign will of the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico is that the U.S. Congress should end the territory status and make Puerto Rico a state of the Union.
Vision moving forward
The Statehood Commission shared its primary principles in their report.
- Equal Representation: U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico must have equal voting representation in the federal government that enacts and executes the laws that we live under, so that we can contribute our perspectives to national political and policy decisions, and advocate for the needs challenges and aspirations of our island.
- Equal Rights & Responsibilities: We must ensure all U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as their fellow citizens in the states to obtain better and more abundant opportunities for island residents to flourish and thrive, and contribute equally to the Nation as a whole.
- Connected Families and Communities & Increased Commerce and Trade: Continue providing for and increase the free flow of capital, ideas, culture and people between Puerto Rico and the states to strengthen families and communities on both sides. Increase the capacity for Puerto Rico to be able to compete economically at the national and global level in a way that benefits both the states and the island through increased interstate commerce and international trade.
- 21st Century Infrastructure for Sustainable Economic Growth: A smart, sustainable and resilient infrastructure that meets the demands of a 21st century economy. Develop a vibrant diversified economy that incorporates technology and innovation, can create jobs and sustain growth.
- Fiscal Responsibility & Government Efficiency: A fiscally sound and transparent government that is efficient and responsive to the needs of the population and can facilitate private sector growth.
- Partnership with State and Federal Governments: A strong partnership with federal and state stakeholders to ensure the effective and efficient use of federal and state resources, programs through coordination, cooperation and accountability.
Their conclusion is a stirring call to action:
The PRSC envisions the creation of a broad-based movement in support of Puerto Rico statehood, not just the passage of a specific law or bill. The movement must capture the imagination of the American people with the goal of a revitalized and thriving Puerto Rico that can develop to its full potential to the benefit of not only island residents but to the benefit of America as a whole. Indeed, if America’s most challenged jurisdiction, Puerto Rico, can turn itself around and be transformed into a place of thriving prosperity, it can serve as a beacon of hope for all America and a sign that the best is yet to come. Statehood is not only about changing Puerto Rico, but about changing America to create a more perfect Union.