Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory belonging to the United States. Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Puerto Rico Status Act, HR8393, which gives Puerto Rico’s voters the opportunity to choose from among the viable political status options which are allowed under the U.S. Constitution.
House passage of H.R. 8393 emphatically demonstrates that the current colonial territory status is not a viable option going forward.
Until this vote, the Department of Justice has insisted that all status votes must include the current territorial option. Based on the decisions made by the Supreme Court in the Insular Cases, Congress is allowed to keep Puerto Rico as an unincorporated territory indefinitely. That is, the current territorial option is allowed under the Constitution.
With the passage of HR8393, however, Congress has recognized that the current territory status limits Puerto Rico’s future prosperity and equality of U.S. citizens on the island. The current status has been identified as a colonial option, not a permanent political status.
Misrepresentation of ELA
Calling Puerto Rico a “commonwealth” is meaningless in the political structure of the United States. Several states also have the word “commonwealth” in their names. Kentucky is one example. Massachusetts is another. Neither Kentucky nor Massachusetts has a different political status from any other state. They are just states.
Equally, Puerto Rico is just a territory. Like the Virgin Islands or Guam, it belongs to the United States.
Yet many people imagine that Puerto Rico has a special relationship with the United States and a different kind of status from other unincorporated territories.
Why is this idea so widespread? One reason is outright deception. Even though the U.S. federal government has stated repeatedly that the change of Puerto Rico’s official name in 1952 did not lead to a change in the Island’s political status, leaders in Puerto Rico and in the United States have continued to suggest that ELA was a compact of free association or at least a step away from being “a mere territory.”
Many leaders have claimed that the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States was open to negotiation and change of various uncertain kinds. The idea of “enhanced commonwealth” has been promoted in spite of the fact that all three branches of the federal government have repeatedly rejected this idea. People have been persuaded to vote for this imaginary political status, even though it is clear that it does not and cannot become a reality.
The passage of HR8393 cleans up this deception. Congress has recognized that the current territory status limits Puerto Rico’s future prosperity and equality of U.S. citizens on the island. The current colonial relationship, which is completely inappropriate for a democratic and republican nation in the 21st century, has been removed from consideration.
New possibilities going forward
It is still possible that the Senate will consider a version of the Puerto Rico Status Act before they leave for the Christmas recess. If that does not happen, then the compromise bill can be reintroduced n the new Congress in January.
Every Democrat in the House voted for the bill, and 16 Republicans did so as well, in spite of calls by their leadership to reject it. This shows that Puerto Rico’s status is a bipartisan issue, as we have so often said before. The passage of HR8393 proves that Congress can and should take action on this issue. The precedent of H.R. 8393 passing the House will establish the discussion and framework going forward.
The actions taken by our nationwide network of supporters made this possible. Join us to continue working toward this historic goal.