Make Puerto Rico the 51st state

For 520 years, Puerto Rico has been a colony, of Spain first and of The United States since 1898. It is the oldest colony in the world.

Three consecutive U.S. presidents encouraged Puerto Rico to make a permanent decision about our political status. This was the case of the Task Force established by President Clinton to deal with our status issue. It was followed by both presidents Bush’s and Barack Obama's respective White House Reports on Puerto Rico Status in 2005, 2007 and 2011.

Bush’s 2007 Task Force Report on Puerto Rico clearly states on page 6: “the Department of justice concluded in 1959 that Puerto Rico remained a territory, and as noted above, the Supreme Court, while recognizing that Puerto Rico exercises substantial political autonomy under the current commonwealth system, has held that Puerto Rico remains fully subject to congressional authority under the Territory Clause.”

The most recent report, Obama’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, issued on March 11, 2011 is a very important contribution not only in terms of solving our political status but also in terms of improving our economy within the U.S. and the global reality. I quote from the report:

This Task Force is further committed to moving resolution of the status issue forward in a meaningful way with the goal of resolving it on a short timetable. The recommendations set forth below are directed toward that end.”

To these effects Recommendation # 1 states:  “The Task Force recommends that all relevant parties—the President, Congress, and the leadership and people of Puerto Rico—work to ensure that Puerto Ricans are able to express their will about status options and have that will acted upon by the end of 2012 or soon thereafter.”

On November 6, 2012 the people of Puerto Rico held a plebiscite to make a decision on the island’s status. The ballot consisted of two questions, and the results were as follows:

  • Do you agree that Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of territorial status (Commonwealth)?
  • Yes: 46 percent
  • No: 54 percent
  • Irrespective of your answer to the first question, indicate which of the following non-territorial options you prefer.
  • Statehood: 61 percent
  • Independence: 5 percent
  • Sovereign Free Associated State: 33 percent

A majority of votes rejected the present colonial status, thus withdrawing the consent of the governed.

While the results of this plebiscite are clear and were immediately accepted and ratified by the White House, they were disputed by some leaders of the present colonial Commonwealth status. In order to dispel any doubts, in April 2013, President Obama proposed that $2.5 million be appropriated to the Justice Department to be assigned to the Puerto Rico Elections Commission for the purpose of resolving Puerto Rico's status problem by consulting its voters on one or more status options that are compatible with the Constitution, laws and public policy of the United States. This time the vote would be under federal auspices so that the results cannot be disputed by any of the political parties on the island.

We would endorse President Obama’s call for another plebiscite under federal auspices with the same two questions that were submitted to the voters on November 6. However, we would reject the inclusion of the current territorial, colonial status-Commonwealth- in any future plebiscite given that the current status has already been resoundingly rejected by a clear majority of the people of Puerto Rico and does not provide a permanent resolution to the status problem because it itself is the problem. We would also reject the inclusion of the “New or Developed Commonwealth” option proposed by local colonial leaders because according to all constitutional authorities this is not a constitutionally acceptable option. 

President Bush’s 2007 Task Force Report on Puerto Rico clearly states on page 6: “The U. S. Constitution would not permit a “New Commonwealth” proposal because the land under US sovereignty must either be a State or a territory.”

Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi, has introduced a bill in Congress - HR 2000- which should resolve our status predicament of being the oldest colony in the world.

It provides “for a federally authorized ratification vote in Puerto Rico on the admission of Puerto Rico into the Union as a State and if a majority of voters ratify Puerto Rico’s desire for statehood, to describe the steps that the President and Congress shall take to enable the admission of Puerto Rico as a State of the Union.”                             

Puerto Rico deserves to become the 51st State of the Union with the same rights and responsibilities than the rest of our fellow Americans.  After all, we have been proud American citizens since 1917. We have significantly contributed in the defense of our Nation at home and abroad in all the major wars and foreign engagements. More than 200,000 of us have honorably served in the U.S. Armed Forces and have fought and died for our democratic way of life. Proportionately we have experienced more war casualties in all U.S. wars than any state of the union. And yet we are deprived of the most basic rights of citizenship in a representative democracy: The right to vote and the right to be represented in the political body that enacts the laws by which we must abide.

It would be a very unfair and undemocratic act of prejudice on the part of Congress and a national discredit to ignore the plight for equal rights of 3.7 million of American citizens.

It is time for Congress to act now.

Saldaña is the former president of the University of Puerto Rico.