End second-class US citizenship in Puerto Rico

This complex equal rights quandary that affects millions is not only about a “group” vote on the status question but, more importantly, it’s about protecting individual civil rights in our representative democracy, where the U.S. citizen should be the epicenter of our republic. We must end political oppression with truth and fairness.

In 1898, the U.S. invaded Puerto Rico as part of the Spanish American War, forcefully took it as a spoil of wa and made it a U.S. territory (colony) that falls under the absolute un-democratic control of the federal government.

In 1917, Congress erred in imposing on Puerto Rico a statutory second-class U.S. citizenship -- that is, without all rights, responsibilities and benefits -- that doesn't permit loyal U.S. citizens, including U.S. combat veterans, to vote in federal elections or have just representation in the Congress that determines their destiny.

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This American Hispanic civil rights issue that strikes at the soul of our democracy -- “consent of the governed” -- has not received the national attention it merits. But, now we must be fair, soar above political rhetoric, demagoguery, lies, misinformation and excuses, and educate the gullible and all the rest on the truth. It is time to advance our democracy; ensure equality and break Puerto Rico’s un-democratic, territorial shackles.

The U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico held an internal plebiscite in November 2012, with about 78 percent of residents voting on two major questions. On the first question, 54 percent voted to end Puerto Rico's curreent territorial status, and 46 percent to keep that status. The second question was to indicate the political status preferred from three possibilities: statehood, independence, or a sovereign nation in free association with the United States. Over  61 percent voted for statehood; only 5.55 percent voted for total Independence; and 33 voted for the third choice, which was not clearly defined.  However, the political cover-up, the misinformation and misinterpretation of the results, has begun. Some are trying to discredit a democratic plebiscite where everyone had the opportunity and duty to vote. The results are clear: non-territorial status through statehood won!

After 115 years of non-action, the federal government must not obfuscate nor provide discriminatory excuses, but educate and promptly intervene to protect all individual civil rights, end an un-democratic status that goes against the grain of our American democracy, and start the transition process (which should not take more than 3-5 years) to admit Puerto Rico as the 51st state of our Union.

Puerto Ricans are born U.S. citizens and constitute the second-largest American Hispanic segment of our U.S. population, with five million residing in the states and four million in Puerto Rico. It is the oldest territory in U.S. history and its people have bravely defended the U.S. flag since 1898. This includes the U.S. 65th Infantry Regiment that suffered segregation, discrimination and un-equal citizenship, yet bravely fought for all of us.

Individual civil rights is essential to our democracy and must be protected against federal political oppression. Congress must promptly do right -- admit tPuerto Rico as the 51st state of the Union or give Puerto Rico total or associated independence.

Congress should not be incongruent. The U.S. Constitution should equally apply to all U.S. citizens. If not, there is discrimination and no consent of the governed.

Freytes is a retired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel, served in the Special Forces; was on Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's transition team and is a trustee at Valencia College.

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