Three consecutive U.S. presidents have encouraged the people of Puerto Rico to make a permanent decision about our island’s political status. This has been the case ever since the Puerto Rico Status Task Force was established in the 1990s by President Clinton, followed by White House Task Force reports from President George W. Bush in 2005 and 2007 and President Obama in 2011.
The most recent March 11, 2011, White House report clearly expresses the Task Force’s commitment to resolving Puerto Rico’s political status, including “moving resolution of the status issue forward in a meaningful way with the goal of resolving it on a short timetable.”
In this regard, the Task Force’s top two recommendations are as follows:
1: “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.”
2: “The Task Force recommends that the permissible status options include Statehood, Independence, Free Association, and Commonwealth.”
“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
• Sovereign Free Associated State: 33 percent
• Independence: 5 percent
The Plebiscite’s results were ratified and accepted by the White House, and in April 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.
While the results of last November’s Plebiscite are clear and were ratified by the White House, we would endorse the president’s call for another Plebiscite under federal auspices. However, we would reject the inclusion of the current territorial, colonial status 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.
Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi has just introduced a bill in Congress — H.R. 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 that legislation pending in the U.S. Senate would grant to 11 million of undocumented immigrants in this country. After all, we have been American citizens since 1917 and 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.
It would be a very unfair and undemocratic act of prejudice on the part of Congress to ignore the plight for equality of 3.7 million of American citizens.
Saldana and Maldonado are former presidents of the University of Puerto Rico.