Foreign Policy

Puerto Rico has spoken — make it the 51st state in the union

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On Nov. 6, 2012, the government of Puerto Rico held a two-part plebiscite in which 54 percent of voters rejected continuing under the present territorial status and in which 61 percent favored statehood among three constitutionally-viable, non-territorial options. 

In 2014, Congress approved a $2.5-million appropriation for an education campaign in order for the government of Puerto Rico to conduct a fair, transparent and inclusive plebiscite. Then-Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla and his Popular Democratic Party did not take any actions to approve such a bill. Governor Garcia Padilla’s party has been internally divided in two completely opposite fractions.

{mosads}One side promotes free association (independence), and one supports the territorial commonwealth status as is and/or the so called “enhanced commonwealth” status. Free association is a valid constitutional option, as is the territorial status, but the so-called “enhanced commonwealth” is nothing but a wishlist of fantasies without any legal or constitutional possibility.


Unable to opt for a solution to the colonial status, they have promoted the perpetuation of a morally- and economically-bankrupt territorial (colonial) status against the democratic will of the governed that have expressed a preference for statehood over all other constitutionally-viable options.

On Nov. 8, Puerto Rico elected the pro-statehood New Progressive Party and Dr. Ricardo Rosselló as its governor. The new governor was committed to conduct a new plebiscite on June 11 — Sunday — that would ratify the previous one. Three options were offered to the voters on the ballot: statehood, present territorial status and independence.

Both the Popular Democratic Party and the Independence Party refused to participate in the plebiscite and opted instead to boycott it.The former opposed the designation of its status as territorial, while the latter opposed having a colonial status on the ballot. The real reason for the refusal to participate was because they were concerned that both options would make evident the very little support that both have among the voters.

The plebiscite was finally held on Sunday. Out of a 35-percent voter turnout, 530,000 voters, or 97 percent, voted for statehood. In our democracy, those who vote make the decisions.

For the last decade, Puerto Rico has experienced a severe economic, financial and demographic crisis. This crisis is related to our lack of full representation at the federal level and the unequal treatment that the U.S. citizens of the island receive under federal laws. We have been natural-born U.S. citizens since 1917. As stated in the 2011 report by President Obama’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status: “Resolving the island’s political status is essential to restoring the health of Puerto Rico’s economy and to improving our security.”

Given Puerto Rico’s current territorial (colonial) status, Congress holds the ultimate power to make any changes to it. Therefore, it is up to Congress to consider the results of Sunday’s plebiscite and do the right thing for the American citizens in Puerto Rico.

As a U.S. Air Force veteran of the 814th Medical Group in Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts during both the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War and in the name of all Puerto Rican veterans, particularly those who lost their lives defending our democracy — proportionately, more than any other state — I compel Congress to consider that five centuries of colonization is enough.

Puerto Rico does not deserve this unfair and morally-reprehensible treatment any longer. It is time to achieve the long-deserved right and moral imperative to become the 51st state in the union.

José M. Saldaña, D.M.D./M.P.H., is the former president of the University of Puerto Rico. Currently, Saldaña is the president of Igualdad, Futuro Seguro, a pro-statehood organization for Puerto Rico.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill. 

Tags 51st state Commonwealth Politics of Puerto Rico Popular Democratic Party Puerto Rican Independence Party Puerto Rican nationalism Puerto Rico political status plebiscites

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