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Statehood movement in Puerto Rico

The statehood movement in Puerto Rico aims to make Puerto Rico a state of the United States. Five referenda have been held on the topic, most recently in 2017. The population of Puerto Rico in 2015 was over three million people and larger than 21 states.[1]

In November 2012, a referendum, the fourth as of that date, was held. A full 54.00% voted "No" to maintaining the current political status. Of those who voted against remaining a commonwealth, 61.11% chose statehood, 33.34% chose free association, and 5.55% chose independence.[2][3][4][5] On December 11, 2012, the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico enacted a concurrent resolution requesting the President and the Congress of the United States to respond diligently and effectively on the demand of the people of Puerto Rico to end its current political status and to begin the transition of Puerto Rico to become a state of the union.[6]

In 2014, resolutions were introduced in both houses of the United States Congress (H.R. 2000; S. 2020) to hold a yes-or-no referendum among the residents of Puerto Rico on statehood. If a "yes" majority prevailed, the President would have been required to submit legislation to Congress enacting Puerto Rican statehood.[7][8] Both resolutions died in committee.[9]

A fifth referendum was held on June 11, 2017. Turnout was 23%, a historical failure in a nation where voting turnout usually hovers around 80%.[10] A boycott of the vote was led by the citizenry at large, citing discontent over never-ending non-binding referenda, and protesting Ricardo Rosselló's pro-statehood administration's choice to spend public funds in subsidizing this vote when the island was in the midst of a devastating fiscal crisis and battered by the imposed austerity measures of a non-elected fiscal control board regarded as the height of colonial imposition. Some would later try to attribute the boycott to the PPD party, citing its support for the status quo.[11] The numbers, however, do not support the notion that the boycott was divided along party lines. Of the minimal number of voters who participated, 97.18% chose statehood, 1.50% favored independence and 1.32% chose to maintain the commonwealth status.

In June 2018, Rep. Jenniffer González filed a bill that would pave the way for Puerto Rico to become a state in 2021; the bill was not acted upon after introduction.[12]


Following the Spanish–American War, Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States in 1898, through the signing of the Treaty of Paris.[13] Puerto Rico became an unincorporated, organized territory of the US with Commonwealth status through a series of judicial decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States, collectively known as "The Insular Cases" and the enactment of several statutes by Congress.

In 1900, the US Congress enacted the Foraker Act, establishing a civil government in the territory and then in 1917, Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship, by the enactment of the Jones-Shafroth Act.[14] The Office of the President is responsible for policy relations between the United States and Puerto Rico, although according to the Territorial Clause of Constitution of the United States of America "The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States...".[15]

Potential benefits of statehoodEdit

Puerto Rico is, by a considerable margin, the largest U.S. territory in terms of both population and geographical area, being similar to Connecticut with respect to population size and geographical area. Puerto Rican residents do not participate in the Presidential elections because Puerto Rico does not have any electoral votes, but individual Puerto Ricans do have the right to vote when resident in a U.S. state. Statehood would allow the population to vote in all elections as the residents of states already can.

In early 2017, the Puerto Rican government-debt crisis posed serious problems for the government which was outstanding bond debt that had climbed to $70 billion or $12,000 per capita[16] at a time with 12.4% unemployment.[17] Statehood might be useful as a means of dealing with the financial crisis, since it would allow for bankruptcy and the relevant protection. Congress has the power to vote to allow Chapter 9 protection without the need for statehood, but in late 2015 there was very little support in the House for this concept. Other benefits to statehood include increased disability benefits and Medicaid funding as well as the higher (federal) minimum wage.[18]

Potential drawbacks of statehoodEdit

Currently, residents of Puerto Rico only have to pay federal income taxes on work performed in the US and District of Columbia, and not at home, unless working for the U.S. Government.[19] This benefit could go away if Puerto Rico becomes a state.[20][21] U.S. corporations that currently operate there as controlled foreign corporations may relocate if Puerto Rico became a state and federal corporate taxes applied.[22]

Arguments against admitting Puerto Rico as a state include the failure of the Puerto Rican people to express unequivocally the desire to become a state, as opposed to some other alternative to the current territorial status, language and cultural differences between Puerto Rico and most of the United States, the current migration of Puerto Ricans away from Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico's poor economic conditions and its consequent need to be supported by the federal government.[23]


Since the transfer of sovereignty of Puerto Rico from Spain to the United States, the relationship between Puerto Rico and the US has been evolving. On April 11, 1899, the peace treaty between Spain and the USA (the 1898 Treaty of Paris) became effective, and established a military government in Puerto Rico. This was short lived, since the following year (April 2, 1900) Congress enacted the Foraker Act, which established a civil government and free trade between Puerto Rico and the USA. Puerto Ricans, although incapable of electing members of the territory's executive branch, but were now able to elect their local representatives and a resident commissioner to the US Congress, who had voice but no vote.[24] In 1917, the enactment of the Jones-Shafroth Act the territory of Puerto Rico was organized and statutory US citizenship was granted to its residents.[24]

Since 1967, there have been several referendums, which included questions on statehood. Puerto Ricans chose not to alter the status quo in referenda until 2012. The 2012 referendum produced a more equivocal result.[25]

1967 referendumEdit

A referendum on the status of the island was held in Puerto Rico on 23 July 1967.[26] Voters were given the choice between being a Commonwealth, statehood or independence. The majority of voters voted for Commonwealth status, with a voter turnout of 65.9%.[27]

1998 referendumEdit

A referendum in December 1998 offered voters four political status options: statehood, independence, free association, and territorial commonwealth, plus "none of the above." The latter option won 50.5% of the vote, followed by statehood, with 46.6%.[28] Turnout was 71%.[29]

2012 statehood voteEdit

On November 6, 2012, eligible voters in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico were presented with two questions:

(1) whether they agreed to continue with Puerto Rico's territorial status and (2) to indicate the political status they preferred from three possibilities: statehood, independence, or a sovereign nation in free association with the United States.[30] A full 970,910 (54.0%) voted "No" on the first question, expressing themselves against maintaining the current political status, and 828,077 (46.0%) voted "Yes", to maintain the current political status. Of those who answered on the second question 834,191 (61.2%) chose statehood, 454,768 (33.3%) chose free association, and 74,895 (5.5%) chose independence.[2][3]

The preferred status consultation did not include Puerto Rico's current status as a territory (Estado Libre Asociado as defined by the 1952 Constitution) as a choice, but instead an alternative named "E.L.A. Soberano"[31] President Barack Obama pledged to respect the voters' decision.[32]

In December 2012, the newspaper Caribbean Business allegedly obtained, from a White House source, a statement claiming that Obama urged Congress to act upon the referendum's results.[33] On August 1, 2013, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on Puerto Rico's status as a direct result of the 2012 referendum vote and invited Governor Alejandro García Padilla, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, and pro-independence supporter Rubén Berríos to give testimony and answer questions from the committee.[34]

June 2017 referendumEdit

Because there were almost 500,000 blank ballots in the 2012 referendum, creating confusion as to the voters' true desire, Congress decided to ignore the results.[35] The 2014 budget bill included $2.5 million in funding for a future referendum; there was no deadline attached to the funds.[36][37]

The fifth referendum, entitled "Plebiscite for the immediate decolonization of Puerto Rico" was held on June 11, 2017 and offered three options: "Statehood", "Free Association/Independence" and "Current Territorial Status", and the U.S. Justice Department required Puerto Rico to add the territorial status as an option as a requirement to release the $2.5 million funds set aside by the Obama administration to help educate the population on any future plebiscite, however the vote was held before the ballot could be reviewed, so the funds were not released. Newly elected Governor Ricardo Rosselló is strongly in favor of statehood for Puerto Rico to help develop the economy and help to "solve our 500-year-old colonial dilemma... Colonialism is not an option... It’s a civil rights issue ... 3.5 million citizens seeking an absolute democracy," he told the news media.[38] Benefits of statehood include an additional $10 billion per year in federal funds, the right to vote in presidential elections, higher Social Security and Medicare benefits, and a right for its government agencies and municipalities to file for bankruptcy. The latter is currently prohibited.[39]

At approximately the same time as the referendum, Puerto Rico's legislators are also expected to vote on a bill that would allow the Governor to draft a state constitution and hold elections to choose senators and representatives to the U.S. Congress.[39]

Regardless of the outcome of the referendum or the bill on drafting a constitution, action by the United States Congress would be required to implement changes to the status of Puerto Rico under the Territorial Clause of the United States Constitution.[39]

If the majority of Puerto Ricans were to choose Free Associated State option—only 33% voted for it in 2012—and if it were granted by the U.S. Congress, Puerto Rico would become a Free Associated State—a virtually independent nation. It would have a political and economical treaty of association with the U.S. that would stipulate all delegated agreements.[40] This could give Puerto Rico a similar status to Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau, countries which currently have a Compact of Free Association (agreement) with the United States.

The agreement between the U.S. and Puerto Rico might cover topics such as the role of the U.S. military in Puerto Rico, the use of the US currency, free trade between the two entities, and whether Puerto Ricans would be U.S. citizens.[41]

The three current Free Associated States use the American dollar, receive some financial support and the promise of military defense if they refuse military access to any other country. Their citizens are allowed to work in the U.S. and serve in its military.[40]

United Nations Special Committee on DecolonizationEdit

Since 1953, the UN has been considering the Political status of Puerto Rico and how to assist it in achieving "independence" or "decolonization". In 1978, the Special Committee determined that a "colonial relationship" existed between the US and Puerto Rico.[42]

The UN's Special Committee has often referred to Puerto Rico as a nation in its reports, because, internationally, the people of Puerto Rico are often considered to be a Caribbean nation with their own national identity.[43][44][45] Most recently, in a June 2016 report, the Special Committee called for the United States to expedite the process to allow self-determination in Puerto Rico. More specifically, the group called on the United States to expedite a process that would allow the people of Puerto Rico to exercise fully their right to self-determination and independence. ... [and] allow the Puerto Rican people to take decisions in a sovereign manner, and to address their urgent economic and social needs, including unemployment, marginalization, insolvency and poverty".[46]

Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act of 2019Edit

A bill (H.R. 4901) for Puerto Ricans to vote "yes" or "no" on statehood was introduced on October 30, 2019 by Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon and the vote is scheduled for November 3, 2020.[47]

Mainland supportEdit

  • The 1940 Democratic Party platform expressed their support to a larger measure of self-government leading to statehood for Puerto Rico.
  • The Democratic platform of 1940 said:

We favor a larger measure of self-government leading to statehood, for Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. We favor the appointment of residents to office, and equal treatment of the citizens of each of these three territories. We favor the prompt determination and payment of any just claims by Indian and Eskimo citizens of Alaska against the United States.[48]

I believe that the appropriate status for Puerto Rico is statehood. I propose, therefore, that the people of Puerto Rico and the Congress of the United States begin now to take those steps which will result in statehood for Puerto Rico. I will recommend to the 95th Congress the enactment of legislation providing for the admission of Puerto Rico as a State of the Union.[49]

I favor statehood for Puerto Rico and if the people of Puerto Rico vote for statehood in their coming referendum I would, as President, initiate the enabling legislation to make this a reality.[50]

There's another issue that I’ve decided to mention here tonight. I’ve long believed that the people of Puerto Rico should have the right to determine their own political future. Personally, I strongly favor statehood. But I urge the Congress to take the necessary steps to allow the people to decide in a referendum.[51]

  • President George H. W. Bush issued a memorandum on November 30, 1992, to heads of executive departments and agencies, establishing the current administrative relationship between the federal government and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. This memorandum directs all federal departments, agencies, and officials to treat Puerto Rico administratively as if it were a state insofar as doing so would not disrupt federal programs or operations.[51]
  • On December 23, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed executive Order 13183, which established the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status and the rules for its membership. Section 4 of executive Order 13183 (as amended by executive Order 13319) directs the Task Force to "report on its actions to the President ... on progress made in the determination of Puerto Rico's ultimate status." President George W. Bush signed an additional amendment to Executive Order 13183 on December 3, 2003, which established the current co-chairs and instructed the Task Force to issue reports as needed, but no less than once every two years.
  • Both the Democratic Party and Republican Party, in their respective 2008 party platforms, have expressed their support of the rights of the United States citizens in Puerto Rico to determine the destiny of the Commonwealth to achieve a future permanent non-territorial political status with government by consent and full enfranchisement.[52][53]
  • The Republican Party platforms of 2008, 2012 and 2016 stated:

We support the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state after they freely so determine. We recognize that Congress has the final authority to define the constitutionally valid options for Puerto Rico to achieve a permanent non-territorial status with government by consent and full enfranchisement. As long as Puerto Rico is not a state, however, the will of its people regarding their political status should be ascertained by means of a general right of referendum or specific referenda sponsored by the U.S. government.[54][55][56]

We believe that the people of Puerto Rico have the right to the political status of their choice, obtained through a fair, neutral, and democratic process of self-determination. The White House and Congress will work with all groups in Puerto Rico to enable the question of Puerto Rico's status to be resolved during the next four years.[57]

As President Obama said when he became the first President to visit Puerto Rico and address its people in 50 years, Boricuas every day help write the American story. Puerto Ricans have been proud American citizens for almost 100 years. During that time, the people of Puerto Rico have developed strong political, economic, social, and cultural ties to the United States. The political status of Puerto Rico remains an issue of overwhelming importance, but lack of resolution about status has held the island back. It is time for Puerto Rico to take the next step in the history of its status and its relationship to the rest of the United States. The White House Task Force Report on Puerto Rico has taken important and historic steps regarding status. We commit to moving resolution of the status issue forward with the goal of resolving it expeditiously. If local efforts in Puerto Rico to resolve the status issue do not provide a clear result in the short term, the President should support, and Congress should enact, self-executing legislation that specifies in advance for the people of Puerto Rico a set of clear status options, such as those recommended in the White House Task Force Report on Puerto Rico, which the United States is politically committed to fulfilling. The economic success of Puerto Rico is intimately linked to a swift resolution of the status question, as well as consistent, focused efforts on improving the lives of the people of Puerto Rico. We have made great progress for Puerto Rico over the past four years, including a sharp, historic increase in Medicaid funding for the people of Puerto Rico and fair and equitable inclusion in the Recovery Act and the Affordable Care Act. Going forward, we will continue working toward fair and equitable participation for Puerto Rico in federal programs. We support increased efforts by the federal government to improve public safety in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands, with a particular emphasis on efforts to combat drug trafficking and crime throughout our Caribbean border. In addition, consistent with the task force report, we will continue to work on improving Puerto Rico's economic status by promoting job creation, education, health care, clean energy, and economic development on the Island.[58]

  • The latest report by the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status 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.[59]
  • The report further recommends, "If efforts on the Island do not provide a clear result in the short term, the President should support, and Congress should enact, self-executing legislation that specifies in advance for the people of Puerto Rico a set of acceptable status options, including the Statehood, that the United States is politically committed to fulfilling. This legislation should commit the United States to honor the choice of the people of Puerto Rico (provided it is one of the status options specified in the legislation) and should specify the means by which such a choice would be made. The Task Force recommends that, by the end of 2012, the Administration develop, draft, and work with Congress to enact the proposed legislation."[59]

Statehood supportersEdit

Supporters of Puerto Rican statehood:

Groups supporting Puerto Rican statehood:

See alsoEdit


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  2. ^ a b "CEE Event - CONDICIÓN POLÍTICA TERRITORIAL ACTUAL - Resumen" (in Spanish). Comisión Estatal de Elecciones de Puerto Rico. November 8, 2012. Archived from the original on November 9, 2012. Retrieved November 8, 2012.
  3. ^ a b "CEE Event - OPCIONES NO TERRITORIALES - Resumen" (in Spanish). Comisión Estatal de Elecciones de Puerto Rico. November 8, 2012. Archived from the original on November 9, 2012. Retrieved November 8, 2012.
  4. ^ "CEE Event". Archived from the original on August 4, 2013. Retrieved June 9, 2016.
  5. ^ "CEE Event". Archived from the original on August 4, 2013. Retrieved June 9, 2016.
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  7. ^ Seilhamer, Larry (April 15, 2014). "Opinion: Puerto Rico Statehood Is A Moral, Democratic And Economic Imperative".
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  9. ^ "Puerto Rico Status Resolution Act (2013 - H.R. 2000)".
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  11. ^ "PDP to boycott status referendum". April 20, 2017.
  12. ^ "H.R.6246 - To enable the admission of the territory of Puerto Rico into the Union as a State, and for other purposes". Retrieved July 7, 2018.
  13. ^ "Avalon Project - Treaty of Peace Between the United States and Spain; December 10, 1898". Retrieved June 6, 2016.
  14. ^ "Jones Act - The World of 1898: The Spanish–American War (Hispanic Division, Library of Congress)". Retrieved June 6, 2016.
  15. ^ Staff, LII (November 12, 2009). "Article IV". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved June 9, 2016.
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  18. ^ White, Gillian B. (November 9, 2017). "Why Puerto Rican Statehood Matters So Much Right Now". The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group. Retrieved February 21, 2017. Six words: the ability to file for bankruptcy
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  32. ^ CNN, By Mariano Castillo,. "Puerto Ricans favor statehood for first time - CNNPolitics".CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
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  40. ^ a b "What's a Free Associated State?". Puerto Rico Report. Puerto Rico Report. February 3, 2017. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  41. ^ "Puerto Rico Statehood, Independence, or Free Association Referendum (2017)". Ballotpedia. BALLOTPEDIA. February 6, 2017. Retrieved February 24, 2017. With my vote, I make the initial request to the Federal Government to begin the process of the decolonization through: (1) Free Association: Puerto Rico should adopt a status outside of the Territory Clause of the Constitution of the United States that recognizes the sovereignty of the People of Puerto Rico. The Free Association would be based on a free and voluntary political association, the specific terms of which shall be agreed upon between the United States and Puerto Rico as sovereign nations. Such agreement would provide the scope of the jurisdictional powers that the People of Puerto Rico agree to confer to the United States and retain all other jurisdictional powers and authorities. Under this option the American citizenship would be subject to negotiation with the United States Government; (2) Proclamation of Independence, I demand that the United States Government, in the exercise of its power to dispose of territory, recognize the national sovereignty of Puerto Rico as a completely independent nation and that the United States Congress enact the necessary legislation to initiate the negotiation and transition to the independent nation of Puerto Rico. My vote for Independence also represents my claim to the rights, duties, powers, and prerogatives of independent and democratic republics, my support of Puerto Rican citizenship, and a 'Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation' between Puerto Rico and the United States after the transition process
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  47. ^
  48. ^ 1940 Democratic Platform, July 15, 1940
  49. ^ "Gerald R. Ford: Statement on Proposed Statehood for Puerto Rico". December 31, 1976. Retrieved March 29, 2012.
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  51. ^ a b Garrett, R. Sam; Keith, Bea (June 7, 2011). "Political Status of Puerto Rico: Options for Congress [Report RL32933]" (PDF). Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service.
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  59. ^ a b REPORT BY THE PRESIDENT's TASK FORCE ON PUERTO RICO's STATUS Archived 2015-02-05 at the Wayback Machine, page 23, Recommendation No. 1 & page 30, Recommendation No. 7 & Recommendation No. 2, page 24, 2nd paragraph of page 28, March 11, 2011, The White House.
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Further readingEdit

External linksEdit