In the past approximately 47% of Puerto Ricans have voted for Statehood, and about 49% have voted for the current Commonwealth status. From this you can draw several conclusions, one of which is; Puerto Ricans by a margin of 96% to 4% have consistently rejected Independence as a status alternative. The pro–Independence Party in Puerto Rico has at times had difficulty in remaining certified as a political party due to how few votes it gets.
The next conclusion you can draw requires you understand what the Commonwealth “option” has offered Puerto Rican voters in the past. It has included permanent union with the United States and continued US citizenship. These two conditions are obviously also part of the Statehood option. Therefore the conclusion I draw from these results is that Puerto Ricans by an overwhelming margin on several occasions have expressed their desire to remain in permanent union with the United States and maintain their US citizenship. We differ on what form our political relationship should take with the US, but these two conditions are very clear.
The pro–Commonwealth party advocates giving Puerto Rico more autonomy and control over the island’s affairs while remaining associated with the US. The problem with this option is that it is contrary to the US Constitution. The territorial clause of the US Constitution gives full control of all territorial affairs to the US Congress. For Congress to relinquish some or all of its powers over a territory, the territory would have to be removed from under the jurisdiction of the territorial clause, or the Constitution would have to be ammended (very unlikely to happen).
The only way to remove Puerto Rico from under the jurisdiction of the US Constitution is to grant it Independence, something Puerto Ricans do not want. Do you see the dilemma?
The problem is that all the past votes on the matter have been crafted by Puerto Rican politicians, and the definitions of the status options people have voted for in the past ignore this Constitutional reality. The intricacies of US Constitutional law are not very well understood in Puerto Rico, and the US Congress has failed to provide clear guidance on the matter.
On the topic of language – although Spanish is by far the most prominent language in Puerto Rico, English is taught in public schools, many college texts are in English, and many Puerto Ricans are bilingual. I do not believe language would be a barrier to integration through Statehood.
I would disagree with the assertion that Congress has denied proposed changes to Puerto Rico’s status. The issue is Congress has not acted at all. It has not given Puerto Rico a clear and Constitutionally viable choice. Congress has left it up to Puerto Ricans to decide for ourselves, and our political infighting has prevented us from speaking with a clear voice. The status quo is hard to change. People fear change. And by making false promises, the pro-Commonwealth party continues to delay the inevitable.
We cannot remain in permanent union with the US and keep our US citizenship, yet enjoy the autonomy of an independent nation. That is not possible. Not only would it require a change to the US Constitution, but it would also require a super majority of US States to agree to give Puerto Rico a special status they themselves do not enjoy. It’s just not going to happen.
Puerto Rico needs to decide to either become a State, become a free nation, or stay a US territory. If the Puerto Rican people understood that these are the only three choices, and that this “enhanced” Commonwealth option being offered at voting time is just not possible, I believe you would see much higher support for Statehood.
The current status of US territory (which in Puerto Rico is called “Associated Free State”, something that doesn’t exist) is demeaning, shameful, and goes against everything the US stands for. The US gains nothing by keeping a territory. The US Congress should exercise its duties under the US Constitution and give Puerto Rico a clear choice that removes us from under the territorial clause and makes us either an independent nation or a state.
The status quo must end.