In 1898, the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-Cuban-American War. The then-Spanish colonies of the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico were ceded to the United States as part of the Treaty of Paris of 1898 between Spain and the United States. 115 years later, Puerto Rico is still a colonial territory of the United States, a country founded upon the values of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Since 1917, all Puerto Ricans born in the territory are native-born citizens, and if they move to the mainland, they can vote and run for any office, including President of the United States. Residents of the island cannot vote for either president, or for any member of Congress, except for a non-voting delegate.
Since 1917, Puerto Ricans have fought in all wars the United States has been involved in. For instance, if the 65th Infantry Regiment —known as the “the Borinqueneers” because of the regiment’s mainly Puerto Rican membership— had not been in Korea in 1950 at the Chosin Reservoir, the Chinese would have overran the retreating U.S. Marines.
Puerto Ricans are as much Americans as Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, etc. Since the Nationalist Party revolts of 1950, Puerto Rico’s independence movement has seen a gradual decline of followers up to the present status of the island’s Independence Party, not even reaching 3% of its required approval to retain their party status with the Puerto Rican Electoral Commission.
And then you have the latest Presidential Task Force, published by the Obama Administration, which on page 25 states the following:
“…consistent with the legal conclusions reached by prior Task Force reports, one aspect of some proposals for enhanced Commonwealth remains constitutionally problematic—proposals that would establish a relationship between Puerto Rico and the Federal Government that could not be altered except by mutual consent. This was a focus of past Task Force reports. The Obama Administration has taken a fresh look at the issue of such mutual consent provisions, and it has concluded that such provisions would not be enforceable because a future Congress could choose to alter that relationship unilaterally (Congress similarly could elect to enact legislation violating a treaty with a foreign country or to legislate over the opposition of one or more States).”
Therefore, the proposal of an enhanced Commonwealth outside the territorial clause of the United States Constitution, proposed by Puerro Rico’s incumbent ruling party —the Popular Democratic Party (affiliated mainly with the Democratic Party of the United States)— is unconstitutional and a pipe dream being offered to its followers.
Last November, during the election, the people of Puerto Rico were asked two questions. The first was whether they wished to change the current status of Puerto Rico. A similar question was asked in 1951, when Public Law 600 was enacted by Congress to approve the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. To the question asked last November, 54% of the voters that participated that day said they were not satisfied with the current arrangement.
On a second question that was not binding to how one answered the first question, voters were asked to choose between three status alternatives: Statehood, Independence, or Free Associated Republic (the type of arrangement the independent nation of the Marianas has with the United States). 61% of the voters who chose to answer this question picked Statehood, the very first time that Statehood had won any type of plebiscite on the island. Opponents of Statehood, mainly politicians backed by multinational corporations and other special interests that benefit from the current territorial arrangement, claim that the Statehood percentage dropped to 45% when the empty ballots cast were taken into consideration.
Nowhere in the United States is a blank ballot even considered as part of a final tally percentage. If that were the case, then Congressmen who abstained from voting would count against the winning vote. Even if the blank ballots were a protest vote, those are never counted in our political system.
Clearly the message to the world is that the people of Puerto Rico have chosen to begin the process to become a full-fledged member of the Union. Helping Puerto Rico gain Statehood should be a priority for the U.S. Latino Movement, whether conservative or liberal. Not only because it is the will of the people of Puerto Rico, but because Puerto Ricans —as native-born American citizens that pay most federal taxes and participate in the armed forces— are discriminated against for living on the island.
It is due time that the United States live up to its values of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Until Puerto Rico joins the Union, the United States will be living a hypocrisy, granting children of non-Americans residency with the chance to becoming citizens, yet denying the same rights of voting and representation to the citizens that reside in the territory of Puerto Rico.
Edwin R. Jusino is the former National Associate Vice-President of the Puerto Rico Statehood Students Association, a non-profit student organization not affiliated with the New Progressive Party, that advocates Statehood for Puerto Rico. Jusino is also a Social Sciences-History graduate from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez campus.