WASHINGTON – Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño argued on Wednesday that residents of the Caribbean island should get the opportunity to vote on the nature of their relationship with the United States.
The bill endorsed by the governor proposes that Congress should consult Puerto Ricans about their preferences regarding the political status of the island for the first time since it was occupied by the United States after the 1898 Spanish-American War.
Island residents were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917, yet they cannot vote in presidential elections, though Puerto Ricans living in the continental United States can.
On July 25, 1952, Congress allowed Puerto Rico to establish a “permanent association with a federal union,” or commonwealth. The island became a self-governing, unincorporated territory of the United States with broad internal autonomy, but without the right to conduct its own foreign policy.
While Fortuño’s New Progressive Party, or PNP, wants Puerto Rico to become the 51st state, the main opposition Popular Democratic Party – PPD – calls for an enhanced commonwealth status.
“The reality is that the island’s current status does not enable the people of Puerto Rico to fulfill their potential for social, economic and political development,” the island’s governor said on Wednesday in a hearing of the House Committee on Natural Resources.
Fortuño said that despite the inflow of some $20 billion in U.S. federal assistance each year, Puerto Rico continues to suffer from a chronic problem of low economic performance.
He said the measure presented by Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative to Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, provides for a “just and impartial” process, without taking a position in favor of or against the options on the table.
Under the measure, if Puerto Ricans decide to maintain their current status as a Free Associated State, there would be subsequent periodic plebiscites about the matter, since the territorial status of the island is considered to be “non-permanent.”
But if the citizenry opt for a change, they would have to choose among statehood, independence or “sovereignty in association with the United States,” Fortuño said.
Also scheduled to testify before the committee were representatives of the PPD and the tiny Puerto Rican Independence Party. EFE