What to know about the division of Puerto Rico on its territorial status
Puerto Rico’s territorial status has been a topic of conversation among islanders for decades.
But conversations about equal rights for residents of Puerto Rico – a US territory whose citizens are US citizens – gained new momentum after Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017, leaving nearly 3,000 dead and causing more than $ 90 billion in damage.
There are currently two bills before Congress that seek to address the status of the nation and the Biden administration has said the island should be able to choose its fate.
While some Americans on the mainland favor the creation of a state for Puerto Rico, experts say the issue of the island’s status is still a matter of division.
“This has always been a source of division, because since the United States invaded Puerto Rico in 1898, there have been people who have come out in favor of maintaining a relationship with the United States, similar to that of the United States. that currently exists. But there are people who want independence because they really feel strong in their national identity, or people who want a state because they want to be American, ”Morales told ABC News.
Prior to 1898, Puerto Rico was under Spanish control. During the Spanish-American War, the United States invaded Puerto Rico and gained exclusive power over the island. In 1917, the United States granted citizenship to residents of Puerto Rico under the Jones Act.
Because of this history, many residents of Puerto Rico consider the island to be the oldest settlement in the world.
Here’s what to know about the debate over the island’s future:
Divided into 3 options
The majority of Puerto Ricans believe that the current status of the island needs to change, but are divided on the best course of action: a state, independence or an “improved” Commonwealth.
The territory has held six non-binding referendums on political status, but no official changes have been made.
In the last plebiscite, held on November 3, 2020, 52% of residents voted for the creation of a state, while 47% of residents voted against. According to the Puerto Rico Election Commission, about 52% of voters participated in the referendum.
Once the results were made public, the conversation about the island’s political status reached the national level. “There is no consensus, there is division,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., told El Nuevo Dia after the vote.
For Alexandra-Marie Figueroa, independence activist, the division between Puerto Ricans is linked to disinformation about the political ideologies available to Puerto Ricans.
“If you look at who pushed these plebiscites, it’s always been skewed… it’s always been by the Progressive State Party, but they never called for a coalition in which every ideology is properly represented and every movement has adequate resources. to inform the public about the position and the possibilities, ”said Figueroa.
Kevin Romero-Diaz is a political consultant and campaigned for the creation of a state. He believes that educating people about what the state of a state really means will increase those who are in favor of this decision.
“I am very convinced that after an educational process the Puerto Rican people will vote again in favor of the creation of a state,” Romero told ABC News. “If we go out and explain and educate the citizens of the island … the percentage would be much, much larger.”
For those who believe that Puerto Rico should retain a version of the statute commonly known as “ELA” (“Estado Libre Asociado” – roughly translated as Associated State, Free), they agree that there should be some type of change.
“The current political arrangement can be improved and improved,” said Jose Nadal Power, supporter of the Commonwealth and former senator.
Under Puerto Rico’s Federal Relations Act, there is a clause that allows Puerto Ricans to organize a government in accordance with a constitution of their own adoption. According to Nadal Power, the law should include a clause that includes “what are the limits of the powers of Congress over Puerto Rico”.
2 potential solutions
There are two bills in Congress that deal with the status of Puerto Rico.
The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Law, presented by Representative Nydia Velazquez, DN.Y., Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y. and Senator Bob Menéndez, DN.J., would call for a status convention among local legislatures elected by the Puerto Rican people. The delegates would be responsible for finding a permanent solution to the territorial status of the island.
Meanwhile, Island Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez, R-Puerto Rico, and Congressman Daren Soto, D-Fla., Introduced Puerto Rico State Admission Law, pushing the territory to become the 51st state of the country.
Despite legislative initiatives, some believe that the chances of change are slim.
“I don’t think these bills will get to the president’s office for signature, but of course they are our way of starting our discussion on the political status of Puerto Rico,” Power told ABC News.
During the 2020 campaign, then-Democratic candidate Joe Biden spoke at a Hispanic Heritage Month event in Florida and addressed Puerto Rico’s political status, saying that he “ believed that the state was the most effective way to ensure that residents of Puerto Rico were treated equally. , with equal representation at the federal level. “
In a statement to ABC News, Gretchen Sierra-Zorita, associate director for Puerto Rico and the Territories, said President Biden believes that “the people of Puerto Rico have an inalienable right to choose their political destiny and that the government of the states -Unis must respect and act on this choice. “
While the conversation about the island’s political future is still uncertain and divisive, most of its residents make a decision based on what they see as the best outcome for where they live. “I don’t think your ideological position matters much. I think you care about your country, ”said Figueroa, who supports independence. “I think you make the decisions you make because out of the goodness of your heart you think you are making the right decision for your country and for your people.”