Puerto Rico‘s current commonwealth status is “the root cause of the economic and social problems that impair quality of life on the island,” said Puerto Rico pro-statehood leader Pedro Pierluisi to members of the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization, arguing that Puerto Ricans have expressed a preference for statehood over its current commonwealth status.
“We categorically reject the backwards view, embraced by certain political leaders in Puerto Rico, that the status debate is somehow a distraction from efforts to address these challenges,” said Pierluisi, who is also Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner.
Puerto Rico’s statehood and pro-commonwealth leaders are currently entangled in a bitter debate over a recent two-question non-binding plebiscite vote held last November 6. Fifty-four percent of islanders said they were not content with the current commonwealth status in the plebiscite’s first question. But while 800,000 out of about 1.3 million voters supported statehood in the second question, about half a million people left it blank, since there was no commonwealth option in the question.
The plebiscite results and their partisan interpretations have become the center of a political battle between Pierluisi and Governor Alejandro García Padilla.
Pierluisi told the 24-member committee, however, that it was clear that the island residents preferred statehood. “For the first time in Puerto Rico’s history, there are more people who want Puerto Rico to become a state than who want to continue the current status,” said Pierluisi. “As the November vote reveals, the statehood movement has become the predominant force in Puerto Rico, and it grows stronger by the day.”
Pierluisi said to the U.N. committee (full remarks here) that he had “described the significance of this vote to the President of the United States, my colleagues in the U.S. Congress, and the American public,” and that he also believed it was “appropriate” that he “inform the community of nations as well.”
“As Resident Commissioner, I regularly experience firsthand the injustice of our current status,” Pierluisi said. “I must fight to ensure that Puerto Rico is not excluded from job creation, health care, or border security bills that automatically include the states. As my fellow representatives in the U.S. House vote on legislation that affects every aspect of life in Puerto Rico, I can only watch, even though I represent about five times as many U.S. citizens as any of my colleagues.”
Pierluisi, who introduced the Puerto Rican Status Resolution Act last month in Congress, said that “the people of Puerto Rico, 3.7 million strong, deserve a fully democratic and dignified status.” This remark did not include the over 4 million Puerto Ricans living on the U.S. mainland. The Resident Commissioner does not support a push by other island leaders to have Puerto Ricans living on the U.S. mainland participate in any future status votes.
“The only path forward is statehood or nationhood,” Pierluisi said. “And between those options, the people of Puerto Rico clearly prefer integration through statehood. It is now incumbent upon the United States government to respond by enacting legislation to offer Puerto Rico one or more of the status options that would provide its people with a full measure of self-government. I have emphasized that action is necessary for both legal and moral reasons.”
Pierluisi then applauded President Obama for seeking support from Congress to “conduct first federally sponsored vote in Puerto Rico’s history, with the express goal of ‘resolving’ the territory’s future status.”
Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77 ) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. In the past 12 months, Julito represented the Rebeldes on Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, Forbes, and The New York Times.