Rally for Puerto Rico on Capitol Hill

Advocacy groups promoting statehood for Puerto Rico held a rally this week outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC to call for Congress to take action on results from the island’s November 2012 status plebiscite.

The “Puerto Rican Journey for Equality” rally included hundreds of members of the Puerto Rico Statehood Council, Statehood Mission, Puerto Rico Statehood Students Association, and other groups.

Puerto Rico currently remains and has been a territory of the United States for the past 115 years—far longer than any other U.S. territory.  Its 3.6 million residents are natural-born citizens of the United States and have attained one of the highest levels of military service in the country.  Yet, Puerto Ricans do not have equal rights and responsibilities under U.S. law or the U.S. Constitution compared to U.S. citizens residing in the 50 states.  Puerto Ricans cannot vote for President and lack full congressional representation except for one non-voting Resident Commissioner in the House of Representatives.

In a November 2012 referendum, the people of Puerto Rico voted by a solid majority to move beyond the island’s current territorial status and towards statehood.  Voters were asked two questions: (1) whether they agreed to continue with Puerto Rico’s territorial status and (2) to indicate the political status they preferred from three possibilities: statehood, independence, or a sovereign nation in free association with the United States.  Fifty-four percent of voters chose “No” on the first question, expressing themselves against maintaining the current political status.  Of those who answered the second question, more than sixty-one percent chose statehood.

Participants at today’s event asked Congress to approve a bill that would establish a formal process to deal with the island’s current political status, specifically holding a binding referendum where Puerto Rican voters can vote either for or against statehood.

Speakers at the event included Representatives Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Republican National Committee Co-Chair Sharon Day, Republican National Committeewoman for Puerto Rico Zoraida Fonalledas, Congress for Racial Equality spokesperson Niger Innis, and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist.

As a truly representative democracy, it is time for the United States government and the Congress to review Puerto Rico’s status and begin a democratic process that moves toward resolving the issue of granting full equality to American citizens in Puerto Rico.