Puerto Rico's Future; Needed: A Fair Process of Self-Determination

Article excerpt


During my four years in the House of Representatives, proudly representing the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, I learned an important lesson about how Congress functions. "Process" is often just as important as "outcome," partly because it ensures a legitimate outcome. Now, as the island's governor, I hear every day from our residents that "process" - and in particular, fair and unbiased process - is critical as we discuss Puerto Rico's future. With Congress debating Puerto Rico's status in a Capitol Hill hearing this week, I encourage them to reject legislation that would arbitrarily mandate statehood for Puerto Rico, and instead to support a reasonable system for determining the partnership between the United States and the commonwealth.

For fifty years, the citizens of Puerto Rico have supported our current relationship, voting again and again to continue commonwealth rather than adopt statehood or independence. Puerto Ricans have been empowered to determine their future and have selected between all of the options on the table in each referendum - giving an accurate assessment of the most popular choice of the people.

Statehood has never won majority support in Puerto Rico, so now statehood advocates are taking a new approach. They have created a process to force statehood upon Puerto Rico, even if the island's citizens still do not want it. In Congress, Rep. Luis Fortuno, Puerto Rico Republican, and Jose Serrano, New York Democrat, have introduced the "Puerto Rico Democracy Act," H.R. 900, which would use a complex and troubling voting structure to guide the island toward a predetermined outcome.

This statehood bill would utilize a two-stage referendum structure to knock out Commonwealth early on. In the first round, an ill-defined commonwealth category would be pitted against a combined statehood-and-independence category, allowing statehood and independence to merge their votes to build a tiny majority. Then, in the second round, voters would choose between statehood and independence only, with the former the likely winner. At no point could our citizens select their choice from all three options. And in some proposals, there would be no end to the referendum process, with votes held regularly. This would presumably continue until statehood emerges victorious.

That process is wrong - for Puerto Rico and for the United States. Leaders in Washington have lobbied hard for statehood for our nation's capital. But they enjoy near-universal support from the District's residents. In Hawaii and Alaska, the two states most recently admitted to the union, public backing for statehood was similarly strong. …