UNITED STATES- PUERTO RICO POLITICAL STATUS ACT
Q. Why is this bill being introduced now?
A. HR 856 is in response to the 1993 Puerto Rican plebiscite in which less than a majority approved the current status and thereby left unresolved the island's political status, continuing for almost a century US rule over this American territory acquired in the Spanish-American War of 1898. The bill seeks to resolve the status issue by addressing the Puerto Rico legislature's request for a self-determination process guaranteeing the island's decolonization by means of federally sponsored plebiscite in 1998.
Q. But wasn't this issue unsuccessfully addressed last year?
A. No. Pro-commonwealth supporters sought to undermine the bill's predecessor, HR 4281, at the end of the 104th Congress by mandating English as the official language of Puerto Rico state. Aside from the proposal's unconstitutionality, adoption of such a requirement would have upset the legal and constitutional framework of the self-determination process denying Puerto Ricans the chance for a fair vote on their status. To assure a fair vote the bill was withdrawn and re-introduced in its present form this year.
Q. Is the concern over the use of English in Puerto Rico dealt with any differently in this bill?
A. Yes. While the bill recognizes that English and Spanish are Puerto Rico's two official languages, in the event of a statehood vote English would become the official language of the Federal Government in Puerto Rico to the same extent it is used throughout the other states of the U.S. Further, included in the bill's transition plan to statehood would be incentives to increase the opportunities of Puerto Ricans to speak, read, write and understand English fully.
Q. Getting back to the 1993 plebiscite, why is the bill necessary as the commonwealth option won?
A. Although commonwealth prevailed by a plurality, the winning formula could not be given full credence because it contained proposals that were unconstitutional including permanent union with the US and a guarantee of American citizenship, both of which can only be achieved through statehood.
Q. Why should Congress define the status options?
A. Puerto Rico, an unincorporated US territory, is subject to Congressional authority under the Constitution's Territorial Clause. Congress has the responsibility to advance Puerto Rico toward full self-government, defining the status options is within its duties. Self-determination for the residents of Puerto Rico is not possible if Congress does not establish the options it will consider.
Q. Why are the status options offered?
A. The territorial status quo, commonwealth, separate sovereignty (independence or free association) and statehood. Separate sovereignty and statehood are the two paths to full self-government.
Q. Will U.S. citizenship, conferred on Puerto Ricans in 1917 be affected?
A. (1) Puerto Ricans can retain their statutory U.S. citizenship for life under independence or free association so long as they not declare their allegiance, nationality or citizenship to any other nation
(2) However, Puerto Ricans will be guaranteed their U.S. citizenship if they vote statehood and Congress and the President approve it.
Q. How else do the status options differ from one another?
A. (1) Under independence or free association or free association bilateral treaties will determine if Puerto Rico gets U.S. foreign aid and special trade terms and the extent to which U.S. property and employment rights will be honored.
(2) Statehood will provide all U.S. Constitutional benefits to Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans including congressional representation, the presidential vote and the obligation to pay federal taxes.
Q. When does the status plebiscite have to be held?
A. A plebiscite must be held no later that December 31, 1998.
Q. How does the process work?
A. The winning choice between separate sovereignty (independence or free association) and statehood must get majority of the votes cast and again be reconfirmed twice more by a majority of voters and Congress over a ten or more year period after which it will be implemented
Q. What happens if full self-government does not get approved or fails to get a majority vote in the two subsequent referendums?
A. Then Puerto Rico will remain an unincorporated territory until such time as Congress determines its disposition and the status of its residents or one of the other forms of full-self government is selected in plebiscites to be held every four years thereafter