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The bipartisan U.S. Senate status bill for Puerto Rico, officially announced on March 19, provides for the island an incorporated territory status leading to statehood. Some commentators have said that before Puerto Rico qualifies for statehood, it should first have an incorporated status, following historical tradition.

In light of the aforementioned, I wish to expand what I stated in my March 25 column to the effect that the proposed incorporated status be rejected because Puerto Rico is ready for statehood and it does not need a pre-chamber for statehood. In fact, our island is more ready for statehood than many U.S. territories were when admitted to the union. Furthermore, stated like Texas, California and Nevada moved directly from unincorporated territories to statehood.

For the benefit of those not familiar with "incorporated" and "unincorporated" territorial status, it is considered pertinent to first touch on what these terms mean.

In 1901, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its ruling on the famous Insular Cases, drew a difference between incorporated and unincorporated territories. It was held that all rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution applied to incorporated territories, and that in the case of unincorporated territories, only fundamental rights, as distinguished from formal or procedural rights, apply. Only Congress has the power to decide whether a territory has an incorporated or unincorporated status. Incorporated territories are on the road to statehood after going through the experience of democratic self-government. Unincorporated territories are not considered to be on the way to statehood.

There is a third class of U.S. territories comprising wholly unorganized, unincorporated dependencies controlled not by Congress but by some agency of the executive branch. Such is the case of American Samoa, Wake Island and other very small islands in the Pacific. They are ruled by the U.S. Department of Interior and their people are regarded as U.S. nationals, but not U.S. citizens. Alaska and Hawaii were the last fully incorporated territories of the United States. Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam are still unincorporated territories.

Going back to the incorporated status proposed for Puerto Rico leading to statehood, the following cannot be overlooked in rejecting such a proposed pre-chamber to statehood status that could last for years, as was the case with Hawaii.

It will be recalled that on November 22, 1993, U.S. Representative Don Young (R-Alaska) introduced legislation (HR 3715) to provide consultations for the development of 14 articles of Incorporation for U.S. territories, to wit: Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Marianas. It was indicated by Congressman Young that the intention of the proposed legislation was to establish a mechanism for full self-government and political empowerment in U.S. territories consistent with international decolonization and the principle of self-determination.

Incorporation, said Young, would give the U.S. territories "full constitutional rights, full self-government and guaranties of U.S. citizenship." Subsequently, in a revised resolution, incorporation was replaced by political integration, and other status options were added, such as free association and independence.

My perception regarding the proposed incorporated status for Puerto Rico is the same as I expressed, as follows, to Congressman Young in a June 30, 1994 letter:

"Being an incorporated territory is certainly better than having an unincorporated status. There is no doubt that incorporation provides for eventual statehood. This was clearly established in ...1787, [when] Congress, under the Articles of Incorporation passed the Northwest Ordinance, which set up the first American Territory, the Northwest Territory. I believe that all but 19 states of the union were once incorporated territories. The idea of a pre-statehood step was to prepare an incorporated territory for statehood and subsequently prove to Congress its readiness and qualifications for statehood before admission to the union.

The presence of rich natural resources in Nevada, Texas and California was a decisive factor in expediting their entry into the union from unincorporated territories directly into statehood. Nevada, for example, had less, by far, than the 127,381 residents required to become a state when on October 31, 1864, President Lincoln proclaimed it as the 36th state of the union. But, of course, Nevada had rich silver and gold resources, and both the North and South needed those resources to pay for the cost of the Civil War. Regarding Texas, in addition to its vast oil reserves, the Southern states wanted Texas as a state because it favored slavery. It became the 28th state of the Union by a joint resolution of both chambers of Congress on December 23, 1845. In the case of California, its gold, oil and natural gas reserves played a key role in expediting its entry as the 31st state of the union on September 9, 1850.

With regard to Puerto Rico, I believe incorporation status is too little too late. Our island is by far more ready than many of the incorporated territories on the mainland when they became states of the union. It fully meets statehood requirements, and there is no justification to place Puerto Rico now in a pre-statehood stage when it can swiftly move directly into statehood.

It is true our island does not have oil, silver and gold. On the other hand, the U.S. Congress should not overlook the following about Puerto Rico:

1. Because of its strategic location in the Caribbean region, and contrary to what some people say, it still plays a key role in the U.S. national defense and in providing the facilities to keep the U.S. armed forces in a permanent state of strength and readiness in light of dangerous regional situations. This was confirmed in the Persian Gulf War and not long ago in the U.S. involvement in Haiti. And speaking of national defense, in the wars in which the U.S. has been involved, Puerto Rico’s contribution has been greater than that of 22 states of the union.

2. Puerto Rico is among the largest customers of the United States in the world, making annual purchases of some $10 billion in U.S. goods, which represent more than 200,000 jobs on the mainland.

3. The contribution of Puerto Ricans in science, medicine, law, literature, music, arts and sports has been greater than that of many of their fellow U.S. citizens on the mainland.


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