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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Hyperlocal Humanitarian

Puerto Rico is indeed a unique Caribbean island. After centuries of Spanish rule, it became a United States territory in 1898 during the Spanish American War. As a result of this acquisition, Puerto Rico is currently under Congressional jurisdiction under the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution. To complicate matters, The Jones Act of 1917 granted US citizenship to Puerto Ricans, although unique in its implications. Despite being subject to federal law, the four million residents of Puerto Rico cannot vote in the U.S. general election. They can serve in the U.S. military but pay no federal taxes on income earned in Puerto Rico, although they do pay taxes on income derived from the U.S. In addition, Puerto Rico elects a non-voting Resident Commissioner to the House of Representatives. It is clear that in Puerto Rico a complex political reality exists, one that many are unsatisfied with.

The political parties in Puerto Rico consist of the following political organizations: The Popular Democratic Party-Partido Democratico Popular (PDP), which favors the current “commonwealth” status; The New Progressive Party-Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP), which favors statehood; and the Puerto Rican Independence Party-Partico Independentista Puertorriqueno (PIP), which favors independence. Beginning in 1967, the Commission on the Status of Puerto Rico organized several plebiscites (popular votes) on the various status options. Beginning in July of 1967, the Commonwealth option received the majority of the votes, with members of the other two parties boycotting the plebiscite. A referendum conducted in 1991 was intended to determine if the Puerto Rican people agreed that they possessed a right to determine the status of Puerto Rico without the interference of Congress. The results showed that 53% voted against this proposal. Explanations suggested that Puerto Rican people feared that a “yes” vote would mean a compromise or loss of federal benefits and a loss of U.S. citizenship. Both of the 1993 and 1998 plebiscites resulted in the majority of the votes favoring the “no option” ballot. No further plebiscites have been conducted.

In hopes of finalizing this heated political debate, the 111th Congress – which began during the last two weeks of the Bush administration and will end in the first two years of the Obama administration – has aimed to finalize the merry-go-round politics that Puerto Rico has been subjected to for decades. In April 2010, the House passed legislation that aimed to let Puerto Ricans decide for themselves what status options they desired. The choices are Commonwealth, Free Association, Independence or Statehood. If Commonwealth is rejected, another ballot will be implemented that will determine what options the Puerto Rican people prefer. The Senate has not yet weighed in on the issue; only time will tell if and when they decide to address this concern. Because of the complexities in the relationship with the United States, Congress ultimately decides the fate of this Caribbean island.

Although I consider myself Puerto Rican (born in the United States to Puerto Rican parents), I do not know what the best option is for those living on the island. My cultural pride would love to see Puerto Rico as a free, sovereign nation, and I worry what the implications of statehood are in terms of losing the unique cultural identity that Puerto Ricans strongly emit. The current Commonwealth status seems like a form of second class citizenship. Ultimately, it is up to the Puerto Ricans living on the island to decide. It is my aspiration that Congress respects this decision and works to expedite and finalize this embarrassing political game we have played with the Puerto Rican people.