[On March 9th, Raúl Juliá would have turned 76. To honor one of the most famous and talented Puerto Rican artists, this week’s series will feature a handful of Boricua blogs, leading up to this special weekend post on Puerto Rican statehood!]
Five historical moments and trends that have brought the debate over Puerto Rico’s potential future as the 51st state to its present place.
1) A War’s Aftermath: The Spanish American War was largely fought in other places (the July 1898 Battle of San Juan Hill is often mistakenly identified as taking place in Puerto Rico’s capital, but San Juan Hill is actually in Cuba), yet one of its most significant effects was that the Spanish colony of Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States as part of the 1899 Treaty of Paris. The initial US leaders of the island were military governors, but the 1900 Foraker Act (or Organic Act) established a civilian government, with Charles H. Allen the first civilian governor.
2) Citizenship and Pseudo-Sovereignty: It took nearly two decades of debate, but in early 1917 Congress passed and Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Act, a law that gave Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship and established a Puerto Rican Senate and House of Representatives. Yet at the same time, the Foraker Act still superceded this new law, meaning for example that any laws passed by those new legislative bodies could be vetoed by the Governor, the President, and the U.S. Congress—and that the U.S. federal government retained final say over the island’s economic and defense concerns, among others.
3) Clarifying Territorial Limits: In 1922, the Supreme Court rendered a decision in Balzac v. Porto Rico. Jesús Balzac, a Puerto Rican citizen, declared that his 6th Amendment rights had been violated as part of a criminal libel case against him, and appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. But in their ruling, the Court unanimously ruled that Puerto Rico’s territorial status did not mean that it had been incorporated into the union, and thus that the U.S. Constitution did not apply to its citizens.
4) Political Support: In the century since Balzac, there have been a number of interesting moments in which American political parties and leaders have expressed their support for Puerto Rican statehood. One of the first was the 1940 Democratic Party platform, which argued, “We favor a larger measure of self-government leading to statehood, for Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico”; two decades later (in 1959) the first two would become the 49th and 50th states, but Puerto Rico remained in limbo. President Gerald Ford overtly proposed Congress take up statehood legislation in December 1976, perhaps the most aggressive of many such political statements, but no such law was passed.
5) The 21st Century: On a November 2012 ballot, Puerto Rican voters strongly expressed two concurrent sentiments: rejecting the island’s current territorial status 54% to 46% on one question, and on a second with more than 61% choosing statehood as their preferred status. Yet once again, the U.S. federal government has superceded these Puerto Rican voices, with 2014 Congressional resolutions to support the voters’ preferences dying in committees in both the Senate and House. The next steps for all these histories, and this complex American community, remain to be seen.
Next series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think? Other PR connections you’d highlight?
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