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Monday, January 18, 2016

Quick Explanation: Puerto Rico's Relationship With The U.S.

What is Puerto Rico's relationship with the United States?

For the couple of years after the invasion by the United States, Puerto
Rico was ruled militarily. In 1900, a civilian government was established
on the island through the Foraker Act. The upper house of the legislature
and the governor were appointed by the President of the United States.
Partly as a way for the U.S. military to gain new recruits to fight in
World War I, the Jones Act of 1917 gave all Puerto Ricans United States
citizenship, although the right to vote for the President was still not
granted. The island also had no voting representative in Congress, just
a "Resident Commissioner". This position was elective after 1917, but the
Resident Commissioner could still only vote in committee with no voting
privileges on the House floor.
In 1947, the US allowed Puerto Ricans to vote for their own governor,
with social democrat Luis Munoz Marin of the Popular Democratic Party
being elected the following year. In 1952, the Constitution of Puerto
Rico was approved by the island's government, then by the federal Congress
and the President. Thus was established the Commonwealth of Puerto 
Rico; the island would not be a U.S. state, but it would not be a sovereign
nation either. In Spanish, the Commonwealth option is known as "Estado
Libre Asociado" or "Free Associated State". Puerto Ricans still could not
vote for the President or have a voting representative in Congress, two
situations that continue to the present day.

Many Puerto Ricans migrated to the mainland United States throughout the decades -- and continue to do so -- mainly for economic reasons. It is estimated that over 5 million Puerto Ricans reside in the U.S., more than the number who live on the island. Puerto Ricans on the mainland have increasingly become an important voting bloc, especially in states like New York and Florida. While most Puerto Ricans who left the island in the middle of the 20th century were unskilled laborers, more recent immigration to the mainland (and abroad) has been largely composed of professionals and college graduates. Thousands of Puerto Rican veterans have served in the U.S. military, fighting in every major war since 1917 and largely serving with bravery and distinction.
Some U.S. Presidents (such as Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford) expressed support for the idea of Puerto Rican statehood. Barack Obama has stated that he would follow the wishes of the Puerto Rican people regarding the island's status, but has so far been largely noncommittal. In the end, the future of the island's status is largely in the hands of the U.S. Congress, which has also been reluctant to deal with the issue.

Results of Puerto Rico Status Plebiscites

46% (1st round)
Free Association
33.2% (2nd round)
None of the above
Puerto Rico's association with the U.S. has certainly brought some benefits: infrastructure was built, American companies brought some investment and Puerto Ricans could freely travel to and from the mainland United States. But the colonial status also brought some problems: FBI surveillance and harrassment of political activists, medical experimentation, the establishment of controversial military bases on Puerto Rican soil and the continued lack of representation as well as a lack of diplomatic and economic autonomy. Puerto Ricans have typically been split down the middle between supporters of the Commonwealth status quo and joining the U.S. as the 51st state, with a small minority supporting some type of independence. From the 1930s to the 1950s, a small but committed nationalist movement (led by Pedro Albizu Campos) carried out some violent actions, such as the uprising of 1950 (in which Nationalists took over several Puerto Rican towns, until defeated by the US military), the attempt on President Truman's life (also in 1950) and a shooting inside the US Capitol in 1954. In recent years, the statehood option has gradually been gaining more support.
As of spring 2015, no further status votes are planned in Puerto Rico, and action on moving forward with resolving the status issue seems to be at a standstill.

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