Photo: Pedro Pierluisi
The same day that Puerto Rico was celebrating the 520th year since its discovery by Cristopher Columbus, San Juan’s non-voting representative in Congress demanded Tuesday outside the U.S. Capitol that the island become the 51st state.
“Five centuries is too long. The time to act is now,” Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi said here Tuesday.
July 25 marked the 115th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War.
Island residents were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917, yet they cannot vote in presidential elections, though Puerto Ricans living in the continental United States can.
Since 1952, the island has been a Free Associated State of the United States, an unincorporated territory with broad internal autonomy.
“The U.S. government rightfully prides itself as a champion of democracy and self-determination around the world. Therefore, Democrats and Republicans in Washington should - indeed, they must - remain true to those principles with respect to their own citizens, by enacting legislation that will enable Puerto Rico to have a democratic and dignified status,” Pierluisi said at Tuesday’s event.
Joining him before the Capitol were politicians of both parties, since, according to Pierluisi, “the cause of statehood for Puerto Rico transcends party politics.”
The resident commissioner stresses that 54 percent of Puerto Ricans supported a change in status in a non-binding referendum coinciding with the November 2012 gubernatorial election.
The ballot consisted of two questions.
Sixty-one percent of those who answered the second question favored statehood over the other two choices: enhanced commonwealth status or independence.
But more than 460,000 Puerto Ricans who voted on the first status question did not respond to the second question.
Congress has appropriated $2.5 million for a binding status plebiscite in Puerto Rico, but the process remains in limbo.
In May, Pierluisi presented a bill that formulates the process by which Puerto Rico could become the 51st state. The measure has the support of 125 House members, though as things stand it will probably not be debated any time soon.
This Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), confirmed that he favors statehood for Puerto Rico.