Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuno (R) [official website, in Spanish], a supporter of statehood, signed legislation establishing a two-part referendum [press release, in Spanish] on Wednesday that would allow Puerto Ricans to voice their opinions regarding Puerto Rico's political status and connection to the US. The referendum would be held on November 6, 2012. The first part of the referendum asks whether Puerto Rico [BBC backgrounder] should change its status at all. The second part of the referendum asks which type of status change is preferred, including statehood, independence or "sovereign commonwealth" outside the Territorial Clause of the US Constitution. Fortuno praised the two-part referendum:
[I]n a single event, we know with clarity, first, if our people want to maintain the current territorial political status and second, we know which of the alternatives of Puerto Rico's territorial status has more support from Puerto Ricans to provide the people.The results of the referendum would not be binding to the US because congressional action would be required to enact any status change.
The Puerto Rican House of Representatives voted to pass the legislation [JURIST report] to permit the referendum earlier this month. The US House of Representatives approved a bill to establish the referendum [JURIST report] in April 2010, but it was never approved by the Senate. In 2007, the UN Special Committee on Decolonization [official website] called on the US [press release] to quickly resolve the island's political status and release political prisoners. Puerto Ricans last voted on the status of the island in 1998 [results], with the "None of the Above" option winning 50.3 percent, statehood garnering 46.5 percent of the vote and independence only 2.5 percent. The island was established as a US commonwealth in 1952 after Congress adopted the Puerto Rican Constitution. Puerto Ricans have been US citizens since 1917, and the island has been under US control since 1898. JURIST Managing Editor Dwyer Arce recently argued that, as US citizens, Puerto Ricans should be entitled to vote [JURIST op-ed] in US presidential elections.