[JURIST] Puerto Rican lawmakers on Wednesday approved legislation to hold a referendum on the island’s status with the US. The House of Representatives [official website, in Spanish] passed the measure by a vote of 31-13 [press release, in Spanish], and a plebiscite will be held on November 6, 2012, coinciding with next year’s general elections and the island’s gubernatorial election. Puerto Ricans will be asked to choose whether they want to change the island’s status. If yes, they will be asked whether they prefer statehood, independence or a “sovereign commonwealth” free from the Territorial Clause of the US Constitution. Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuno (R) [official website, in Spanish], a supporter of statehood, introduced the legislation [AP report] in October, and it has now been approved by both the Puerto Rican House and the Senate. The legislation now awaits Fortuno’s signature. Any change in Puerto Rico’s status would still need to be approved by the US Congress and president.
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. Referendums were also held in 1993 and 1967 [results], in which maintaining the current political status won over statehood, and independence placed at a distant third. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated US territory, and its current political status was adopted in 1952 after Congress approved the Puerto Rican Constitution [text]. The constitution established the island as a US commonwealth, causing the UN General Assembly to remove the island’s categorization as a “non-self governing territory.” 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 comment] in US presidential elections.