Posted by: PRSSA | May 28, 2008

Majority of Puerto Ricans Support Statehood

A majority of Puerto Ricans support statehood for Puerto Rico, according to a recent poll published by Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper, El Nuevo Dia.  57% selected statehood as their preferred permanent status option.  In contrast, the colonial status quo garnered just 34% and independence received a minute 5%.  

The newspaper announced that this is the first time in their polling history that the option of statehood has been preferred by the majority of Puerto Ricans.  

Support for statehood increased further when participants were asked to choose between statehood and independence.  Puerto Ricans would choose statehood by a margin of 77% to 12%.      

This poll was conducted by Kaagan Research Associates, Inc. of New York City and by the Research Office from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.  

On the web:

See the graph (in Spanish): Status Graph

See the article (in Spanish): El Nuevo Día – Resurge la impaciencia con el status



  1. Bravo on a wonderful website. Wondering if you have seen the book written by former U.S. Attorney General Thornburgh, entitled “Puerto Rico’s Future: Time to Decide,” published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. last year. It is available at the CSIS website –

    Condensed Synopsis of “Puerto Rico’s Future: A Time to Decide”

    In 1900 Congress faltered in adopting adequate and legally unambiguous measures for governance of the new territories acquired from Spain at the end of the nineteenth century. The Supreme Court stepped in and filled the void by creating a legal policy for the administration of those territories that departed from our nation’s historically anticolonial model for territorial status resolution that began with the Northwest Ordinance. In the Insular Cases the Court came down on the side of those in Congress who actually labeled themselves “imperialists”, adopting the unincorporated territory doctrine to allow governance the new territories without applying the Constitution as it had applied historically in all incorporated territories.

    This court created doctrine was implemented through an officially designated “colonial affairs” office under the President, but significantly it was intended to apply to Puerto Rico and other new territories only temporarily based on the status of the inhabitants as noncitizen aliens who were under the national protection of the United States but not citizens. The Supreme Court’s decisions to place such peoples outside the protections of the U.S. Constitution was rationalized by the Court on the basis that the new territories would either be incorporated or become independent once Congress made a decision on whether or not to extend U.S. citizenship.

    Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s 1922 decision in Balzac v. Porto Rico extended the discriminatory impact of the Insular Cases doctrine by denying application of the U.S. Constitution to the residents of Puer¬to Rico even after Congress granted them U.S. citizenship in 1917. As a result, Balzac became an unfortunate legal justification for organizing unincorporated territorial governments that lacked sovereign powers beyond those derived from federal statutory authorizations, while si¬multaneously granting U.S. citizenship to the residents of those territo¬ries without providing them with any means to redeem the fundamental right of government by consent at the national level. In this manner, Balzac introduced the central constitutional contradiction of unincor¬porated territory status for all territories with U.S. citizen populations.

    By failing to follow Hawaii and Alaska precedents under sound rulings like Rassmussen v. United States, which held that conferral of U.S. citizen¬ship upon residents of a territory invoked the higher order of constitutional rights under the incorporation model than existed for noncitizens in the so-called unincorporated territories, the Supreme Court’s decision in Balzac institutionalized second-class U.S. citizenship in such unincorporated islands, permitting Congress to abdicate its responsibility to resolve the status of Puerto Rico in compliance with this nation’s historical norms and inter¬national obligations.

    Even more lamentable was the court’s main argument in defense of its ruling, the stunning assertion any U.S. citizen in Puerto Rico who found the inapplicability of the federal constitution or denial of rights in the territory objectionable could move to one of the 48 states of the union and enjoy full citizenship there. Specifically, Chief Justice Taft’s opinion actually stated

    “It became the yearning of the Puerto Ricans to be American citizens…and the act gave them the boon. What additional rights did it give them? It enabled them to move into the continental United States and becoming residents of any state there to enjoy every right of any citizens of the United States, civil, social and political.”

    This demonstrates clearly that Balzac defined a subclass of U.S. citizenship under American sovereignty that could not be escape a discriminatory status based on inequality and disenfranchisement other than by migration to somewhere else in America, where full citizenship rights could be secured. This is the same logic embodied in the federal statutory policy known as the Missouri Compromise, which divided America into two nations, one free and the other slave.

    The response of Congress to the “judicial activism” embodied in the Insular Cases and Balzac has been to adopt measures permitting govern¬ment by consent of the governed only at the local level, without address¬ing the fact that these U.S. citizens are disenfranchised in the nation of their citizenship, or considering whether government by consent of the governed is a fundamental right of U.S. citizens under the U.S. Con¬stitution.

    The policy of allowing and even promoting local government by consent reached its highest form in the “common¬wealth” model for local constitutional government that was adopted in the Philippines prior to their independence and that was subsequently adopt¬ed, in different and more limited forms, by Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands. Unfortunately, for residents of Puerto Rico and the other remaining U.S. territories, even the “commonwealth” model for local self-government has not resulted in equal citizenship rights or provided par¬ticipation based on democratic consent in the federal government, whose laws remain the supreme authority under which they live.

    The citizens of Puerto Rico have made important contributions to the political, economic, and social advancement of not only their own island, but of the United States generally. Their proud heritage as U.S. citizens reflects the spirit of America. Unfortunately, their cultural and economic assimilation into the United States has not been accompa¬nied by equal citizenship under the U.S. Constitution. The residents of Puerto Rico are entitled to equality and full self-government at the level of national sovereignty, either as citizens of a coequal state of the Union or as citizens of an independent nation.

    Congress has the primary re¬sponsibility, under the Territorial Clause, to help put Puerto Rico on one of these paths toward self-governance. If Congress does not do so, the courts have a role they can play to protect the political and human rights of the residents of Puerto Rico—rights that are embodied in our nation’s historic commitment against colonialism and that are recognized by the self-determination and decolonization provisions of the UN Charter and other interna¬tional covenants and commitments. If nothing else, the federal courts should address the discrepancy between the judicially determined legal and political policies that in large measure governed disposition of the territories of Hawaii and Alaska, on one hand, and of Puerto Rico, on the other.

    Local political status initiatives in Puerto Rico will be frustrated or will fail if Congress does not honestly define the constitutionally viable options for achieving full self-government. Historically, the only such options have been statehood (terri¬tories for which admission to union is politically realistic), independence, or independent nationhood with a treaty of free association, based on separate sovereignty, nationality and citizenship, and terminable by either party in favor of independence (territories for which neither statehood nor full in¬dependence without a sustaining association is a first choice).

    Current territorial policy toward Puer¬to Rico and other unincorporated territories under U.S. control has cre¬ated a political and legal subclass of citizens denied fundamental rights of national citizenship under the Constitution, as well as the right of self-determination provided by international ac¬cords recognized by the United States. Many of these problems can be traced back to the judicial interference of the Supreme Court on issues of territorial policy, as reflected in the Court’s decisions in the Insular Cases and in Balzac.

    Although this author believes that Congress has the primary responsibility for redirecting U.S. territorial policy toward Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, the courts can play a useful role by recognizing the errors in the Supreme Court’s prior reasoning and by recommending that the Supreme Court overturn its decisions in the In¬sular Cases and in Balzac. By withdrawing federal judicial endorsement of those decisions, U.S. jurisprudence can be restored to the pre-Balzac anticolonial tradition of status resolution for U.S.-citizen populated ter¬ritories, and the United States can conform to the international stan¬dards for self-determination and decolonization that it has recognized in more modern times.

    If Congress does not fulfill its constitutional responsibilities, howev¬er, there may be an additional role the courts can play by affirming the human and political rights of territorial residents under well-recognized international accords and by calling upon the Congress to bring U.S. territorial policies into compliance with those accords.

    By allowing Congress to govern U.S. citizens without extending equal rights under federal law, the Supreme Court’s decisions in Downes v. Bidwell and Balzac improperly created and legally institutionalized a subclass of people who were designated U.S. citizens for limited pur¬poses of territorial rule, but denied the rights of U.S. citizens under the Constitution. If Congress does not reject this policy and practice, the courts should do so, affirming that there can be only one class of U.S. citizenship, and that making a subclass of citizenship permanent or even indefinite is not a proper exercise of the power of Congress under the Territorial Clause and Naturalization Clause of the Constitution.

    The subclass of less-than-equal citizenship created by Balzac imposed a condition and status on U.S. citizens in the unincorporated territories that is analogous to the subclass of freed slaves denied citizenship under the Dred Scott case of 1857, and that is legally and morally akin to the status of slaves under the infamous provision counting slaves as three-fifths of a person for apportionment of seats in the House of Representa¬tives under Article I, Section 2, of the Constitution.

    It took the Civil War and Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment to repudiate the three-fifths compromise and the Dred Scott ruling, just as it took decades for the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education to re¬verse its prior approval of separate-but-equal discrimination in Plessy v. Ferguson. If given proper scrutiny now, it is doubtful that the rationale of Balzac could survive, just as the Court’s rationales in the Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson decisions did not survive subsequent review.

    The courts should hesitate no longer in repudiating the unsustainable jurisdiction of Balzac, at least to the extent that it failed to make any distinction between the status of Puerto Rico when its residents were noncitizens and the status Puerto Rico acquired upon conferral of U.S. citizenship by Congress.

    The recent reluctance of certain federal courts to deal with such is¬sues because they ostensibly raise “political questions” ignores the fact that, by inventing the doctrine of “unincorporated territory” status out of whole cloth, the Supreme Court improperly intruded deeply into a realm of territorial policy the Constitution assigned to the political branches of the government.

    The political question doctrine ought not protect a line of improperly reasoned Supreme Court decisions that themselves represented an improper intrusion by the Court into political questions Congress should have resolved. Thus, instead of invoking the political question doctrine, the courts need to restore the framework for territorial law that existed prior to Balzac and acknowledge that, under well-established separation of pow¬ers principles, territorial status questions must be decided by the politi¬cal branches of government with due regard for the constitutional rights of citizens and not under judicial constructs like the unincorporated territory doctrine.

    The correction of past judicial mistakes will encour¬age Congress and the president to once again exercise their respective constitutional powers in a manner that accords with both American anticolonial traditions and international decolonization standards insti¬tuted in the modern era under the UN Charter. Resolution of Puerto Rico’s status will lead us beyond the warped jurisprudence of Balzac to a time when the United States has no unincorporated territories with indefinitely disenfranchised U.S. citizen populations who are denied ac¬cess to a mechanism of self-determination and status resolution recog¬nized under federal law.

    If the political branches of government do not step up and assume their constitutional responsibilities to resolve the political status of Puerto Rico, the courts can play an additional role by affirming that the resi¬dents of Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories have political and human rights that must no longer be ignored.

    This author does not suggest that the courts make judicial determi¬nations imposing a political status on Puerto Rico, nor does he suggest that the courts should resurrect the Northwest Ordinance model of territorial incorporation for Puerto Rico by judicial edict, for to do so would only repeat the Supreme Court’s mistake in the Insular Cases. Instead, the courts should use their powers to issue declaratory relief to recognize that the “fundamental rights” principle expressed even in the Balzac ruling must include some procedure under federal law for democratic self-determination and status resolution.

    It is within the authority and responsibility of the federal courts to determine the legal principles for reconciling our domestic and international standards of democracy and equality of citizenship rights with our practices as a na¬tion at home and abroad. If Congress fails to act soon, it may be appropriate to address several questions to the courts:

    Can the United States continue a federal territo¬rial policy that denies U.S. citizens in an unincorporated territory the political or legal rights and processes that can end their disenfranchise¬ment from the U.S. constitutional system? Can residents of Puerto Rico indefinitely be denied access to a federally sponsored process of self-de¬termination to resolve their status based on principles of government by consent of the governed and equal rights of national citizenship?

    Does U.S. citizenship in a territory in 2007 confer political or legal rights beyond those fundamental rights that have been recognized for nonciti¬zens in a territory under the status defined by the Insular Cases in 1901? The federal courts can best answer these questions by declaring that all territorial residents have a right of access to a democratic self-determi¬nation process through which government by consent of the governed is at least possible. That right should be recognized as fundamental to U.S. citizenship and as a human right recognized by the United States un¬der international law.

    The specific options for full self-government raise political questions, but the freedom to have a choice is a right no sover¬eign can deny to its citizens, especially not the United States of America. Anything less would suggest that the United States is maintaining a co¬lonial policy toward Puerto Rico in violation of its commitments under the UN Charter and accords to promote democracy to which the U.S. is a party.

    If nothing else, the courts need to redeem the promise of America to all its citizens by ensuring that U.S. citizens in the territories have regular periodic opportunities to give their consent to continuation of territorial status. At a bare minimum, Congress should be compelled to afford that right to all U.S. citizens in the insular areas, and if it fails to do so, the courts should require it as a fundamental right of due process.

    Granting U.S. citizenship to Puerto Rico was made a consequence-free act by Balzac, and it is time for Congress or the courts to define some consequences in the form of democratic rights for our fellow citizens.

    A self-determination process that would trigger votes on statehood or independence, or free association upon a majority vote to end territorial status would at least make some form of ultimate status resolution possible. Then if territorial status continued with consent of the governed, at least it would not be by operation of the current Balzac-based policy denying the fundamental right of self-determination.

    Simply stated, Congress or the courts should offer Puerto Rico and the other U.S. territories a path to full and equal national citizenship un¬der the U.S. Constitution, or through separate nationhood. For Puerto Rico and America, the time to decide has come.

  2. I have a question, does anyone here know in 1900s leaving the San Juan port the names of those ships that sailed their ultimate destination to Hawaii to work?

    I had family members that were on one or more of those ships, this is for genealogy purposes thank you.

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