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Time's Up: Puerto Rico Needs To End The Indecision

Time for Clarification: Puerto Ricans Need to End their Indecision

On June 9, 2008, the UN Special Committee on Decolonization considered yet again the status of the world’s oldest remaining colony, Puerto Rico. The Committee called on the United States to accelerate the process of self-determination for the island, an action that many Puerto Ricans regard as a crucially important step towards fulfilling their fifty-six year-old quest to achieve a majority opinion on the permanent status of the island. However, this is not the first time the UN has issued the same appeal. For the last eight years, the UN Committee has called upon the United States to grant autonomy to Puerto Rico, but has yet to witness any changes.

In response to the most recent resolution, Washington has reminded the international community that Puerto Rico democratically decided to enter into a free association with the United States in 1952. Accordingly, the persisting inconclusive political status of Puerto Rico is a domestic matter that has no place on the UN agenda. The United States has repeatedly stated that only the Puerto Rican people can decide the structure of their future political arrangement. If the United States is willing to resolve Puerto Rico’s status, why are Puerto Rican representatives annually attending a UN Committee that has repeatedly failed to produce results for them?

It seems that after 500 years of foreign domination, Puerto Ricans have grown accustomed to having others decide what is best for them. Its leaders can no longer blame outsiders for their continuing subordinate status. In 1967, 1991, 1993, and then again in 1998, Washington assisted the Puerto Rican government in the organization of referendums on the island’s future status, giving its people the opportunity to decide between statehood, independence, or the existing commonwealth. In each instance, Puerto Ricans voted overwhelmingly in favor of the status quo. However, the commonwealth status was never meant to be a permanent solution, but instead a first step towards independence. In fact, the 2005 White House report gave Puerto Rico only two options: integration as a federal state or independence.

Now that the status quo is no longer a viable alternative, Puerto Rican voters cannot continue badgering Congress to grant them independence or statehood if they themselves have been unable to decide between the two. In order to take control of their future and formalize their own decision, they must act now instead of looking to outsiders to solve their problems. Only after adopting their own plan of action can Puerto Ricans demand that Congress approve it. Until then, the only thing stopping Puerto Rico from achieving a permanent status are Puerto Ricans themselves. In this regard, reaching a decision will prove to be the island’s first act of self-determination.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Michelle Quiles

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers." For more information, please see our web page at


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