The commission will lobby in Congress to hold a new binding referendum to decide the island's political status.

By Frances Solá-Santiago
January 11, 2018 04:44 PM
President Trump meets with Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico at the White House, Washington, USA - 19 Oct 2017

Puerto Rico’s government introduced a “Statehood Commission” on Jan. 10 tasked with bringing issues of the island’s political status to Congress. The move was announced by Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner Jennifer Gonzalez, the Puerto Rican congressional representative in Washington, D.C.

The new commission is asking Congress for a binding referendum that would allow the Puerto Rican people to choose between statehood and independence. Last year, the island held a non-binding referendum where 97 percent of voters chose statehood, while only 23 percent of eligible voters participated.

The commission is part of Ricardo Rosselló’s campaign promise to bring awareness around “second-class citizenship” in Puerto Rico, which has now intensified after Hurricane Maria. “Everyone has seen not only on a theory level, but on a pragmatic level, what it means to be a second-class citizen,” Rosselló said on Jan. 10. “The opportunity was there to show that we were going to be treated equally and by and large there has been a demonstration that we weren’t.”

More than three months after Hurricane Maria, only 60 percent of Puerto Ricans have power. In comparison to Texas and Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands received less FEMA aid and fewer personnel, according to CNN. President Trump’s visit to the ravaged island was also far later than his tours of Texas and Florida.

Most of the commission’s members are affiliated with the current administration’s New Progressive Party, which follows a pro-statehood right-wing doctrine. They include former governors Luis Fortuño (2009–2012), Pedro Rosselló (1993–2001) and Carlos Romero Barceló (1977–1985).

Puerto Rico’s current political status is a “free associated state” established in 1952. While Puerto Ricans have representation at the U.S. Capitol, the delegate is not allowed a vote on the floor. Puerto Ricans on the island also are not allowed to vote during general elections in the United States, which means they only choose their governor, not the president.