In June, I testified at the United Nations, expressing faith that the United States would fulfill its legal and moral obligation to help Puerto Rico achieve a democratic and dignified status, now that island residents have withdrawn their consent to remain a territory.
In August, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the referendum. Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said “there is no disputing that a majority of the voters in Puerto Rico ... have clearly expressed their opposition to continuing the current territorial status.” Ranking Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska concurred, saying, “it is clear to me that the majority of Puerto Ricans do not favor the current territorial status.”
Wyden then supplied this much-needed dose of clarity: “For Puerto Rico to meet its economic and social challenges and to achieve its full potential, this debate over status needs to be settled. Puerto Rico must either exercise full self-government as a sovereign nation, or achieve equality among the states of the Union. The current relationship undermines the United States’ moral standing in the world.”
Inertia is a powerful force, but it’s not nearly as powerful as an idea whose time has come. Much works remains to be done, but much progress has been made in the past 12 months. Mindful of the axiom that the arc of history is long but it bends towards justice, I am confident that residents of Puerto Rico will soon cease to be second-class citizens of the world’s most democratic nation.
Pedro R. Pierluisi, a Democrat, is Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in the House of Representatives.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.