Updated June 24, 1998
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Puerto Rico: A Chronology of
Political Status History
Garrine P. Laney
Analyst in American National Government
In 1952, Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory since 1898, became a commonwealth. Since
then at least three significantly different political status options have been offered by the
three major political parties in Puerto Rico.1 On March 4, 1998, the House passed H.R.
856, a bill to address the political status of Puerto Rico, by a vote of 209-208. On June
23, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held an oversight hearing on
issues raised by separate sovereignty and independence.
At the conclusion of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Spain ceded its colony
Puerto Rico to the United States. Congress, in 1900, passed the Foraker Act,2 to replace
military rule with a civil government for the territory. Over the years, Congress has
passed legislation to broaden the territory’s participation in the governing process.
In 1950, Congress enacted Public Law 600,3 which established a relationship “in the
nature of a compact” between the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. government and set
in motion the process for a constitution to be drafted. With passage of this legislation,
however, House and Senate committee reports viewed the fundamental political, social,
and economic relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States as unchanged.4 On
For a fuller discussion of the debate on the political status of Puerto Rico and the positions of
each political party, see: U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, Puerto Rico:
Political Status Options, by Garrine P. Laney, CRS Issue Brief 97054 .
Act of April 12, 1900, Ch. 191, 31 Stat. 77.
Act of July 3, 1950, Ch. 446, 64 Stat. 319.
U.S. Congress, House Committee on Public Lands, Puerto Rico Constitutional Government,
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
September 17, 1951, a constitutional convention convened in Puerto Rico to draft a
constitution. On February 2, 1952, it passed Resolution 22, which states that the word
“commonwealth ... defines the status of the body politic created under the terms of the
compact existing between the people of Puerto Rico and the United States, i.e., that of a
state which is free of superior authority in the management of its own local affairs but
which is linked to the United States of America and hence is a part of its political system
in a manner compatible with its federal structure.”5 In March 1952, Puerto Ricans ratified
the constitution and submitted it for congressional approval. Congress made changes to
the constitution, which delegates at the constitutional convention of Puerto Rico
accepted.6 On July 25, 1952, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (the Spanish equivalent
of Commonwealth is Estado Libre Asociado, or Associated Free State) was proclaimed
by Governor Luís Muñoz Marín. Puerto Rico’s constitution established a republican form
of government and included a bill of rights.
Plebiscites have been held on the political status of Puerto Rico, but the results are
seen as inconclusive for a number of reasons. Consequently, the political relationship
between the United States and Puerto Rico continues to be debated. On February 27,
1997, Chairman Don Young of the House Resources Committee introduced H.R. 856, the
United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act, a bill to provide a process for permanent
self-government in Puerto Rico. H.R. 856 provides, among other provisions, for a
plebiscite to be held in Puerto Rico by December 1998. On May 21, 1997, the House
Resources Committee amended the bill and ordered it to be reported. The House, by a
vote of 209-208, passed H.R. 856 on March 4, 1998. Senator Larry E. Craig introduced
a similar measure, S. 472, on March 19, 1997.
Political Parties. Three major political parties have led the debate on the political
status issue. Founded in 1938, the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) supports an enhanced
commonwealth status; its president is Aníbal Acevedo Vilá. Organized in the 1940s, the
Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) advocates independence for the island; its
president is Rubén Berríos Martínez. The New Progressive Party (NPP), founded in
1967, supports statehood; its president is Pedro Rosselló, the current Governor of Puerto
12/10/98 — The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1898 by the United States and Spain, ended the
Spanish-American War and ceded Puerto Rico to the United States.
report to accompany S. 3336, H.Rept. 2275, 81st Cong., 2nd sess. ( Washington: GPO, 1951), p.
3; U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Puerto Rico Constitutional
Government, report to accompany S. 3336, S.Rept. 1779,. 81st Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington:
GPO, 1951), p. 3.
Marcos Ramírez Lavandero, ed., Documents on the Constitutional Relationship of Puerto Rico
and the United States (Washington: Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, 1988), p. 191.
Act of July 3, 1952, Ch. 567, 66 Stat. 327.
04/12/00 — The Foraker Act terminated the military administration of the island and
established a resident commissioner to Congress.
03/02/17 — The Jones Act granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship, provided a bill of rights,
and established a locally elected House and Senate.
04/10/22 — The Supreme Court, in Balzac v. People of Puerto Rico, unanimously
endorsed the theory of incorporation. The Court ruled Puerto Rico an
unincorporated territory, i.e., a territory to which all provisions of the
Constitution are not extended.
08/05/47 — P.L. 362 authorized the election of a governor. Luís Muñoz Marín (PDP), the
first governor, served from 1948 through 1964.
07/04/50 — P.L. 600 permitted Puerto Rico to draft its own constitution, thereby modifying
the Jones Act of 1917.
07/03/52 — President Harry S. Truman signed a congressional joint resolution (H.J.Res.
430), which approved the constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
adopted by the people of Puerto Rico on March 3, 1952.
11/21/53 — Resolution 748 (VIII), adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, recognized the
new status of Puerto Rico and, thus, eliminated the need for the U.S. to report
on Puerto Rico as a non-self-governing territory.
12/14/60 — Resolution 1514 (XV), adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, declared that
“colonialism in all its forms and manifestations” must be brought “to a speedy
and unconditional end.”
12/15/60 — Resolution 1541 (XV), passed by the U.N. General Assembly, provided 12
principles to guide a member in determining whether it is obligated to transmit
information on non-self-governing territories to the U.N.
02/20/64 — P.L. 88-271 established the U.S.-Puerto Rico Commission on the Status of
Puerto Rico to study factors bearing on United States-Puerto Rico relations.
11/03/64 — Roberto Sánchez Vilella (PDP) was elected governor.
08/05/66 — A report issued by the U.S.-Puerto Rico Commission on the Status of Puerto
Rico found that the three status alternatives were equally valid and
recommended that a plebiscite on status be held.
07/23/67 — Based on the recommendation of the Commission on the Status of Puerto Rico,
a status plebiscite was held. Voting results: 60.4%, commonwealth; 38.9%,
statehood; and .06%, independence.
11/05/68 — Luís A. Ferré (NPP) was elected governor.
08/28/72 — Cuba requested that in light of Resolution 1514 (XV) the United Nations
declare that Puerto Rico has a right to self-determination. Subsequently, the
United Nations has kept Puerto Rico under continuing review.
11/07/72 — Rafael Hernández Colón (PDP) was elected governor.
10/01/75 — Ad Hoc Advisory Group, appointed by Governor Ferré and President Nixon
in 1973, submitted a report recommending that the President refer the Compact
of Permanent Union Between Puerto Rico and the United States to both houses
with his endorsement for congressional action.
12/17/75 — H.R. 11200, a modified version of the proposed Compact, was introduced in
the House. Subsequently, the House Subcommittee on Territorial and Insular
Affairs approved an amended bill, but no further action was taken by the 94th
11/02/76 — Carlos Romero Barceló (NPP) was elected governor.
12/31/76 — President Gerald Ford became the first President to endorse statehood for
01/19/77 — Representative Ruppe introduced H.R. 2201, a bill to provide for statehood for
Puerto Rico. The bill was referred to the Committee on Interior and Insular
Affairs, but it died in committee.
11/06/80 — Governor Carlos Romero Barceló (NPP) was reelected.
11/06/84 — Rafael Hernández Colón (PDP) was elected governor.
11/08/88 — Governor Rafael Hernández Colón (PDP) was reelected.
01/17/89 — A letter and a Joint Declaration advocating a political status referendum on the
island were signed by Puerto Rican political leaders.
08/06/89 — Introduced by Senator Johnston, S. 712 called for a referendum on the
political status of Puerto Rico. The Committee on Energy and Natural
Resources reported the bill to the Senate (S.Rept. 101-120).
01/04/91 — Introduced by U.S. Virgin Islands Delegate Ron de Lugo, H.R. 316 authorized
a referendum on the political status of Puerto Rico.
01/23/91 — Introduced by Senator Johnston, S. 244 provided for a referendum on the
political status of Puerto Rico.
02/27/91 — Committee on Energy and Natural Resources did not approve S. 244 by a tie
12/08/91 — Puerto Ricans rejected, by a vote of 619,028 to 525,023, provisions of a
referendum (which was authorized by the legislature and governor of Puerto
Rico) that called for the constitution of Puerto Rico to be amended to
guarantee certain self-determination principles that would form the basis for
future action on the political status of Puerto Rico.
11/03/92 — Pedro Rosselló and Carlos Romero Barceló of the NPP were elected governor
and resident commissioner of Puerto Rico, respectively.
01/05/93 — The House agreed to a rule change that gave Delegates and the Resident
Commissioner a floor vote in the Committee of the Whole.
01/28/93 — The Puerto Rican legislature passed and the governor signed into law
legislation making both Spanish and English the official languages of Puerto
05/05/93 — Representative Serrano introduced H.Con.Res. 94, expressing the sense of
Congress on self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico. Subsequently,
hearings were held, but no further action was taken on the measure.
05/12/93 — Delegate de Lugo introduced H.J.Res. 195, to amend the U.S. Constitution to
allow residents of territories to vote in presidential elections.
11/14/93 — Results of the political status plebiscite (which was authorized by the
legislature and governor of Puerto Rico) were 826,326 votes for
commonwealth (48.6%), 788,296 for statehood (46.3%), and 75,620 for
independence (4.4%). (Blank ballots received 1% of the vote.)
11/22/93 — Representative Young introduced H.R. 3715, to offer Puerto Rico
“incorporation” as a new measure of political empowerment.
05/17/94 — Representative Young introduced H.R. 4442, to amend H.R. 3715.
08/19/94 — Representative Torricelli introduced H.R. 5005, to require periodic plebiscites
in U.S. territories. Later, the bill was referred to its committees of jurisdiction
but no further action occurred.
12/05/94 — The Inter-Agency Working Group was established by President Clinton to construct positions on issues related to Puerto Rico.
12/14/94 — Through Concurrent Resolution 62, the Puerto Rican legislature requested that
Congress respond to the principles contained in the commonwealth status
political formula that Puerto Rican voters chose in the 1993 plebiscite.
01/04/95 — The House revoked rules providing the Resident Commissioner and delegates
floor votes in the Committee of the Whole.
01/20/95 — Representative Gallegly introduced H.R. 602, to redesignate the Resident
Commissioner a Delegate and to reduce the term of office from four to two
years. Hearings were held on the bill, but no further action was taken.
03/06/96 — Representative Young introduced H.R. 3024, to provide a process for full self
government for Puerto Rico. A major provision of the bill is the call for a
plebiscite to be held in Puerto Rico by December 1998, at which voters would
indicate their political status preference for either commonwealth or full self
government (i.e., independence/free association or statehood). Subsequently,
the Native American and Insular Affairs Subcommittee held hearings on the
bill, amended it, and forwarded it to the House Resources Committee by a vote
of 10 to 0. The bill was referred to the Rules Committee.
09/27/96 — Representative Young introduced H.R. 4228, a revision of H.R. 3024. It
provided for the President to include in the transition plan proposals and
incentives to increase opportunities for Puerto Ricans to become fluent in
English, including a provision for English to become the language of
instruction in public schools.
09/28/96 — Representative Young introduced H.R. 4281, another revision of H.R. 3024.
Its provision concerning language anticipated that, upon accession to
statehood, English would become the official language of the federal
government in Puerto Rico to the same extent as federal law then requires
throughout the United States. (At present, there is no federal official-language
law in the United States.)
09/28/96 — Representative Young withdrew H.R. 3024 from consideration, after Resident
Commissioner Romero Barceló objected on constitutional and other grounds
to certain language provisions in H.R. 4228.
11/05/96 — Both Governor Rosselló and Resident Commissioner Romero Barceló of the
NPP were reelected.
01/23/97 — NPP legislators filed a resolution asking Congress and the President to support
a 1998 plebiscite on status.
02/27/97 — Representative Young introduced H.R. 856, the United States-Puerto Rico
Political Status Act. The bill’s provisions are identical to H.R. 4281 that was
introduced in the 104th Congress.
03/19/97 — Senator Craig introduced S. 472, the Puerto Rico Self Determination Act of
1997. Its provisions are similar to H.R. 856.
05/21/97 — The House Resources Committee amended H.R. 856 and ordered it to be
reported by a vote of 44 to 1.
06/12/97 — The House Resources Committee referred H.R. 856 to the Rules Committee.
07/11/97 — The Rules Committee referred H.R. 856 to the Committee of the Whole
03/04/98 — The House passed H.R. 856 by a vote of 209 to 208.
04/02/98 — The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a workshop on the
political status of Puerto Rico.
05/19/98 — The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the
fiscal and economic implications of Puerto Rico's status.
06/23/98 — The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held an oversight
hearing on issues raised by separate sovereignty and independence.