Luis Gutierrez introduces bill to force independence on Puerto Rico

by Feb 23, 2017Status0 comments

Representative Luis Gutierrez (D) of the 4th District of Illinois has introduced a bill, HR 900, that would put an end to Puerto Rico’s territorial status, but not through statehood. The bill includes only independence options: free association, and complete independence.

Free association differs from complete independence in a few ways. If chosen, the Compact of Free Association will be determined by the two countries, and is therefore not set permanently. However, based on other contracts the United States has with their current free associated states, it can be expected for the US to maintain defensive capabilities, some economic assistance, and some other benefits. In return, the US would have access to Puerto Rican territory, and other countries would not be allowed the same access.

Gutierrez’ bill calls for a plebiscite, which, if passed, will follow another plebiscite–in June, which is already scheduled and will include the options of statehood or independence. If statehood wins the June plebiscite, Gutierrez says that “It doesn’t matter. Independence is an unalienable right…. They can’t simply make supporters of independence disappear.” He says he attempts, with this bill, to present options that had previously seemed underrepresented, with more people and political parties focused on statehood.

In the 2012 plebiscite, the precursor to the June vote, the people of Puerto Rico were presented with three options in the second question: statehood, free association, and total independence. Of those voting on the question, 61% chose statehood, 33% chose free association, and only 5% chose total independence.  

Gutierrez is against statehood because he believes that, “Puerto Rico [will give] up its nationhood, its culture, its Olympic teams, its language and the ability to determine its own future without a master.” Critics of him argue that as a territory, Puerto Rico currently has no individual nationhood to give up, the language will not have to change on a personal level, and that, as a member of a large country such as the United States, it may have more say in the future of the international system than it would have as free state.

Gutierrez is a Chicago, Illinois native, and his parents immigrated to the city from Puerto Rico in the 1950s. While some in Puerto Rico are happy that he is raising visibility of options other than statehood, many others say that he has no right to present the Puerto Rican people with a vote that forces them to choose some form of independence, especially considering he is not from Puerto Rico and has only spent a short amount of time living there.