The Pending Status of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico
San Felipe del Morro fort in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico may soon become an independent nation. Or, it may become a US state.

Puerto Rico flag

The island is a territory of the United States that’s situated just southeast of Miami, Florida. Puerto Rico's total population is about 3.4 million, and its capital, San Juan, is also its most populous city.

Once, only the indigenous Taíno people inhabited the island, but Spain colonized Puerto Rico after Christopher Columbus landed there in 1493. That began four centuries of ownership disputes.

In 1868, opposition to Spanish rule, mixed with the notion that Puerto Rico should be acknowledged as a sovereign state, led to a revolt that was quelled by Spanish forces. Thirty years later, the United States acquired the island after the Spanish-American War, and Puerto Rico has remained a US territorial possession ever since.

With recent political upheaval in Puerto Rico, talk of US statehood is growing louder, with fewer people making the case for independence.

While the Independence Movement in Puerto Rico has a long history, with a number of groups, political parties, and organizations striving for the island's sovereignty, currently, the movement has lost support from the Puerto Rican people.

In 2012, only 5.5% of voters supported independence, whereas, the prospect of statehood drew more than 61% of the votes. By the time the issue came up again in 2017, apathy had set in—less than a quarter of the residents voted, and the option to become independent received only 1.5% of the votes.

Historically, the most popular option in every vote on the subject has been for the territory to become the 51st US state. It's already a US territory, and it has a population that's larger than 21 of the 50 states.

Even the 2017 vote, the one with a record low turnout, saw over 97% of voters support statehood. The US government does not feel the same way, with resolutions in 2014 and 2018 to grant Puerto Rico statehood failing to gain traction.

It's hard to predict the future status of Puerto Rico. Its designation as a US territory was not necessarily meant to be permanent, with statehood or sovereignty being a built-in possibility, depending on the territory's economic and political growth. A lack of advancement in both areas has left Puerto Rico in limbo, but now, it seems that a change to either independence or statehood is almost inevitable.

The US government could decide to make Puerto Rico an independent nation like it did for the Philippines in 1934, or, the US flag may end up getting a 51st star.

Puerto Rico
Colorful houses line the hillside over looking the beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico.