White House Releases Recommendations on the Status of Puerto Rico

Puerto Ricans should be the only ones who have a say in whether the island remains a part of the United States or becomes independent and the President and Congress should act on the results quickly, says a new report by the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico released today.

The 114-page report is the product of two years work by the Task Force that included public meetings in the island nation. It lays out scores of recommendations on some of the island’s biggest challenges: economic development, healthcare and the future of Vieques.

But the report’s recommendations on the issue of status, which often dominates politics in Puerto Rico, are bound to catch the most attention. The task force suggested that that the government should work to ensure that the issue is resolved by 2012, with island residents voting to either become a state (pending Congress approval), an independent country, a free associated state dependent on the U.S. for defense and diplomacy, or remain a commonwealth.

The last time Puerto Ricans voted on the island’s status was in 1998, when voters chose among the above and a fifth option “none of the above.” Half chose “none of the above” and another 47% chose statehood. There was no follow-up action to the vote. The report also says that only residents of the island and not stateside Boricuas, should be eligible to vote on status. The task force also suggests that the U.S. commit to preserving citizenship for residents even if the island goes independent, and that the Puerto Rico shouldn’t be forced to adopt English as the official language, should it become a state.

Other recommendations in the report:

  • Creating a Caribbean Health Science and Research Center, a “regional health cluster” that would help boost health and the economy
  • Helping PR transform its energy economy, first by developing a comprehensive plan for a green new green energy economy.
  • Speeding up the cleanup of Vieques’ former Navy bombing range, expected to last another 10 years, by better coordinating federal and local efforts and training residents for cleanup jobs.
  • Completing a comprehensive housing plan for the island.

Having turned in its report to Obama and Congress, the task force will now be responsible for monitoring how its recommendations are executed.