Controversy over Commonwealth

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Puerto Rico remained a US commonwealth after World War II. This illustrated gazetteer from 1948 features a small map of the island which "prospered greatly" since its annexation. Courtesy of David Rumsey.

Since its annexation in 1898, Puerto Rico has challenged America's imperial legacy. In 1916, Resident Commissioner Luis Muñoz Rivera demanded: "Give us the field of experiment...that we may show it is easy for us to constitute a stable republic government...give us our independence and [America] will stand...a great liberator of oppressed peoples."

In spite of this resistance, the island has remained a US commonwealth since 1952. Puerto Ricans have the power to vote for their governor and executive council but, due their nation’s legal status, lack many of the same rights allotted to other US citizens. Puerto Ricans cannot vote for president, though they may be drafted. They have no voting representative in Congress, yet are still taxed under US law. Debate continues: statehood, independence, commonwealth? The government held plebiscitespublic polls on Puerto Rico's federal statusin 1967, 1991, 1993, and 1998. In 2012, President Barack Obama, approved yet another plebiscite, with 61 percent of Puerto Ricans favoring statehood in light of enduring economic troubles. Those in Congress, however, fear the labor of restructuring the House, Senate, and even the flag, around a fifty-first state. For now, Puerto Rico remains at the edges of the union and on the cusp of sovereignty.