The President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status said island residents should determine its political fate – and that the decades-old political limbo should be settled by the end of next year.
In its report to President Obama, the task force, among other recommendations, said only Puerto Rican residents – and not their mainland counterparts – should vote in two plebiscites. The first vote should determine if Puerto Ricans want to be a part of the United States or independent. The second plebiscite would give residents a choice among four options: statehood, independence, free association and commonwealth.
"The issue is a difficult one," the report said, referring to limiting the vote to island residents. "But on balance, those who have committed to the island by residing there have strong arguments that only they should vote on its future."
The task force, made up of 18 members, urged the President, Congress and the leadership of Puerto Rico to come to a resolution on the island's status by the end of 2012. It recommended that President Obama draft legislation and work with Congress to push it through.
"The legislation should commit the United States to honor the choice of the people of Puerto Rico (provided it is one of the status options in the legislation) and should specify the means by which such a choice would be made," the report said.
President Obama, who presumably will be running for reelection in 2012, said he wants to work with Congress to ensure that Puerto Ricans can determine their political future.
"I am firmly committed to the principle that the question of political status is a matter of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico," the president said in the letter.
"Both the president and Congress have roles to play to help Puerto Rico settle on its future status," he added. "I am committed to working with Congress to ensure that a fair, clearly defined, and transparent process for the people of Puerto Rico to decide on their future for themselves."
Obama signed an executive order in October 2009 that directed the task force to examine Puerto Rico's status, as well as economic development, health care and job creation, among other issues. The task force was first created in 2000 by President Bill Clinton. President George W. Bush, too, received two reports by the task force -- one in 2005 and the other in 2007.
The report submitted to Obama also recommended that if voters were to choose statehood, Puerto Rico should control its own cultural and linguistic identity. If Puerto Ricans choose independence, the report said, the president and Congress should commit to preserving U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans during the political transition.
The task force touched on another hot-button issue for Puerto Ricans – Vieques. The report said the U.S. Navy – which used the tiny Puerto Rican island as a bombing range for years – should accelerate the pace with which it is cleaning inert explosives. Further, the U.S. Health and Human Services should seek ways to improve health care for residents there, the report said.
"The task force believes that a needs assessments should be completed to identify the most effective and efficient way to ensure that the people of Vieques receive the care, including expertise in environmental medicine, that they need," it said.
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