Will Puerto Rico be recognized as a new country or will it join the US as a state?

By Hanan Redwan Published on June 05, 2023
Will Puerto Rico be recognized as a new country or will it join the US as a state?

Throughout its history, Puerto Rico, “the island of enchantment,” has initiated several movements to gain independence, first from the Spanish Empire from 1493 to 1898 and then from the United States.

“Puerto Rico has been a colony for more than 500 years,” said José Caraballo Cueto, associate professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras Campus, at a recent conference.

Now, a new initiative could finally achieve that goal.

In the medium term, the people of Puerto Rico will decide their status concerning the United States through the Status Act (HR2757).

This proposal, which seeks to give a stronger voice to the citizenry, was approved by the US House of Representatives in December 2022.

The bill calls for a local referendum in Puerto Rico in which people can vote to secede from the United States and be recognized as a new country, permanently join the US as a state, or it can remain a territory indefinitely.

President Joe Biden called the bill “a fair and binding democratic process to address Puerto Rico’s political status,” but the measure failed in the Senate before Congress adjourned for the year.


On April 20, a bipartisan group of congressional representatives reintroduced the bill.

At the press conference launching the revamped proposal, it appears that the only significant change from the 2022 bill is the new plebiscite voting date: November 2025.

The territory’s governor, Pedro Pierluisi, pointed out in a press conference that Puerto Ricans cannot vote for the president of the United States, have no voting representation in Congress, and do not receive the treatment “we deserve in multiple federal government programs.”

If the House of Representatives again passes the Puerto Rico Status Act and the bill advances to the White House for President Biden’s signature, Puerto Ricans can vote for permanent political status for the US territory in a federally sanctioned local plebiscite vote.

After more than a century as a possession of the United States, Puerto Rico would be on its way to having the strength and sovereignty of a state or nation.

However, many observers do not believe this scenario is likely to happen, especially in the partisan atmosphere in Washington, DC, today, which makes it difficult to pass any legislation.

However, after decades of discussion about Puerto Rico’s status, debate remains over many pieces of the status puzzle, including basic government policy positions, such as whether the United States is prepared to maintain US citizenship for most of Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million residents if the island were recognized as a country.


Puerto Rico has been under the US flag since 1898, after being acquired in the Spanish-American War, and Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship in 1917.

Usually, territories have become states relatively quickly, only New Mexico (59 years), Utah (47 years), and Arkansas (33 years) took longer, but Puerto Rico has been waiting 125 years.

“The inherent inequality of the Puerto Rico territory’s current status limits economic development, creates a lower quality of life, and has pushed hundreds of thousands of US citizens in Puerto Rico to relocate to the United States, further weakening the territory,” the PR51st initiative says.

Puerto Rico faces a crisis linked to deindustrialization and public debt but is beginning to show signs of growth, with projections of 0.3% and 0.8% for fiscal years 2023 and 2024, respectively, according to the Planning Board government agency.

Hanan Redwan

Hanan Redwan

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