Puerto Rican Nationalists: 1950-54
In response to the anti-colonial movements that gathered steam around the world after World War II, the United States proposed a new relationship with Puerto Rico that resulted in the current commonwealth status in 1948.

The island had been a U.S. colony since 1898 when Spain ceded it after 400 years of rule following the Spanish-American war. Puerto Rican nationalists always rejected this status, arguing under international law that such a transfer was illegal and that the island was a nation.

Puerto Rican nationalists rejected the 1948 commonwealth arrangement whereby local officials would make laws subject to U.S. approval and they staged a series of armed actions aimed at achieving independence.

These included a November 1, 1950 attempt to assassinate U.S. President Harry S. Truman as well as armed actions that were defeated in a number of cities and towns. By 1952 the revolt was largely crushed and Truman organized a plebiscite where the new status was approved by Puerto Rican voters.

Undeterred, a section of the nationalist movement organized an attack on the U.S. House of Representatives March 1, 1954 that wounded five congressmen, one seriously. The attack was intended to garner action by the United Nations on Puerto Rico’s status.

The nationalist movement gained steam again in the 1960s, but was again defeated.

Independence has been rejected in number of referendums held, including the latest in 2012 where statehood was preferred by a plurality.

While U.S government programs like Medicaid, welfare, food stamps and other direct assistance programs provide lower benefits than those in the states, opponents of independence play on fears of losing existing benefits on the economically depressed island as a reason to oppose independence.

However, the island is currently in an even deeper financial straits. It has been in recession for 10 consecutive years and its government debt equals 68% of its gross domestic product—making it impossible to repay under current terms.

Despite this, the island’s population has not turned toward independence in large numbers. However, a careful reading of the 2012 referendum shows that a majority explicitly rejected the current commonwealth status and that a majority of voters did not select statehood—either not voting for a preferred alternative at all or favoring some form of independence.
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