SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Gov. Pedro Pierluisi announced Monday that Puerto Rico’s political status will be on the ballot in the general elections this November, and for the first time the island’s current status as a U.S. territory will not be an option in the non-binding plebiscite.

Voters on the island of 3.2 million people will choose between statehood, independence, or independence with free association, the terms of which would be negotiated regarding foreign affairs, U.S. citizenship, and the use of the U.S. dollar.

“In this way, we assert our rights as American citizens to demand our self-determination through direct voting without intermediaries and to require the federal government to address the grievance represented by our colonial status,” Pierluisi said.

The governor, leader of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, will activate a 2020 law that allows the current governor to call for a status referendum.

The executive order follows approval of a bill by the U.S. House in 2022, aimed at helping Puerto Rico move towards changing its territorial status. The Puerto Rico Status Act, spearheaded by Representative Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, would exclude the island’s current territorial status as an option.

That status has lost support since the federal government established an unelected fiscal board in 2016, which has the authority to override local political branches after the island declared bankruptcy.

In September 2023, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker reintroduced the bill bearing a similar name as Grijalva’s, but included Puerto Rico’s territorial status as an option. Two months later, Sen. Martin Heinrich introduced a similar bill.

In the last referendum held in November 2020, 53% voted for statehood and 47% against, with only about half of registered voters participating in the general elections. November’s referendum would be the seventh time the island votes to determine its political relationship with the United States.

“Puerto Rico has the right, and I would say the moral obligation, to continue exerting pressure, reiterating its right to self-determination, and demanding that Congress respond satisfactorily to the will of our people,” Pierluisi said in a statement after signing the executive order. “Therefore, we must vote as many times as necessary to end the colonial status.”

In June, two dozen pro-independence and pro-sovereignty organizations spoke before a session of the United Nations Decolonization Committee on Puerto Rico. The committee has affirmed Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination and independence over 40 times.

The governor said statehood would help residents in Puerto Rico receive equal funds and benefits in Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP and supplemental social security. Voters in Puerto Rico can’t cast ballots in the general presidential U.S. election but may participate in presidential primaries.

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