"UNDERSTANDING PUERTO RICAN STATUS"
THE SAN JUAN STAR, VIEWPOINT, MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 1997, PAGE 51.
In his July 18 column, Ronald Walker, in a commendable gesture, requested orientation on what Free Association is and entails as a political status option for Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, some answers to his request have only served to add confusion to the concept of free association. I wish, therefore, to respond to the request based on the research I have done.
Free Association is a legitimate decolonization political status formula recognized and accepted by the United Nations and the international community. The 1960 United Nations Resolution 1541, of which the U.S. is signatory, recognized the aspirations of non-governing territories to political self-determination. Under the provisions of the resolution, the following three political status formulas and options are recognized as legitimate and acceptable to reach a full measure of self-government and decolonization:
(1) Emergence as a sovereign independent state, meaning total and absolute independence.
(2) Free association pact with an independent state, which amounts to an associated republic, since the territory would be required to have its own sovereignty because such a pact is a treaty between sovereign nations. Such free association pacts (which could be terminated by mutual consent or unilaterally by any of the nations) exist between the United States and the Pacific island nations of Marshall, Micronesia and Palau. These islands are officially recognized by the U.S. and the United Nations as The Freely Associated State of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, The Freely Associated State of the Republic of Palau and The Freely Associated States of Micronesia. The latter did not choose to be called a republic although it is one for all practical purposes. Under the pacts, the sovereignty and full self-government of the islands are recognized. They handle their foreign affairs, enter into treaties with other nations, have their own diplomatic and consular corps, and belong to the United Nations and other international organizations. U.S. laws are not applicable to them. Their inhabitants are not U.S. citizens. The islands have given, however, the U.S. responsibility for their defense and agree to refrain from acts the U.S. deems incompatible with its responsibility to defend and protect the area. The U.S. agreed to provide the islands with economic and technical services for a determined period of time to ensure a successful transition.
Separatist sectors here are trying to make us believe that Puerto Rico does not have to be independent to enter into a free association pact with the U.S., aware that people in Puerto Rico have rejected and continue to reject independence. Here are some of the things they want for Puerto Rico under their free association status formula and which some of them would like to call the Free Associated States of Puerto Rico:
nControl customs and immigration and no restriction on the entry to the U.S. by residents of Puerto Rico.
nFreedom to enter into treaties with other nations.
nDual citizenship, common defense, market and currency with the U.S., plus the exclusion of Puerto Rico from the U.S. Constitution Territorial Clause and exemption of federal taxes. Federal courts would remain in Puerto Rico only if dual citizenship is granted.
nSpanish as the official language of the island. Puerto Rico maintains its own flag and national anthem, as well as participation in the Olympic Games and the Miss Universe Beauty Contest.
nRent from the U.S. for its Army and Navy installations in the island and elimination of compulsory military service in the U.S. armed forces unless there is a worldwide conflict.
nMembership in the United Nations and other international organizations.
nEconomic parity with the state of the Union and recipient of all federal grants and benefits, plus continuation of Medicare and Social Security benefits.
Such proposal of free association, and for that matter similar provisions included in the new definition of Commonwealth, which the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) wants as a status option for Puerto Rico to be included in the proposed Young status bill along the lines of the winning commonwealth formula in the so-called 1993 plebiscite (it was actually a status consultation) is unrealistic, naive and bound to be unacceptable to the U.S. Congress because it is clearly outside the scope of the U.S. constitutional system. As a matter of fact, the proposed new definition of commonwealth was defeated at the Young status bill mark-up. Thus, the present efforts of the PDP to derail the Young status bill on the basis that it is a pro-statehood bill, as well as its efforts now to convince members of Congress to that effect, is politically correct.
(3) Finally, the third acceptable status option in Resolution 1541 is integration with another independent state, which in the case of Puerto Rico means statehood.
The United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act, sponsored by Don Young, R-Alaska, (known as the Young status bill) is a bipartisan effort on the part of the U.S. Congress to bring to an end the 100-year-old colonial status of Puerto Rico under the U.S. flag. It provides that the above-mentioned status options in the United Nations Resolution 1541 be presented to the consideration of the people of Puerto Rico in a referendum (mistakenly referred to as a plebiscite) to be held in 1998, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Puerto Ricos colonial status.
As it stands now, the Young status bill includes a fourth status option, which is the present commonwealth status, reportedly to please those who favor retaining that status. It provides under this option (much to the objection of the PDP) that Puerto Rico continues to be a locally self-governing unincorporated territory. The objection of the PDP and its insistence on a new definition of commonwealth, is based on the belief that under a 1952 bilateral pact between Puerto Rico and the U.S., Puerto Rico ceased to be a territory of the U.S. and was so recognized in United Nations 1952 Resolution 748. Nothing is said that the U.S. misinformed the United Nations as to what actually took place between Puerto Rico and the U.S., which the facts clearly demonstrate to this date that there was not such a pact under which the U.S. Congress relinquished its sovereignty over Puerto Rico.
The PDP fails to realize to this date that the objectives sought in 1952 were not fully accomplished and that the basic nature of our relations with the U.S. remained the same, and that there has been no change in the applicability of federal laws and jurisdiction in Puerto Rico. In 1953, then-President Eisenhower sent a message to the United Nations that he would recommend to Congress more or absolute independence for Puerto Rico, if so requested by Puerto Ricos Legislature. This clearly revealed that Puerto Rico was still under Congress sovereignty. But there is more. Former Puerto Rico Supreme Court Chief Justice, José Trías Monge, one of the architects of the present commonwealth status, said: "After 1952, Puerto Rico clearly continues confronting a colonial status and Puerto Ricans have the distinction of having the longest history of colonialism in the world."
I have said it before and will say it again and again: We have reached a point of "to be or not to be" in our relations with the United States and must realize that we cant have our cake and eat it too. Either we form a real permanent union with the United States through statehood with all its benefits, obligations, and responsibilities, or we favor a separate sovereignty with the United States leading to either a nation of Puerto Rico absolutely independent, or the nation of Puerto Rico with a free association pact with the U.S., as is the case of the island nations in the Pacific.