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The True Colors Of Free Association

John A. Regis Jr.

January 24, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO-USA FOUNDATION. All rights reserved. 
Published in the San Juan Star, Viewpoint

P.O. Box 19371
Santurce, Puerto Rico 00910-1371

Recently the free association concept has been mentioned as a solution to our one hundred year old status problem. Mr. Garcia Passalacqua's December 15, 2002 column in this newspaper ran under the headline "Free Association Seen As Only Option".

In his article Garcia Pasalacqua failed to define Free Association beyond abstract generalities.   Telling us "it’s not in Webster’s yet" is just a little too cute, especially when he neglects to inform the readers about the true nature of free association in the case of the tiny, very poor former territories in the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau. The truth is Free Association will lead to independence. At that time all the proponents of Free Association will show their true colors, which are not red, white and blue.

Here are just a few of the reasons why free association is not a solution to our status dilemma, a true Trojan horse that Puerto Rico should not welcome into our homeland:

    1. No permanent association can happen with any country and the United States without full integration. One of the countries would need to give up their sovereignty. Countries can engage in treaties and agreements and we all know these are not permanent.

    2. Free Association is not a "permanent" status. Despite being one of the options suggested by the United Nations as a decolonization alternative in their resolution 1514 (XV) of December 14, 1960, free association is not permanent under the present United States constitutional system. The United States Constitution allows for only two status options:  statehood is the only permanent status Under Article IV, Section 3, and the only alternative is a non-permanent territory status as we now have under the full powers of Congress.

    3.   Maybe free association could be a permanent status if the relations were with any other country whose constitution or legal framework allowed such an arrangement. This is not the case within the American system. In the United States an amendment to the constitution would be necessary to accept any other form of permanent status or affiliation as a permanent free association or associated republic. Chances for such an amendment would run from slim to none.

    4.   The status of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau as described by Pasalacqua is "sovereign countries". Here he is correct.   They are members of the U.N. because their compact of free association as a separate country is outside the U.S. Constitution and is a form of independence.   This is due to the fact that the U.S. and those countries can terminate free association by unilateral decision at any time.   Free association with U.S. is based on separate sovereignty, nationality and citizenship.   Dual citizenship is not allowed under the compact, and only happens in rare cases the same way it does under U.S. immigration law for aliens in the U.S. from any foreign nation.   Economic assistance comes in 15-year packages that expire with no guaranty of renewal. The U.S. openly states that free association will last only as long as the cost is justified by need for military bases in the islands.   No bases, no leverage, no federal dollars, no free association.   Now that we have forced the U.S. Navy out of Puerto Rico, what bargaining leverage are we going to have?  If the answer is that we will court other nations, count me out.

    5.  Independence being the underlying permanent status in a free association compact, there is no turning back to commonwealth territory status as we have today.  Separate sovereignty, nationality and citizenship are irreversible, unless the U.S. agreed to take us back when we fail as a nation.   In free association only the "independence" status is permanent, the "association" is not. A more accurate term would be "associated independence".

    6.   The United States negotiated the "association" pacts with the Micronesian counties to take effect when they became independent in 1986 and 1994. Currently the U.S. is negotiating new economic and miscellaneous terms with these countries for lesser amounts than originally granted fifteen years ago. The U.S. Congress has the power to amend any or all terms of a negotiated compact, and the U.S. can renounce a compact or terminate it under treaty law.   Contrary to the three free association countries where payments are being reduced, Puerto Rico figures- five times higher per capita- continue to increase every year. The U.S. is presently proposing to end all mandatory financial assistance to the compact countries after an additional period of 20 years.   Free association is a slippery slope to becoming a third world country, and the super port, the high tech sector or tax gimmicks will never replace integration with the U.S. economy.

    7.    All citizens of the Free Association countries are citizens of their particular countries. While Pasalacqua cites the American Civil Liberties Union opinion that U.S. Citizenship cannot be taken away "en masse", he fails to point out that this only applies to people born BEFORE the countries independence and does not apply to people born AFTER that. Our children’s children will not be entitled to American citizenship under free association, and anyone who says otherwise needs to be reminded that Congress, not the ACLU, makes the immigration laws for the United States.

    8.   Under the free association compact the U. S. has control on their offerings and responsibilities like travel rights to the mainland. In the current renewal negotiations with the Pacific islands the U.S. is proposing to require visas for any child coming to the U.S. for adoption or intending to seek naturalization as a U.S. citizen, and anyone deemed a threat to U.S. homeland security could be excluded.   The U.S. is also reducing or eliminating some or all services of the U.S. Postal Service, Dept. of Transportation, Federal Aviation Agency, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, U.S. Weather Service, FEMA, FCC, and many of the programs currently serving these countries.

Puerto Rico’s development, economic or social, depends on finally deciding our permanent status. A status that would allow long term planning and development not subject to the frequent administration changes with the frequent manipulations based on their status preference. Puerto Rico economic development needs a permanent status that would give long-term confidence to its citizens, businessmen and investors.

The associated free independence or republic, or free association concepts do not provide the freedom, incentives and guarantees necessary for Puerto Rico’s growth and development. Our affiliation as a territory, or as a state of the union is the only way we can enjoy and benefit from what the American system has to offer.  Between those two, statehood is the only status with full, equal rights and opportunities, and these far outweigh any benefit we may have gained in the past from the quest for a mythological form of autonomy that cannot really exist.  

John A. Regis Jr., a businessman in Puerto Rico, is President of the Puerto Rico-USA Citizenship Foundation. He can be reached at:

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