Ron Walker asserts that free associated state status is not possible
under the U.S. Constitution (STAR, August 16). To the contrary, in U.S.
Public Law 99-239 and several subsequent federal statutes, the U.S. Congress
has recognized free association as entirely compatible with the U.S. Constitution.
Unlike the present Commonwealth established under the Territorial Clause
power of Congress, real free association is a status created through the
treaty-making process under the U.S. Constitution. This can include treaties
ratified by the Senate under Article II, Section 2, or a treaty of association
approved by both Houses of Congress and signed by the President in order
to authorize spending for treaty implementation.
The best way to understand free association as recognized by Congress
is to study the U.S. statutes approving free association compacts with
the Republic of Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated
States of Micronesia (P.L. 99-239 and P.L. 99-658). Strangely, however,
Mr. Walker's commentary argues that the Pacific island compactsthe
only free association relationships ever approved by Congressare
irrelevant to the discussion of free association as an option for Puerto
Whatever the purpose of this misleading argument, if the people of Puerto
Rico are to make an informed choice to accept or reject free association
the following inaccurate statements by Mr. Walker must be corrected:
1. In support of his argument that the Pacific island compacts are irrelevant
to Puerto Rico because those territories were under a U.N. trusteeship,
Walker writes "...the Trust Territories of the Pacific (and all other
trust territories in the world) were automatically set on a path of future
political status action by the United Nations... The United States... could
do nothing to prevent that political status process... Eventually... islands
in the Pacific voted for free association... That status was granted by
Washington. It really had no choice in the matter. The U.S. was merely
fulfilling its ultimate obligation that was mandated by the United Nations."
Both legally and factually, this is simply incorrect. First, the pacific
islands trusteeship is the only trusteeship in the world which was designated
as "strategic" under Article 82 of the U.N. Charter. As a result,
the Security Council rather than the General Assembly exercised final U.N.
responsibility for oversight of U.S. administration of the Trust Territory.
Since the U.S. has a veto power in the Security Council, this meant that
the U.S. could prevent any U.N. measure inconsistent with U.S. policy regarding
the status of the territory.
This extraordinary arrangement driven by strategic interests was implemented
in accordance with a U.N. Trusteeship Agreement, under which the U.S. governed
the Trust Territory as "Administering Authority." Article 15
of the U.N. Trusteeship Agreement reads as follows: "The terms of
the present agreement shall not be altered, amended or terminated without
the consent of the administering authority."
This meant that legally the U.S. could administer the islands as a Trust
Territory in perpetuity if it chose to do so. Nevertheless, once status
agreements acceptable to the U.S. were reached, it was the U.S. that took
the initiative in ending the trusteeship. Contrary to Walker's version,
it was the U.N. bureaucracy that resisted termination. Ultimately, the
U.S. found it necessary to unilaterally declare the trusteeship terminated
in order to implement plebiscite results without waiting for U.N. recognition,
which came years later.
2. Walker writes: "...in the case of the Trust Territory of the
Pacific, the United States never...acquired those islands, nor did it assume
sovereignty over them; in short, it never 'owned' them."
In fact, neither the U.S., the U.N., nor the people of the Trust Territory
exercised sovereignty during the trusteeship. Rather, as a technical legal
matter sovereignty was held in abeyance until self-determination resulted
in full self-government. Politically, however, the U.S. exercised plenary
powers under the international trusteeship system which were at least as
broad as the powers the U.S. exercises over its own territories.
For example, Article 9 of the Trusteeship Agreement provided that "[t]he
administering authority shall be entitled to constitute the trust territory
into a customs, fiscal, or administrative union...with other territories
under U.S. jurisdiction..."
Even more fundamentally, Article 3 of the U.N. Trusteeship instrument
provided that "[t]he administering authority shall have full powers
of administration, legislation, and jurisdiction over the territory...and
may apply to the trust territory, subject to any modification which the
administering authority may consider desirable, such of the laws of the
United States as it may deem appropriate..."
Thus, the power of the U.S. under the trusteeship equaled or exceeded
the power of Congress under the Territorial Clause, including the ability
to unilaterally apply and alter federal law in a manner different than
in the United States.
3. Walker writes: "The islanders... became 'U.S. nationals,' not
Wrong again. Article 11 of the U.N. Trusteeship Agreement stated that
"[t]he administering authority shall take the necessary steps to provide
the status of citizenship of the trust territory for the inhabitants of
the trust territory." The inhabitants of the Trust Territory were
aliens under U.S. immigration law, and required visas to enter or reside
in the United States.
Like persons born in Puerto Rico as a commonwealth, Trust Territory
citizens were not U.S. nationals or citizens under the U.S. Constitution.
In contrast to Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, U.S. citizenship
was not extended under any statute made applicable to the trusteeship areas.
However, statutory U.S. nationality and citizenship were offered to
the Trust Territory communities during their political status negotiations,
but only in the event they chose to become U.S. territories under U.S.
sovereignty and subject to the Territorial Clause. From the original island
groups in the Trust Territory, only the Northern Mariana Islands chose
U.S. nationality and citizenship offered as part of an agreement to enter
into commonwealth status under the Territorial Clause. Separate sovereignty
with a treaty of association was offered and accepted in the case of Micronesia,
the Marshall Islands and Palau, but the offer of free association did not
include continued "dual" or "shared" U.S.
sovereignty, nationality or citizenship.
It is important to note that free association as practiced by the U.S.
under the Pacific islands compacts is also consistent with U.N. General
Assembly Resolution 1541(XV), which recognizes free association as legitimate
form of decolonization provided it is terminable in favor of independence
through the constitutional process of either party to the compact. This
unrestricted terminability is the essential and inviolable feature which
makes the association "free" and, therefore, non-territorial
In conclusion, free association is possible as a treaty-based relationship
established in accordance with the U.S. Constitution. Whether it is the
right status solution for Puerto Rico is a decision only the voters can
make once they have accurate and complete information.