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Popular Democratic Party leaders are saying that the approval of a bill recently filed in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Elton Gallegly, R. Calif., changing the name of Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in Congress to delegate and reducing the term of office from four to two years, is against the law. They say it violates the Federal Relations Act (U.S. Law 600) and a bilateral pact under the law which, in 1952, created the island’s present commonwealth status.

It is also claimed that the pact can only be altered by mutual consent. It is about time for the myth about the so-called "bilateral pact" to vanish forever from our political scenario. I hope to contribute to this objective with my perception of the "bilateral pact," based on the following specific legal and historical facts:

When in 1950 the bill that led to U.S. Law 600 was filed, the House of Representatives Land Committee indicated that "the project will not change the power of Congress to determine Puerto Rico’s political future."

Testifying at the committee hearings on March 4, 1950, then-Gov. Muñoz Marín said: "This project does not change the fundamental conditions of Puerto Rico of non-incorporation and only permits Puerto Rico to develop its own self-government.

Testifying at a subsequent hearing of the committee the same year, then-Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico in the U.S. Congress, Antonio Fernós Isern said: "The project will not alter the sovereign power of Congress over Puerto Rico obtained under the Treaty of Paris."

The new political formula for Puerto Rico was more a matter of form than substance. While relations between Puerto Rico and the United States under Law 600 may have been "in the nature of a compact," there was no binding bilateral pact.

It was established that Congress reserved its constitutional right to "dispose of, or promulgate the rules and regulations necessary to the territory or any property of the United States."

The political objectives sought in 1952 were not fully accomplished. The self-government created was restricted by the fact that the basic nature of our relations with the United States remained the same.

Congress did not relinquish all its sovereignty over Puerto Rico and there was no change in the applicability of federal laws and federal jurisdiction in Puerto Rico, as we have seen by the many laws unilaterally passed (and which continue to be passed) by Congress, as well as by unilateral actions taken by the U.S. government with respect to Puerto Rico.

The following are just a few examples of such unilateral action.

·Puerto Rico’s Constitution was not drafted by the constitutional assembly with absolute sovereign powers. It was subject to Congress’ approval and was, in fact, unilaterally amended by Congress.

·In 1953, then-President Eisenhower sent a message to the United Nations saying he would recommend to Congress more or absolute independence for Puerto Rico, if so requested by Puerto Rico’s Legislature. This revealed that Puerto Rico was still under Congress’ sovereignty.

·In 1974 and 1978, the U.S. government stopped then Gov. Hernández Colón from entering into (on his own) agreements with Saudi Arabia and Japan, respectively, on the basis that Puerto Rico was not free to make international commitments without clearance from the U.S. government. Apparently there was fear that such commitments could affect U.S. foreign policy.

·In the case of Harris vs. Rosario (446 U.S. 651, 1980) and in the case of Puerto Rico vs. Branstad, Governor of Iowa (June 23, 1987), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Puerto Rico never ceased to be a territory under U.S. sovereignty and that "Congress could treat Puerto Rico differently from the states of the union provided there is reasonable basis to do so."

·In 1988, the U.S. District Court in San Juan ruled that Congress intended to include Puerto Rico in the Omnibus Crime Control Act, which is the controlling law for federal prosecution in Puerto Rico (STAR, Jan. 14, 1988).

·On June 11, 1993, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Ga., ruled in the case of Puerto Rico vs. Rafael and Luis Sánchez, that constitutionally, Puerto Rico is still a territory and Congress continues to have sovereignty over Puerto Rico.

·On Oct. 25, 1993, Congress enacted a law making car jacking a federal offense. The law was applicable to all states of the union, Puerto Rico and other territories.

·On Sept. 14, 1994, President Clinton signed the Crime Law providing that anyone charged with a capital crime faces the death penalty if federal prosecution seek it. The law applies to Puerto Rico even if Puerto Rico’s Constitution rejects capital punishment.

·"Commonwealth" was a term adopted in Resolution 62 on February 4, 1952 by the constitutional convention as a convenient (and requested by Congress) translation of "Estado Libre Asociado," and it has no juridical significance nor international recognition.

Considering these legal and historical facts, there should be little doubt that the claimed "bilateral pact" is just a myth, and the commonwealth status is a juridical limbo.

Puerto Rico continues to be a colony "with the consent of the governed;" an unincorporated territory ("separate and unequal"); it belongs to, but is not a part of the United States for constitutional purposes; it has second-class U.S. citizens with no voting rights; and is still governed by Congress at its discretion.

As one of the architects of commonwealth status, former Puerto Rico Supreme Court Chief Justice José Trías Monge 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."


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