"FACTS ABOUT FREE ASSOCIATION SELDOM HEARD"
THE SAN JUAN STAR, AUGUST 12, 1998
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A lot is being said these days about free association as another political status option for Puerto Rico. Regrettably, much confusion exists on what Free Association is and stands for. It is, therefore, imperative to once again keep the record straight on this proposed political status.
Free Association is one of the three decolonization status options accepted by the United Nations under the provisions of the December 1960 Resolution 1541, of which the United States was a signatory. These options, included in the Young bill, are as follows: (1) emergence as an absolutely independent nation (meaning total independence); (2) integration with an independent nation (meaning, in the case of Puerto Rico, integration with the United States as a state); (3) once the territory becomes an independent nation, entering into a pact or treaty of free association with an independent nation.
It must be emphasized that the United Nations conceives free association as a pact, or treaty, between two independent and sovereign nations. So, if Puerto Rico were to enter into a legitimate and internationally accepted pact or treaty with the United States, it would first have to be an independent and sovereign nation.
Autonomist sectors here insist on making us believe that Puerto Rico does not have to be independent to enter into a pact of free association with the United States. They are, of course, aware that the overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans rejected and continue to reject independence. The following are some of the concessions and petitions which they want to have under their pact of free association or treaty of union with the United States: (1) Control of customs and immigration and no restrictions on the entry to Untied States by residents of Puerto Rico; (2) Freedom to enter into treaties with other nations; (3) Dual citizenship (American and Puerto Rican), common defense, market and currency with the United States; (4) Exemption from federal taxes and the non-applicability of federal laws to Puerto Rico; (5) Exclusion of Puerto Rico from the U.S. Constitution Territorial Clause; (6) Spanish as the official language of Puerto Rico; (7) Membership in international forums, like the United Nations and the Organization of American States; (8) Participation in Olympic Games and Miss Universe Pageant; (9) Economic parity with the States of the Union and continuation of all federal grants and benefits, as well as the continuation of Medicare and Social Security benefits; (10) Payment of rent by U.S. Armed Forces for installations in Puerto Rico, and elimination of compulsory military service in U.S. Armed Forces.
It is worth noting that reportedly many of the aforementioned concessions and petitions are to be included in the new definition of commonwealth, announced by the Popular Democratic Party's leadership, which is advocating it be included as a status option in the federal status legislation proposal now before Congress, and as a status option in the proposed referendum here to be held at the end of this year.
The U.S. Congress has the power to enter into pacts and treaties, but I cannot conceive of Congress entering into a pact or treaty with an unincorporated territory (a colony) like Puerto Rico, and much less giving thought to concessions and petitions which, in my perception, are outside the U.S. Constitutional system.
I often hear free association advocates saying, to justify their position, that the United States entered into such pacts with the Pacific Islands of Marshall, Micronesia, and Palau. They fail, however, to mention the circumstances which lead to such pacts, and the provisions of the same, which I feel it is opportune to briefly discuss as follows.
After World War II, when Japan was evicted from the Pacific Islands of Marshall, Micronesia, Palau and Northern Mariana, these islands formed part of a Strategic Trust Territory, established in 1947 by the United Nations and placed under the administration of the United States. In 1969, the United States offered the islands the status of U.S. territory. The Marshall, Micronesia and Palau islands rejected the offer and favored full autonomic powers and sovereignty in close ties with the United States. The Northern Mariana Islands, however, negotiated separately with the United States and have a status similar to Puerto Rico's commonwealth, with the inhabitants having U.S. citizenship. The Marshall, Micronesia and Palau islands are recognized by the United States as independent and sovereign republics. Their inhabitants are not and never have been U.S. citizens. They have their own citizenship. Under this free association pact with the United States, the islands handle their foreign affairs, have their own diplomatic and consular corps, enter into treaties with other nations, and are full members of the United Nations and other international organizations. U.S. laws are not applicable to these islands. Under the pacts, however, the United States is responsible for their defense and security, and they agreed to refrain from actions which the United States determined to be incompatible with its responsibility to defend the islands. The United States also agreed to provide the islands with economic and technical services for a determined period of time to ensure a successful transition. The pacts can be terminated by mutual consent, or unilaterally by any of the governments.
In conclusion, I have said it before and will say it again and again, the bottom line of all this is that we have reached a point of "to be or not to be" in our political relations with the United States. Either we favor a real, permanent union with the United States through statehood, with all its benefits, obligations and responsibilities, or we favor a separate sovereignty from the United States, leading to being either the nation of Puerto Rico, totally sovereign and independent, or a nation with a free association pact with the United States, as was the case of the Pacific island republics. But what we must realize is that we can't "have the cake and eat it too." Let's also stop pushing for a political status option which is not decolonizing and which is precisely the political status problem we are trying to solve. Let's insist on voting for the political status options, contained in the Young bill, which meet decolonization requirements, are realistic, are acceptable to the international community and, last but not least, are within the scope of the U.S. Constitution.
Finally, I say the following to autonomists, to those advocating "free association pact" and "treaties of union" with the United States without Puerto Rico being an independent nation, and to those advocating enhanced commonwealth status with the coloring of a republic: Don't offend our intelligence with subterfuges and hypocrisies; call things by what they really are and by what you really want Puerto Rico to be.
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