Goodbye to the Commonwealth Myth

The U.S. government has said repeatedly that Puerto Rico can remain in its current status as a territory, or can choose between statehood and independence. Puerto Rico’s current government has repeatedly denied this. But the myth of the special commonwealth relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States is losing any semblance of reality, disappearing like mist in the heat of the headlines about Puerto Rico which we see in the mainland news and in the news on the island.

Benjamin Torres Gotay wrote in “The soul split in two” in El Nuevo Dia that “the commonwealthers” will ” have to leave the comfort of ‘the best of two worlds’.”

“U.S. Attorney General Donald Verrilli,” he reminded his readers, in writing on a case being debated before the federal Supreme Court, said that Puerto Rico remains a territory of the United States, devoid of sovereignty, subject to the powers of the Congress and that did not change in 1952.”

This is what the White House Task Force on Puerto Rico reports over the decades have been saying, and what the Senate and the Department of Justice have been saying, and what legal scholars have been saying.

As Torres Gotay said, “That really surprised only the most stubborn commonwealthers. First, because it is enough to see how things have always been in Puerto Rico, because no one here has ever doubted what the United States does here, that it applies its laws and we can do nothing. Second, it is not the first time that the United States Government has declared officially that Puerto Rico never ceased to be a colony.”

But the author went on to say that living in a colony is no longer an option. “No one doubts that many Puerto Ricans would continue living happy in a colony. But it will not be possible. What happened during the last few years shows that colonialism is not an abstract phenomenon, nor a legal concept without impact on the lives of people.”

Torres Gotay points out that Puerto Rico has been unable to choose its own solution to the current debt crisis in Puerto Rico. “We have not found in Washington support for applying US Federal regulations for the handling of situations like these. Even if tomorrow we find such support, it will be a favor and not something that we could have achieved by our own means.”

Puerto Rico’s “commonwealth” has no legal meaning, any more than the Commonwealth of Kentucky has special standing that makes it different from other states. Puerto Rico is a territory belonging to the United States, and it is under the control of Congress. Some of the leadership in Puerto Rico has been pretending for years that this is not the case, and the current debt crisis is forcing them to realize that they were pretending.

“It is not by chance that colonialism is repudiated unanimously at the global level,” Torres Gotay stated. “The comfortable arrangement of 1952, which allowed them to give free rein to the fantasy that they are living in a sovereign State, while they continued enjoying the partnership with the United States, is no longer possible. They have to face the harsh choice.”

The hard choice in question: “a choice between statehood and independence.”

“For commonwealthers,” Torres Gotay continues, “saying this is almost like cursing.”

But this is the reality. The commonwealth myth is over. The debt crisis, and the federal response to it, show that Puerto Rico has no special deal with the U.S. Does Puerto Rico want to continue to live as a colony? Do Americans want to continue to be a colonial power in the 21st century? Now that we know this is the situation, we must demand — from leaders in Puerto Rico and in Washington D.C. — action to resolve Puerto Rico’s status permanently.

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