“I am a statehood supporter,” wrote reader Ángel Díaz. “However, recently I have read many ‘political figures’ stating that Congress is shifting the balance towards Independence. I’m very worried, if this is true, since I don’t believe Independence is viable for Puerto Rico for many reasons.
“My question is, can the Congress and the White House make the decision of PR political status without consulting us? What does the law says about this?”
Good question. We have also seen multiple suggestions that the United States should sidestep Puerto Rico’s financial problems by making Puerto Rico independent. For the most part, these are not calls for independence on the part of the people of Puerto Rico, whose votes in every referendum have shown that independence is not a popular option. These are calls for the United States to abandon Puerto Rico.
Congress is close to a vote approving some help for Puerto Rico in the form of PROMESA, even if it isn’t the whole loaf the leadership of the Island might have hoped for. PROMESA will give Puerto Rico a way to restructure debt and find an orderly way out of the debt crisis.
But there is still plenty of controversy over the bill in Congress. Could Congress decide to make life simpler by simply declaring that Puerto Rico is no longer a territory of the United States, so the U.S. no longer has to worry about Puerto Rico?
In theory, yes.
Congress is authorized under the Territorial Clause of the Constitution to make all rules and regulations regarding its territories. Legally, Congress has the authority to make Puerto Rico independent if it wants, just as the US decided to make Puerto Rico a territory without consulting Puerto Rico.
In fact, Congress could do any of these things with Puerto Rico:
- Congress could unilaterally declare Puerto Rico independent, divest itself of sovereignty, and limit citizenship to those who choose allegiance to the United States and not Puerto Rico.
- Congress could cede sovereignty over Puerto Rico to Japan, just as Spain ceded it to the United States.
- Congress could sell Puerto Rico back to Spain (though Spain has already said that they are not in the market).
- Congress could surrender sovereignty and place Puerto Rico under UN Trusteeship Council and have the U.S. or another nation appointed administering authority until self determined status is achieved.
- Congress could cede the territory to Florida and make it part of that state.
And that’s just a few of the options Congress legally has. Since Puerto Rico is not a State, it does not have any of the rights that States have, and Congress can legally do pretty much whatever it wants with Puerto Rico.
As a political matter, however, Congress is likely to be influenced by the preferences of the people of Puerto Rico. Political figures talking about Puerto Rico repeatedly say that they want to follow the will of the people of Puerto Rico.
Since 61% of the voters chose statehood among the viable options for political status in 2012, the will of the people seems clear. Since just about 5% chose independence, it also seems clear that Puerto Rico does not want independence. But you can help get the word to Congress. Write, call, email, or tweet your congressional reps and let them know that you want statehood.@Congress, listen to Puerto Rico. We don't want independence. We want equality. We want statehood. Click To Tweet