The “commonwealth” party in Puerto Rico (the PDP) has for many years held that Puerto Rico has a special relationship with the United States, allowing Puerto Rico to receive the benefits of statehood while still maintaining its identity as a nation. This isn’t true, but the PDP has continued to say that it is true, and to talk about renegotiating with the United States and perfecting the imaginary special relationship.

The “sovereign” faction of the PDP is gaining power once again, and the PDP candidate for governor is speaking up for a different status option: Free Associated State.

Is this a good option for Puerto Rico?

There are some real advantages to FSA status compared with “enhanced commonwealth”:

  • This is a real status, legal under the U.S. constitution, and not an imaginary option which the federal government has rejected repeatedly. If the voters of Puerto Rico opt to become a Free Associated State, Congress can agree and make it happen. The “enhanced commonwealth” option is unconstitutional, and has been rejected by Congress and the White House over and over.
  • While the “enhanced commonwealth” has not been defined clearly, there are FSAs already in existence, and we can look at them and see whether this status would work for Puerto Rico.
  • FSA status is not colonial and not territorial. Being a territory is not a desirable option.

However, the PDP’s discussions about what kind of agreement they’d want to have with the United States as a Free Associated Territory sound a lot like the discussions about enhanced commonwealth. Permanent U.S. citizenship? Continued participation in Social Security? 30 years of guaranteed financial support?

In essence, a Free Associated State swaps U.S. military defense and some financial support for some degree of control by the U.S. and a promise not to cooperate with any other country’s military. It is to a large extent a strategic military relationship. It is a free agreement between the U.S. and Puerto Rico, as independent nations. That’s not how the PDP is presenting this.

Check out some facts about the current FSAs:

  • Citizens of all the FSAs used to travel to the U.S. without passports, but now they must have passports.
  • Citizens of the FSAs can live and work in the U.S. without becoming U.S. citizens and vice versa, but none of the FSAs have dual citizenship with the U.S. Living in one of the FSAs does not count as residence in the United States for the purposes of immigration. If the FSA relationship ends, citizens of the FSA living in the United States will be in an uncertain position, because they are not U.S. citizens.
  • Micronesia and the Marshall Islands initially negotiated annual payments from the U.S., but the U.S. renegotiation after 15 years specified that those payments would be ended by the time the next renegotiation came around. The U.S. also demanded more “accountability” for the use of the funds.
  • The U.S. Post Office originally treated mail in the FSAs as domestic mail, but now they are allowed to charge higher prices.
  • The Federated States of Micronesia (F.S.M.) have an agreement which is set to expire in 2023, but in 2015 they announced that they plan to end their agreement in 2018. This resolution is in discussion in the U.S. Congress now. FSM says that they want a more equal relationship in place of their current arrangement, but the United States has no obligation to make the changes they ask for, and will have no obligation to continue payments after the compact ends. FSM is now considered a “high risk” financially and will have trouble making financial arrangement with other nations. The U.S. Congress has taken no action yet.
  • Chuuk, one of the Federated States of Micronesia, is currently trying to gain its own independence from the FSM and hoping to make its own compact of free association with the United States. The rest of Micronesia doesn’t have to agree, and the United States doesn’t have to make a deal with Chuuk.

In short, things change. Even if Puerto Rico were able to negotiate all the things its wants in a compact with the U.S., there is no reason to think that the agreement would not change. In fact, the entire history of the current FSAs is one of change — and not always in the direction that the FSAs might choose. Overall, the FSAs have seen a decrease in the goodies they get from the U.S. over time. There is no reason to think that Puerto Rico would be different.

Puerto Rico can feel confident about the future if she becomes a State of the Union. The rights and responsibilities of the States are laid out in the U.S. Constitution, and the relationship is permanent. Becoming a Free Associated State is a type of independence. There are no guarantees and no permanent agreements in the Free Associated State relationship.

Is the PDP making this clear? The Free Associated State option was on the ballot in 2012, and it received 33% of the vote, compared with 61% for statehood. The PDP is not united behind this option now, any more than they were in 2012. It’s time to disentangle FAS from the commonwealth myth and be honest with voters about what it really means to be a free associated state.



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