The PPD’s definition of a Sovereign Associated Free State is that it is “a free and voluntary association, neither territorial nor colonial, in which the governments of Puerto Rico and the United States agree on specific terms of the relationship between the two.” This does not describe the current relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, because Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States.
Does it describe something people could vote on?
If Puerto Rico is not a colony or a territory of the United States, then it will be either a state or an independent nation. As an independent nation, Puerto Rico could of course negotiate treaties with the United States and with other nations. That is not something to vote on. It’s a statement of fact.
Look at Mexico. For 23 years, Canada, Mexico, and the United States have had a trade agreement. The deal, called NAFTA or the North American Free Trade Agreement, has allowed Mexico to export goods to the United States without tariffs on most items. While NAFTA hasn’t made big changes in the quality of life in the U.S. or in Canada, according to government economists, it has made a big difference for Mexico.
Canada and Mexico are the two largest destinations for U.S. exports now, accounting for more than one third of all U.S. exports. These two countries rank #2 and #3 in imports to the United States. The United States is Mexico’s #1 trade partner.
But the current administration plans to renegotiate NAFTA, not to mention forcing Mexico to pay for a wall they don’t want along their northern border. It is not possible right now to say how things will work out for Mexico. It’s also not possible to say how things will work out for Puerto Rico if Puerto Rico chooses to negotiate Free Association with the United States. Even if the U.S. goes along with many of the hopes of the leadership in Puerto Rico, it will be an agreement between two nations, not a constitutional relationship that cannot be changed. The relationship can be changed by either side as quickly as Mexico’s relationship with the United States.
What are the hopes of the Soberanistas? Though they have not been able to come to agreement, some want dual citizenship; continued Social Security, veterans, Medicare and Medicaid benefits; a bilateral deal that cannot be changed without agreement on both sides; 30 years of financial support of Puerto Rico by the United States; the end of the application of the Jones Act in Puerto Rico; continued free movement between the states and Puerto Rico; and the abolishment of the Territorial Clause for Puerto Rico without becoming an independent nation. Read one version of the proposed Compact of Association from 2010.
Remember, the United States doesn’t have to agree to any of these requirements. If the U.S. does agree, it will be for a limited time, not forever. And either side — the U.S. or Puerto Rico — can change its mind at any time and leave the agreement or renegotiate. This has happened for some of the nations that are Free Associated States right now, such as Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. The citizens of these islands must now have a passport to travel in the United States.
Once Puerto Rico leaves the U.S., it cannot come back and become a state. But it can lose or leave the agreement of Free Association. As a state, Puerto Rico will have the full rights of statehood.