Instead of protesting and disrupting the deliberative process of the PROMESA fiscal control board, those who seek constitutionally defined sovereignty and equal rights of national citizenship should march on the office of the local political party supporting the current “commonwealth” junta.
For more than five decades, the platform of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) has been dedicated to perpetuation of the current “commonwealth” regime of territorial government, AKA “Estado Libre Asociado (ELA).” By denying that ELA is a colonial condition and defending current federal territorial rule, the PDP has done more than any federal or local governing body to deprive people in Puerto Rico of full equality, sovereignty and dignity.
The PDP spawned the ideology that there was a form of “autonomy” that could “culminate” in a new form of “statehood” through a sovereign-to-sovereign “bilateral association.” This invented notion was embodied perversely in ambiguous 1950, 1952 and 1953 revisions to the federal territorial laws defining the limited self-government for Puerto Rico. This fabricated ideological myth became a monstrous lie made possible and indeed promoted by the PDP junta.
Congress would not have gone along with the language of U.S. Public Law 82-447, amending an ratifying a local territorial constitution in 1952, if PDP leaders and lobbyists had not encouraged the scheme to pretend full sovereignty had been achieved. The U.S. would not have gone along with U.N. Resolution 748 in 1953, declaring the “commonwealth” scheme sufficient to “decolonize” Puerto Rico under the U.N. Charter, if the PDP junta had not asked for and been in collusion with the U.S. diplomatic sleight of hand.
The misrepresentation of what “commonwealth” really means was perpetrated by PDP leader Jose Trias Monge, among others, who cynically described the ELA scheme as “creative ambiguity.” This created ambivalent legal meaning to the lexicon of words about political status, including “commonwealth,” “autonomy,” “bilateral association,” “compact,” “consent,” and even the still deceptively used word “country.”
As a territorial “commonwealth” Puerto Rico is not a “country,” “sovereign” or a “nation” as those words are used and understood in the real world outside the island territory. That was not creative ambiguity, but rather deceitful manipulation perpetuating denial of self-determination to attain true equality and sovereignty. The distortion of ELA’s meaning trapped the people of the U.S. possession under an imperial client state regime doomed to the political and economic failure that made PROMESA inevitable and now necessary.
Issues at play in the political status debate implicating the territory’s culture, language, religion, economic conditions or any other sociological considerations should not have derailed status resolution. Based on conferral of U.S. citizenship 33 years earlier Puerto Rico should have become a State of the Union in 1950.
Historically, the choice for the U.S. and Puerto Rico in 1950 was comparable to the choice facing politically ambivalent and economically distressed Spanish and French speaking Catholic people of Louisiana in 1812. Based on the conferral of U.S. citizenship in that internally disorganized territory just 9 years earlier in Article III of the 1803 treaty of cession, Louisiana was admitted as a State of the Union despite many excuses for delay.
Even though the rest of the nation was predominantly Protestant and in the middle of a war with the former colonial masters in Britain, Congress realized the only thing more problematic than admitting Louisiana as a State would be to deny admission. For it was clear that either citizenship means equality that comes only with statehood, or citizenship means something else that is less than equal.
Under the Northwest Ordinance tradition for integration of territory in the U.S. system of constitutional federalism, less than equal citizenship in a U.S. territory not yet a State was understood as legally and politically temporary. It was the PDP that joined the colonial overseers in Washington in orchestrating the hoax that “commonwealth” was a form of “free association.” That term was then being used without precise legal definition by the international bureaucrats in the United Nations to describe a status that was not colonial but also not yet fully independent.
The PDP junta conspired with U.S. State Department and Congressional imperialists to manipulate words like “unalterable without consent,” a term used in the Northwest Ordinance as a promise of statehood. Those words from the lexicon of liberty were misappropriated to instead make a false promise to Puerto Rico of “free association,” “autonomy” and “consent” as used in U.N. diplomatic parlance.
The PDP sought to create an inchoate status model that would perpetuate U.S. sovereignty through the device of U.S. citizenship without a present or even future right of equality. Then the PDP and its collaborators in Washington pretended to believe the false promise that “commonwealth” or ELA somehow would morph into an “equivalent substitute.” That myth that “commonwealth” would culminate in something equivalent to but not quite the same as statehood morphed instead into a lie and fraud on the people.
The PDP party platform defined a “commonwealth” model that culminated not in “autonomy” or “the best of both worlds,” but in neo-imperial, neo-colonial failed client state status. ELA ushered in not sovereignty or a sustainable form of self-government, but a bastardized territorial model of government that culminated in 2016 with the Sanchez Valle ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court and PROMESA. Those two events confirmed that Puerto Rico delayed the choice between statehood and nationhood for half a century based on a lie.
This was not unexpected by anyone who was listening or thinking outside the reach of PDP propaganda. The statehooders have been predicting the deconstruction of ELA for decades. The irony is that if Puerto Rico was going to be denied statehood in 1950, it should then have been given independence. That was the obvious logical solution when the U.S. granted nationhood to the American territory known as the “Commonwealth of the Philippines” in 1946. That was just 4 years before the U.S. imperialists and PDP lobbyists perpetrated the hoax that there was a new “commonwealth” model that made the choice of statehood or nationhood unnecessary.
In contrast, the “commonwealth” regime in the Philippines truly was given the autonomy that the imperialists in the U.S. and PDP falsely claimed under Puerto Rico’s revised 1950 and 1952 federal territorial organic act laws. But the Philippines had never been granted U.S. citizenship, just the “national” status that Puerto Rico had before 1917 and the advent of U.S. citizenship in Puerto Rico.
Conferral of U.S. citizenship should have put Puerto Rico on the same path to statehood as Hawaii and Alaksa. Instead, former Governor of the Philippines and territorial czar of both the White House and the Supreme Court, William Howard Taft, thought granting citizenship and putting Hawaii and Alaska on the path to statehood had been a mistake. Taft did not want another culturally diverse territorial possession admitted to the Union, so he strong-armed the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922 to rule there was another option.
In the 1922 case of Balzac v. Puerto Rico the high court opinion written by Taft held the U.S. did not have to choose between citizenship, incorporation and statehood like Hawaii, or non-citizenship, non-incorporation and independence like the Philippines. Instead, the federal government could govern U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico the same way it governed non-citizens in the Philippines, under the imperialist jurisprudence on territorial governance in the so-called Insular Cases of 1901-1904.
The 1922 in the Balzac case ruling created the legal context for the PDP to conspire with the imperialists in Washington to pretend that “commonwealth” meant the U.S. and Puerto Rico had invented a new form of statehood. It supposedly combined features of statehood and nationhood, otherwise known as “free association” or ELA. PDP apologist Trias Monge insisted it would preserve U.S. citizenship and lead to sovereignty, arguing anything is possible and it is just up to Congress to give us what we want.”
The shrewd but misguided PDP strategist Rafael Hernandez Colon rationalized and justified the inability to bring “commonwealth” to “culmination” as a “democratic deficit.” He promised the deficiency of citizenship without equality would be reconciled as federal law evolved to recognize permanence of “commonwealth.” But he knew better, and instead wanted to beat the U.S. at what to him was a game seeking to bring about a form of “reverse imperialism.” This led to some but not all equal citizenship rights without equal duties, some but not all equal benefits without equal burdens.
Meanwhile, in Congress and in Puerto Rico it became clear the allocation of benefits and burdens was in reality the worst of both worlds. Despite massive federal subsidization, the “commonwealth” regime was not viable and was descending into failed client state status. The quality of life and economic conditions under ELA were not as promising as statehood or even true sovereign and independent nationhood.
Failure of Congress and Puerto to act in the 1990’s to address the clear implications of disarray and confusion over status options set the stage for the final implosion of the federal territorial regime, including federal fiscal gimmicks that had propped up the PDP junta. That led to the 2012 vote for statehood, followed by paralysis in Washington and political state of arrest in San Juan.
The other bell-weather outcome of the political and legal dilemma of “commonwealth” was the 2016 Sanchez Valle ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. That case confirmed Puerto Rico remains a territory, and was followed by suspension of the 1952 local constitution and organic act to the extent deemed necessary by the PROMESA financial control board. All of this turmoil arose from miscalculation attributable to the ideological schizophrenia of the ELA “free association” myth. The fatal flaw in ELA was the myth that “U.S. citizenship” has the same meaning in Puerto Rico as it does in a State. For the PDP that meant statehood is not necessary to redeem the promise of that citizenship.
Even Taft knew that the only way the “Balzac citizenship” he created could lead to equality (without admission of the territory to statehood) was for the U.S. citizens of the territory to migrate to a State. He said so in is1922 ruling. Yet, the schizoid doctrine of “autonomous free association” has been used for six decades to deny real sovereignty and equal national citizenship. That is achievable only through either real statehood and nationhood, to the people of Puerto Rico.
Instead of blaming PROMESA, the people should hold the PDP junta responsible and accountable. That now had begun beginning with rejection of PDP candidates in the 2016 election, for still flirting with the myth of “free association” as a form of “autonomy” with U.S. citizenship. That is anti-democratic propaganda.
The real choice has always been and still is statehood with equal U.S. citizenship or independence without U.S. citizenship. Real free association is simply a transitional arrangement for imposing independence against the freely expressed will of the people as expressed in 2012.
In historical context, statehood became the solution in 1812 for Louisiana, and in 1912 for 90% Spanish speaking New Mexico.
Unless the people vote for independence instead, approval of terms for statehood is the next step to end non-sovereign territorial status. The public should not waste its time debating any other proposition.
This post is written by Howard Hills, author of Citizens Without a State.