On August 15th, pro-independence activists plan to hold a rally in San Juan. Their description of the event? It is, they say, “for anti-colonization and against statehood.”

Mike Fellman responded on Twitter, “Which means pro independence but they won’t say that because it’s a very unpopular view…”


Francisco Proskauer Valerio chimed in, “‘For decolonization and anti-statehood’ is an oxymoron.”

Let’s look more closely.

Anti-colonization

Puerto Rico can certainly be described as having a colonial relationship with the United States. Some will agree with this description and some will not. The fact of the matter is, Puerto Rico is a territory belonging to the United States. It does not have the sovereignty of an independent nation or of a state of the union.

As a state, Puerto Rico will have the full rights and responsibilities of a state and the full protection of the U.S. Constitution. Statehood is a clearly non-colonial status, and those of us who are for statehood are certainly anti-colonization.

Independence is also a non-colonial status.  A Republic of Puerto Rico would not be a colony of the United States. It would also not be a state. It would have none of the rights and responsibilities of a state, and the United States would not have any legal responsibilities for a nation of Puerto Rico, beyond what might be negotiated in a Compact of Free Association or a treaty.

Those are the only anti-colonizaion status positions. The imaginary “enhanced commonwealth” has been repeatedly rejected as unconstitutional. As long as Puerto Rico is neither a state nor an independent nation, it will be a territory belonging to the United States.

A very unpopular view

Puerto Rico doesn’t want independence.

Here is the history of independence voters in the status votes that have taken place in Puerto Rico:

July 23, 1967

  • 60%                 Commonwealth
  • 38.9%              Statehood
  • 0.6%                Independence

November 14, 1993

  • 48.6%              Commonwealth
  • 46.3%              Statehood
  • 4.4%                Independence

December 13, 1998

  • .06%              Current territory status
  • .1%                  Free association
  • 2.5%               Independence
  • 46.5%            Statehood
  • 50.3%            None of the Above

November 6, 2012

  • Do you agree that Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of territorial status?  Yes: 46%  No: 54%.
  • Irrespective of your answer to the first question, indicate which of the following non-territorial options you prefer.
    • Statehood: 61.13%
    • Independence: 5.54%
    • Sovereign Free Associated State: 33.32%

June 11, 2017

  • 97% Statehood.
  • 1.52% Independence
  • 1.35% Current territorial status

Independence was not on the ballot in 2020, but statehood won the majority of the votes. Independence voters made up some part of the minority position of No on statehood.

The largest proportion of votes for independence over the past half century has been 5.54%. It is not possible, by any feats of mental gymnastics, to call this evidence that Puerto Rico wants independence. They represent fewer of the voters than the number who vote for the Libertarian or Green parties in U.S. presidential elections. No-one would consider these parties representative of American voters.

Rallies in the states

In addition to the San Juan rally, according to organizers, there will be “at least 8” rallies in states supporting the largely imaginary independence movement in San Juan.

GardaWorld suggests avoiding the area where the rally lis expected to take place because of potential traffic issues.

“A coalition of political parties and organizations aligned against statehood for Puerto Rico plan to stage a march in San Juan on Aug. 15 to protest the territory’s current push for admission as a new US state,” they say frankly. Organizers may say “anti-colonization,” but really they are anti-statehood. “The push for statehood in Puerto Rico has gained new steam in recent years following two plebiscites in 2017 and 2020 that both resulted in voters opting for statehood. However, anti-statehood politicians and the US government have noted that the referenda were marked by low participation and/or were problematically worded. Officials in Washington have shown little inclination to take up the matter. As such, little concrete movement is likely in the long term with regard to Puerto Rico’s status.”

In fact, there is enough momentum for statehood to make independence supporters nervous. As long as Puerto Rico is wedded to the “commonwealth” concept it will still be a territory. As a territory, it could still someday become an independent nation.

Who wants independence?

Independence might be more popular in the states than in Puerto Rico. Gallup has found over the years that over two thirds of people living in the states favor statehood for Puerto Rico.

However, at least one poll found that 19% of Puerto Ricans living in the states favored independence. This may reflect the romantic appeal of independence to Americans; we have an annual holiday for independence, and it is easy for Americans to think of independence as a generally good thing. Would the people who chose independence in that poll agree if Congress decided to force Puerto Rico to become an independent nation? Probably not, but they were not asked that question. Many of them may not even realize how unpopular independence is. Very few of them would consider going to a new nation of Puerto Rico to help build an independent republic.

The poll was conducted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, which describes itself as “an independent, nonpartisan policy institute and advocacy organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas, as well as strong leadership and concerted action.” It is a well-funded liberal think tank in Washington, D.C., with a large budget and an influential slate of officers.

If we accept their poll, the mainland Puerto Ricans are more than three times as likely as those living on the Island to favor independence. Yet they are still a very small proportion of the group. It cannot honestly be said that even the majority of Puerto Ricans living in the states actually want independence.

We will watch the August 15th rallies with interest, but we will not see them as evidence that independence is a viable idea for Puerto Rico. Let’s make sure Congress doesn’t get that false impression, either. Reach out to your reps.

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4 Responses

  1. “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
    –Ronald Reagan

    Thank you for this well-written article. The vociferous, anti-statehood supporters statements and actions, must be counteracted with our strong unyielding Pro-Statehood voices!

    Nationwide and Local education is imperative to clarify the only constitutional de-colonization options for PR:

    1- Statehood- with guaranteed USA citizenship and full participation in our unique Democratic Constitutional Republic. TWO Senators and FOUR Representatives in Congress advocating for the State of Puerto Rico- with full votes. Finally, the 3.5+ Million USA Citizens – PR residents – adding their democratic voices in our National Elections -with the power of Puerto Rico’s State electoral college votes. Statehood will bring true economic growth, political power and the independence through which states operate with the security of federal oversight. The separation of powers (Executive, Legislative, Judicial) of our nation is there for our protection and security against oppressive dictatorships.

    2- Nationhood = Independence – No USA citizenship- as there is nothing in the USA Constitution that allows granting USA citizenship to an independent Nation.
    Everything will need to be negotiated: Monetary currency and policy, Postal offices and Postal transportation, Military protection, Coastal security from narco traffic and illegal immigration, economic trade deals, transition OUT of social security, medicare, federal programs and REPLACEMENT with whatever an independent Puerto Rico will offer.

    The love for Puerto Rico and its idiosyncrasies is not the exclusive trademark of separatists or Nationalists- Pro statehood supporters, do not love PR any less than nationalists.

    3- FREE ASSOCIATION – ELA (MEJORADO) – ANOTHER NAME FOR A FORM OF INDEPENDENCE –
    With no guarantee of USA Citizenship as the process will require a transitional period. It will depend on negotiations conducted. Federal Assistance will likely continue in some format as the USA does with multiple nations -but the process will be dependent on trade deals and the USA’s National Security interests. The position of resident commissioner will likely be eliminated -as a free country with a mere association does not need to have a resident commissioner seating in the USA congress.
    The result of such status will always end in the lack of full participation in the federal constitutional process and the need to continue lobbying to obtain federal aid. Lastly, the economic future of PR will be dependent on trade deals with other nations who are in turmoil and very much wish they had more access to the USA.
    The only question here- is who really is to benefit the most from a Free associated Puerto Rico? – certainly not the average citizen, nor their quality of life.

    4- Keeping the current Territory – ELA – which by itself defeats the anti-decolonization options -as voters would choose to continue being a colonial territory with its multiple economic and political flaws- largest one -is the lack of full voting political representation in congress and nationwide.

    The final questions continue to be ….
    Why the opposition to Statehood and all it’s benefits?
    Why do the anti statehood supporters live in the States?
    Why do the pro- independence supporters live and benefit from Statehood and do not live In the countries they want to do trade deals with?
    Why the insistence in separating Puerto Rico from the USA?
    How long will it take for an oppressive radical regimen to take over a free PR?

    Statehood is the only logical step for Puerto Rico to ensure the well being of its 3.5 American residents and its economic and political future.

  2. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.” George Orwell

    Just for the record, I will like to rectify my prior comments dated August 4, 2021.

    After reviewing the latest commentaries on a compromise bill by Mr. Cox Alomar, I do not believe a compromise bill will be the solution- not in the manner he suggests.

    Most everyone agrees, PR needs to move forward with its final political definition, but it needs to do so with definitive constitutional options: Statehood or Independence and what does two options entail.

    It is the USA congress who has the responsibility to move the PR status process forward without further delays.

    Statehood is the only logical step for Puerto Rico to ensure the well being of its 3+million local American residents and its economic and political future within the dynamic current global sociopolitical restructuring.

    • We have the lessons of history to clarify the options. There are 50 states, and the U.S. Constitution says they will be treated equally, so we can see what statehood is like. The Philippines can be an example of a territory which gained independence. The Marshall Islands are an example of a nation in free association with the U.S. We probably don’t need further definition, since there are real-world examples. We just have to stop thinking we can have something new, when very branch of the federal government has repeatedly said that statehood and nationhood are the only options.

      • Agree. Unfortunately, the impression/ perception remains that PR political situation is too polarizing to reach consensus. Statehood won fair and square in the last 2020 non-binding referendum, in spite of voters repudiation to the failed local political platforms and past legislative/ executive performances.

        The question remains: Why is congress delaying the process of granting Statehood to PR?
        The answer is complex, and not just explained by the historical difficulty of others states entering the union.

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