Howard Hills, author of Citizens Without A State, wrote a thoughtful article at The Pacific Times. Congress has approved a renewal of the Compacts of Free Association negotiated with Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands 75 years ago — but not before they ran out at the end of September. Congress has still not appropriated the funds, so the three COFA nations are in a difficult financial situation.
“Neither a complete success story nor a saga of failure once finally accomplished, the expired COFA renewal process reflects the juridical nature of free association,” Hills wrote. “After all, COFA is a terminable agreement under international law as defined by the U.S. and accepted by the FAS as long as the parties don’t determine better options exist.”
That is, compacts of free association can be rejected by either of the nations involved in the compact.
What does free association offer?
“Indeed, the COFA alliance is based on 75 years of U.S. needs for the strategic benefits of annexation without actual political annexation, in exchange for economic assistance,” Hills continued. The U.S. has demanded permanent military access in. all three nations, even if the financial support ends. “That has been the chosen alternative to constitutional integration and political union under U.S. sovereignty, with a guarantee of common American nationality and citizenship.”
All three of the freely associated states chose to become independent nations rather to continue as U.S. territories. The Northern Mariana Islands, in contrast, chose to be a territory of the United States, like their neighbor, Guam.
“Only Puerto Rico has chosen democratically to transition into full equality of citizenship rights and permanent political union under statehood. But so far Congress has deferred and by not passing a self-determination act for Puerto Rico, forfeited its authority and responsibility to resolve the status of that territory.”
“Sovereign free association” is one of the options for Puerto Rico’s political status under the Puerto Rico Status Act, and its supporters have in many cases suggested that a COFA for Puerto Rico would be like the mythical “enhanced commonwealth” which has been rejected by all three branches of the federal government. In fact, free association with the United States is always a form of independence.
As Hills points out, free association does not include U.S. citizenship, nor is it a permanent relationship that can’t be changed without mutual agreement. Puerto Rico voters must recognize this reality before choosing a permanent political status.