Free Association, Sovereignty and Citizenship

Ramon Luis Nieves wrote in an opinion piece at The Hill that supports Free Association for Puerto Rico, rather than independence or statehood.

“International law considers free association as a distinct status from ‘integration,’  and ‘independence’,” Nieves writes. “Continued transmission of U.S. citizenship is an essential issue. There are no constitutional obstacles for Puerto Ricans born after free association to continue their century-old citizenship status. Political will is Congress’s sole barometer on this matter.”

In other words, according to Ramon Luis Nieves, the United States could create a new type of relationship with Puerto Rico, something not currently covered in the U.S. Constitution, something that could allow the Republic of Puerto Rico to offer its citizens U.S. citizenship as well.

Here’s the problem with that idea:

  1. International law may recognize different relationships from those recognized by the U.S. Constitution. However, the U.S. does not. As long as Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, it cannot create a compact of Free Association with the United States, because that would be unconstitutional. Once Puerto Rico gives up territorial status — assuming that statehood is rejected — then it is an independent nation. At that point, it can negotiate a new relationship with the United States, but it will be an independent nation.
  2. The United States has never shown any willingness to provide a Freely Associated State with U.S. citizenship. In 1998, it was proposed in Congress that Puerto Ricans’ U.S. citizenship be revoked immediately if it chose anything but territory or statehood in the plebiscite. There is no reason to think that the position of the U.S. government has changed on this matter.
  3. The new Free Association relationship being proposed by some leaders in Puerto Rico is substantially the same as the old enhanced commonwealth relationship. That proposal has been rejected by every branch of the U.S. government: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. It has been rejected for decades and there is absolutely no reason to think that a new name will change that.

“Puerto Rico is at a crossroads,” the article concludes. “The near-impossible fiscal situation, a decade-old recession, and the possibility of a petition for statehood, are key policy challenges.” In fact, the petition for statehood, far from being a challenge, is a solution.

If the people of Puerto Rico want independence, that is an option which is possible under the U.S. Constitution. So is statehood. Puerto Rico has no power to force the U.S. either to change its Constitution or to make decisions which are contrary to its interests. Statehood and independence are the realistic options for Puerto Rico. It is time to give up the fantasy options and work toward something real. Sign the petition.

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