One of the things that comes up when people talk about statehood for Puerto Rico is the possibility that, after Puerto Rico becomes a state, Guam might also want to become a state.

Congress can make Guam a state if Congress choose to do so.

Now that Puerto Rico is talking about using the Tennessee Plan to become a state, we have to wonder: could Guam also use the Tennessee Plan?

Congress has declared a future political status policy for only one unincorporated territory in history: the Philippine Islands. In 1916, Congress declared that the Philippines would be an independent nation.  That policy was implemented through the Philippines Independence Act of 1934, which denied U.S. citizenship to the people of the Philippines and made the territory an autonomous commonwealth until independence in 1947.

The Philippines precedent makes it clear that when an unincorporated territory has enhanced autonomy — the status the supporters of enahnced commonwealth want for Puerto Rico — it leads to nationhood without U.S. citizenship or application of the U.S. Constitution. The Philippines was a self-governing commonwealth. The people were not U.S. citizens and they were not protected by the U.S. Constitution.

In contrast, the Northwest Ordinance tradition of incorporation, the process that brought most territories into the U.S. as states, is based on U.S. citizenship and application of the U.S. Constitution.

Puerto Rico’s status resolution process has been dominated by the debate between statehood and the idea of the enhanced commonwealth. The commonwealth proposals have been intended to make unincorporated territory status more tolerable.   In the absence of a coherent federal policy on statehood or independence for Puerto Rico, the so-called “commonwealth” regime of territorial government was adapted to Puerto Rico and has evolved into a de facto form of incorporation like the Northwest Ordinance model.

In contrast, the “commonwealth” model of unincorporated territory administration for the small island territory of the Northern Mariana Islands is more conventionally in alignment with the organized but still unincorporated territory status of nearby Guam. For these smaller territories, the autonomous “commonwealth” formula appears more likely to lead to separate nationhood based on the Philippines model than to incorporation under the Northwest Ordinance model. These small island territories in the Pacific are more likely to become independent nations than to become states.

This is not what happened in Puerto Rico. In fact, the relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico has produced virtual statehood for Puerto Rico.

For Puerto Rico, permanent U.S. citizenship under the constitution is within close reach, but for the smaller unincorporated territories, free association as a separate nation is more nearly within reach.   For those in Puerto Rico who seek greater autonomy the tide has turned toward statehood because of the clear precedent embodied in the free association treaties with the Pacific islands.

That precedent can be summed up as follows: Separate national sovereignty means separate national citizenship. If a territory wants sovereignty it can’t have U.S. citizenship, and if it wants U.S. citizenship it has to accept U.S. sovereignty. Incorporated territories, like the New Mexico Territory or the Missouri Territory, couldn’t choose independence because they were legally part of the United States and destined for statehood. An unincorporated territory like Puerto Rico can become independent as the Philippines did;  in the case of Puerto Rico independence has so far received very small percentages in local votes.

Puerto Rico can’t have “enhanced commonwealth” and keep U.S. citizenship and the people of Puerto Rico do not seem to want independence, so statehood is the logical best choice for Puerto Rico. Guam and the other unincorporated territories are not in the same position.

This post was originally written in English and may be being auto-translated by Google.



2 Responses

  1. I have visited both places and between the two, I would prefer statehood for Guam over Puerto Rico. I feel like I am in the USA when in Guam. With Puerto Rico, as long as you stay in the tourist areas, you feel okay. But if you leave those areas, be surprised if you cannot communicate with the locals What separates Guam from Puerto Rico is language. English is readily spoken throughout Guam, while Puerto Rico the spoken language is Spanish. The locals are proud of their language and their Puerto Rican, not American heritage. That could explain why the islanders have balked at becoming a state. Puerto Rico should be an independent country.

    • That was no problem for the US soldiers when they invaded the island in 1898, was it? That was not a problem when the US granted citizenship to puertorricans so they could be drafted and sent to the front line in all the coming wars, WW1, WW2, Korea, Vietnam, Middle East, etc. Obviously not a problem to use Puerto Rico and puertorricans to experiment with chemicals and drugs. I could go on and on but what’s the use most people in the USA think Puerto Rico is somewhere in Mexico, many have asked me how long it takes to drive down there and some of the congressmen themselves know less than you do about the Island. The US was not invited in 1898 and now they have the power to decide the future, good for them they won the war.

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