You can still easily find statements describing Puerto Rico as a commonwealth, but they are not accurate. Here are some examples:

  • “Puerto Rico officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island, Commonwealth, and unincorporated territory of the United States.” — Wikipedia
  • “Puerto Rico, self-governing island commonwealth of the West Indies, associated with the United States.” — Encyclopedia Brittanica
  • “Staying as a commonwealth comes with some nifty perks for Puerto Ricans. ”  —
  • “Puerto Rico, as a commonwealth of the United States, has a unique political status. —

“Commonwealth” is a word in the official title of Puerto Rico, which is an unincorporated territory of the United States. While there are several states which also use the word “commonwealth” in their official names, the word has no legal meaning in the United States.

For example, Kentucky is officially the “Commonwealth of Kentucky.” Now imagine Wikipedia saying, “Kentucky is a landlocked area, a Commonwealth, and a state of the United States.” It sounds odd, right?

How about, “Kentucky, self-governing landlocked commonwealth of the Americas, associated with the United States”? That is not how Brittanica describes Kentucky.

What about, “Kentucky, as a commonwealth of the United States, has a unique political status”? Not hardly.

What does “commonwealth” mean?

“Commonwealth” means a community or political entity with a government. That describes both Puerto Rico and Kentucky, along with Massachusetts and the rest of the states with “commonwealth” in their names.

However, there is some confusion, because in England, the Commonwealth refers to an international organization with members who used to be British colonies. The Commonwealth of Nations, as it is officially known, includes 56 countries, most of which used to be British colonies. The United States used to be a British colony (or at least parts of the current United States were), but the U.S. is not part of the Commonwealth organization. Sometimes the idea of a nation like Australia being part of the Commonwealth with England gives the impression that “commonwealth” is a special political status. It is not.

So what does it mean to say that Puerto Rico is a commonwealth? It means nothing.

Commonwealth status

Some leaders in Puerto Rico continue to demand that “commonwealth status” should be on the ballot for any status vote for Puerto Rico. As we’ve seen, it is meaningless to describe Puerto Rico as “a commonwealth.” It is therefore meaningless to vote for “commonwealth status.”

In real life, that phrase usually refers to the current territory status, or a fantasy version of territory status with a special “best of both worlds” menu of privileges, which the federal government has repeatedly rejected.

Come on Wikipedia, Brittanica, and WeLikePR — give it up. Puerto Rico is a territory. It should be a state. Saying it is a commonwealth just muddies the waters.




One response

  1. PR’s True Status is US Territory—Since 1898-over 125+ years, Puerto Rico- has been the oldest US Territory in History; falls under our US Constitution’s trite “Territorial Clause” (written in 1787), that states the “US Congress shall have the power to dispose of, and make all rules and regulations pertaining the Territory or Property belonging to the United States”.

    PR is under Federal undemocratic control. Thus, the US Congress can call Puerto Rico whatever it wants as it hides the facts/true status. BUT, “Commonwealth” or “ELA (Free Associated State)” has NO legal meaning-are political distorted terms that confuse or fool People as to the true Constitutional Status.

    However, the US Congress is not above the US Constitution to treat PR as a non-Territory. Since, it is clear “Commonwealth” or “ELA” are not the true Status of Puerto Rico; they should not be used in any Plebiscite to end the Federal undemocratic control of PR. The only non-Territorial options are: STATEHOOD vs INDEPENDENCE-Without or With a Free Association Pact.
    NOTE: The “Insular Cases”(1901-1925+) determined, in racist times, that the US Congress could “discriminate” in applying the US Constitution (1901-Downes vs Bidwell) to the “unincorporated US Territory that is “more foreign than domestic, belongs to, but is not part of the United States” (1922-Balzac vs Porto Rico) is still in force; are discriminatory terms not found in our US Constitution nor applied to other Territories before Puerto Rico which questions, how can millions of US Citizens-American Veterans (WE THE PEOPLE) be treated as foreign (even in the 2017 Federal Tax Reform), under our US Flag.

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