Puerto Rico Statehood Glossary

When you read about and discuss the political status of Puerto Rico, you might run into some terms that are unfamiliar. Here’s what they mean.

  • Commonwealth: In the United States, this is a term often used in the names of states and territories, such as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. It has no legal meaning.
  • Enhanced Commonwealth: An idea that the United States and Puerto Rico can work out a special relationship which is neither statehood nor independence, and not covered the the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The United States government has said many times that this is not a viable option.
  • FOMB: The Fiscal Oversight and Management Board created by PROMESA.
  • Insular Cases: A set of Supreme Court decisions in the early 20th century that decided many specific details about Puerto Rico and other territories. One of the most important aspects of these cases is the decision that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t necessarily apply to citizens living in Puerto Rico.
  • Legislators: Government lawmakers. In the United States, members of Congress are legislators. Puerto Rico has no voting members of the U.S. Congress.
  • Plebiscite: A local vote intended to give the government information about the voters’ opinions. Usually plebiscites are not binding and do not require action by the government.
  • Plenary Power: Complete power. This phrase is used in the Territorial Clause.
  • PREPA: Puerto Rico’s government-owned electric utility. Heavily in debt, PREPA is undergoing change.
  • PROMESA: A law intend to help Puerto Rico overcome its debt crisis. The law set up an oversight board with the power to restructure Puerto Rico’s debt and supervise the Island’s budget.
  • Status: Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States. The three viable status options are territory, state, or independent nation.
  • Territorial Clause: A clause in the U.S. Constitution that says that Congress has “plenary power” or complete control over U.S. territories.
  • Territory: A piece of land owned by a country without being a state or province of that country.
  • Unincorporated Territory: Unincorporated territories are officially not part of the United States as incorporated territories are. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory.

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