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In a hearing on Puerto Rico status in 1997, Rep. Robert Lagomarsino presented written testimony reviewing the history of the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. He had something to say about the idea that Puerto Rico and the United States had a compact of free association dating from 1952.

The germ of that idea may have been in President Harry Truman’s July 1952 statement, “The act of July 3, 1950, authorized the people of Puerto Rico to organize a republican form of government pursuant to a constitution of their own choosing. That act, adopted by the Congress in the nature of a compact, became effective only when accepted by the people of Puerto Rico in a referendum.”

Lagomarsino reminded the members of the committee that the act the president referred to was the approval of the Constitution of Puerto Rico.

“Contrary to what has been asserted for forty years by those who seek to deny both the U.S. and the people the right to further self determination, the agreement ‘in the nature of a compact’ related to the process of approval of the constitution by joint consent and did not convert the relationship into a permanent form of union that can be altered only by ‘mutual consent,’’’ he wrote. “Those who espouse that ideological doctrine do not want the people of the U.S. as a whole, or the people of Puerto Rico in their own name and right, to have a choice to change the current status.”

The federal government has said clearly that Puerto Rico is and remains a territory of the United States. Some leaders from the “commonwealth” party have stated that Puerto Rico is not “a mere territory,” but the president, Congress, and the Supreme Court have all said repeatedly that Puerto Rico is in fact a territory of the United States.

Earlier revisions

Puerto Rico’s Nationalist Party took the position that Puerto Rico is not really a territory of the United States because Puerto Rico did not really belong to Spain in 1898. Spain gave Puerto Rico to the United States in that year, but the Nationalist Party claimed that Spain did not have the power to do that. They believed that Puerto Rico had acquired independence from Spain and did not belong to the European power at that time.

Was Puerto Rico Autonomous under Spain?

As a philosophical position, that may be appealing. However, the Treaty of Paris made it clear that, from the point of view of Spain, Puerto Rico belonged to Spain and was a colony of Spain. Puerto Rico might not have agreed, but Spain was fully capable of giving Puerto Rico to the United States. They did so.

The value of revisionist history

Believing that Puerto Rico did not belong to Spain in 1898 or that it does not belong to the United States in 2024 may make people feel better, but it is not in alignment with the facts. Puerto Rico will be sovereign only as a state or as an independent nation. Both these options are legal under the U.S. Constitution. The Puerto Rico Status Act will give the voters a choice between these options. It is time — indeed, long past time — to settle the political status of Puerto Rico permanently.

Reach out to your legislators and ask them to support the Puerto Rico Status Act. There are bills in both the House and Senate.



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