Independence is not a popular option in Puerto Rico. It has never received more than 5% of the vote in a status referendum, and the Independence Party has never had a successful candidate for governor. Independence is just about as popular in Puerto Rico as the Green Party or the Libertarian Party in the United States.

This may be why the “commonwealth” party is working so hard to separate Free Association, which is a relationship between two independent nations, from independence. There appears to be an effort going on to make Free Association sound just like “enhanced commonwealth.”

Free Association is not, and will not be, anything like “enhanced commonwealth.” Read more about Free Association. It is an option within independence.

However, there is another story about independence and why it is not a popular option among Puerto Rico’s voters. This story says that the independence movement was quashed by the U.S. government, so much so that people haven’t voted for independence in all these years… but in their hearts they still want it.

This is a great story. It would make a good musical. Is it true?

Anti-independence movement

The history of U.S. anti-independence activities in Puerto Rico has been overtaken by the current policy recognizing the right of the people to independence in accordance with the principles of the Atlantic Charter and the U.N. Charter.  Of course, those now universal principles are grounded in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Northwest Ordinance.

In Puerto Rico the U.S. disrupted independence activities deemed anti-American. FBI COINTEL materials show that the federal government was working against those that advocated violence as a route to independence. In 1948, a law was passed against nationalistic expression, Law 53, known as “La Ley de la Mordaza” (the Gag Law). The law was repealed in 1957.

65 years later, repressive laws like these are a part of U.S. history. In that time, the efforts of “commonwealth” supporters to convert “commonwealth” into a “sovereign” status it could never truly become has been far more effective in neutralizing the independence ideology than the arguably counter-productive federal and local efforts to disrupt it in the early 20th century.

The “enhanced commonwealth” or “ELA” induced its followers to believe it created rights that did not and never could exist except through independence or statehood.  The illusion of “mutual consent” in a bilateral pact through which the territory would morph into a nation caused a plurality but never a majority to quest for rights that did not exist instead of working to seize the rights that could exist under independence or statehood.

The independence movement

The U.S. began during the Eisenhower administration in the 1950’s to openly support independence for Puerto Rico if chosen by the people. The independence party’s position didn’t keep up with the times. They have said that they do not accept the legitimacy of a majority vote for statehood, because the U.S. has practiced a policy of duress and coercion that prevents the people from exercising freely their right to independence.

Can we believe that now, generations after the U.S. took action against the independence movement, after six plebiscites offering independence as an option, Puerto Ricans are afraid to vote for independence?

Yet this is the claim made by people seeking to revive the hopeless quest for “enhanced commonwealth.” They say that the majority of Puerto Rico’s voters choose statehood over and over in 21st century plebiscites only because of the oppression of the independence movement.

Is independence becoming more popular?

Independence supporters use this argument — along with some very special math — to make it appear that independence is or could someday be the top choice of Puerto Rico’s voters.

For example, consider this paragraph from an essay by Javier A. Hernandez promoting “sovereignty” for Puerto Rico:

“Currently, Free Association is the status option with the largest growth margin of support in modern Puerto Rico, going from 0.29% of the vote in the 1998 plebiscite to 33.3% of the vote in the 2012 plebiscite. In the 2012 plebiscite, both sovereignty options together garnered almost 40% of the vote – not too bad when one considers that pro-sovereignty advocates have been persecuted by the colonial regime and statehooders for over a century.”

Here is the official vote count for the 2012 plebiscite:

“On question 2, when asked to select among the three listed status options, 61.16% chose statehood; 33.34% chose ‘sovereign free associated state,’ and 5.49% chose independence.”

That is, when Hernandez says that “sovereignty option together garnered almost 40% of the vote,” he is admitting that statehood got 61% of the vote, a clear majority.

The other two options on the three-way ballot got one third of the vote (free association) and 5% of the vote (independence). Describing free association as having “the largest growth margin” between its less than one percent showing in 1998 and its one third of the votes in 2012 is an interesting attempt to make it sound as though at some time in the future it will become the most popular choice.

But statehood is currently the most popular choice. It has been the most popular choice throughout this century, as it has become ever more obvious that “enhanced commonwealth” is not a viable option under the U.S. Constitution. The argument that independence would be the most popular choice in an alternate history without suppression of the independence movement may make supporters of independence feel better, but it is irrelevant to the question of what status Puerto Rico has chosen.

Puerto Rico chose statehood in 2012, 2017, and 2020. It is time — and long past time — for Congress to respect this vote and admit Puerto Rico as a state. This will give Puerto Rico sovereignty as a state on equal footing with the current 50 states.



5 Responses

    • La verdad: One can respect true advocates of independence for Puerto Rico, including real free association that respects the right of independence without association by unilateral action of the metropolitan power and the associated state. As long as the independence faction respects democratic majority rule it must be respected.

      The efforts by the U.S. and the territorial regime to oppose and suppress the extremist, terrorist and Marxist faction of the independence movement in Puerto Rico that was willing to commit anti-democratic violence included abuses of the rights of independence supporters. But nothing compared to what Castro did in Cuba or Maduro is doing in Venezuela today. Study what France did in Algeria, Britain did in America, People’s Republic of China did in Tibet. The Puerto Rico independence party has legitimate views about the abuses that did occur, but the violence and terrorism practiced by independence radicals is also a historical reality.

      The independence lunatic fringe needs to stop belly aching and being cry babies about U.S. and local government measures to counter violent radicalism. Just as the victims of radical independent faction violence must honor their dead and injured and move on to face the future so to must those who cling to the independence aspiration.

      Here is what has been written and posted on about the book War Against All Puerto Ricans:

      “The local independence movement in Puerto Rico is now smaller and more obsolete than the independence movements in Vermont, Texas, Alaska and Hawaii before those territorial jurisdictions within the U.S became States. The best the anti-statehood autonomists and independence faction can come up with is a collection of perversely idiosyncratic narratives about the worst moments in Puerto Rico’s history under American rule.

      Thus, being circulated in San Juan and Washington as 2016 comes to an end is a 2015 book entitled War Against All Puerto Ricans, by an anti-statehood propagandist named Nelson A. Denis. The book’s title is a fabricated fictional rendition of a statement made by a federal appointed territorial Chief of Police.

      The book recites the history of civil strife in the territory, as if that somehow proves that Puerto Rico’s past means statehood is impossible in the present and future. That flawed premise ignores the redeeming power of freedom and democracy, which thrives best when it overcomes the denial of freedom and democracy. Nations are not formed and expanded by incorporating new territories and peoples without adversity.

      Indeed, the internal and external political turmoil, government corruption scandals and civil strife in Puerto Rico existed on a small scale and were not major disruptions of civic order when compared to the history of other territories that became States:

      Arizona unilaterally declared itself a State then joined the confederacy in rebellion against the Republic and the Constitution. The U.S. Army invaded and occupied Tucson to restore federal law and order.

      Native tribes in the territory that became Oklahoma imported slaves from southern states, expanding the slavery conflict, after which some Indian tribes also joined the confederacy in rebellion against the Republic and the Constitution. Plans to form a geographically expansive mid-western state of the union for native tribes were rejected, creating conditions contributing to the tragedy of Indian Wars.

      The State of Ohio and the Territory of Michigan each called up and amassed troops along their disputed borderline in the event war broke out preventing a settlement of claims.

      Like Puerto Rico, there were cross-cultural, linguistic, legal and political tensions that arose because Louisiana, California, Alaska, New Mexico and Hawaii each were under the sovereignty of foreign powers and had populations that were not U.S. citizens when annexed by the United States.

      Freedom is not free. In addition to the U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico who served in every war since WWI, people born and those living in Puerto Rico have paid a high price, struggling with civil strife and political violence.

      Confrontations between federal and local authorities and the anti-statehood factions have been costly. Now the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico have freely chosen statehood as the solution, and they earned the freedom to do that without further delay. If the independence or autonomy movement does not respect the democratic majority rule, they will become the tyrants unless stopped, and as such they will be swept aside and join similar anti-democratic movements in the dust bin of history.

      The lesson of history is that the worst moments in the history of a territory are quickly overtaken by the success stories under democracy. That will be true in the case of Puerto Rico, soon to be our 51st State of the Union.”

      • Mr. Hills,
        It is true that the independent movement in PR is currently a small minority with a fast-growing Free Association/Sovereignty movement. However, The Pro-Statehood movement in PR is not the majority as you claim. As you know, you are basing your arguments with the questionable crooked numbers from the 2012 & 2017 Plebiscites. (No need to go into details).
        In summary, what you are stating is that no matter what atrocities the USA has performed against the Puerto Rican people throughout our history together, Puerto Ricans need to be grateful and take it. You are entitled of your own opinion. However, there is no need to call people that believe in Puerto Rican Independence/Sovereignty names, such as you stated, “The independence lunatic fringe needs to stop belly aching and being cry babies about U.S. and local government measures to counter violent radicalism,” to promote your pro-statehood agenda. Let’s have a civil and democratic discussion. Let’s have some respect for the many Puerto Ricans that have paid the ultimate sacrifice for Puerto Rican independence, and I correct you that many were not even involved in any radical independence movements. As history says, the Puerto Rican independence movement has been persecuted since the USA illegal invasion of PR in 1898.
        Listen, I am not trying to persuade anyone to change their Ideology, and I am also aware that this is a pro-statehood website. However, as a Puerto Rican, it is my duty to speak up when history is distorted to promote an ideology as this article has done. History is history, we need to accept it for what it was, learn from it, and move forward for a progressive brighter future for Puerto Rico.
        We both want the best for PR. You see Puerto Rico as the 51st State and integrating totally to the USA main stream and become a minority in this Great Nation. However, I see Puerto Rico as number 1 State, an Independent /Sovereign State where we are the majority (Puerto Ricans ruling in their home) with a TRUE Democratic & Capitalistic form of government and using our over 119 years of History with the USA as our foundation to establishing a real Bilateral Relationship with the USA as true partners. Everything is negotiable as along as it is done in civil and peaceful ways.
        Independence/Sovereignty for Puerto Rico is and always will be the only healthy way!
        Be Blessed!

        • To suggest that my comments express an expectation that “no matter what atrocities” were committed against independence supporters the people of PR should “take it and be grateful” is the very kind of provocative hyperbole you ask statehood supporters to avoid. My comment recognized that abuses occurred, but that does not mean democracy and majority rule on the choice between all status options can be denied in order to redress the grievances of independence supporters.

          I tend to agree with you that I should not have used the term “lunatic fringe” because it added nothing and is hyperbole as well. But the idea that democratic self-determination should be suspended because of historical abuses that qualifies as extreme fringe thinking. Until the PR independence movement agrees that a majority vote for statehood must be respected its own legitimacy will been undermined further.

          The last two status votes in Puerto Rico satisfied the legal criteria and self-determination standards of Puerto Rico, U.S. and international law. Both the 2012 and 2017 votes for statehood were consistent with and exceeded U.N. standards for free expression of the wishes of non-self-governing peoples. For supporters of the PR independence movement to call the results “crooked” and rigged is ironic since the only results of self-determination in PR that are completely free of any confusion, ambiguity or a credible dispute is majority rule rejection of independence.

          But what remains important is to note that the 2012 status votes, while imperfect due to political mischief in San Juan and Washington, far exceeded the standards of the U.S. and U.N. in political status votes around the world during the postWWII era of International decolonization.

          For example, anti-statehood factions falsely claim that blank ballots on the second question in the 2012 vote should be recognized as a”boycott” and deducted from he statehood vote tally. Yet, the two tier ballot and the correct ruling of election officials that blank ballots have no meaning was consistent with the treatment of blank ballots in self-determination and decolonization votes around the world, including the 1983 and 1984 votes approving the Compact of Free Association in the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau. The results of those votes, which also were not without imperfections and disputes, were upheld by those governments, the U.S. Congress and federal courts, and three organs of the U.N. including the Security Council, General Assembly and the Trusteeship Council.

  1. We the People of Puerto Rico what a Full CITIZENSHIP and STATEHOOD. Wel deserve it. From years this has been a non answer to ours right. It is time to receive it.

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