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?
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 The law was repealed in 1957.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.